17 March 2011

The Whale Trail: Day One

Date: 8 & 9 March 2011

Location: De Hoop Nature Reserve, in the Overberg

Walkers: Ian, John, Marianne, Rainer, Madeleine, Rob, Rooken, Kati, Michele & Helen

More info about the trail here. Map (pdf) here.

*** Route plotted here ***


Yay, at last... the Whale Trail... my first multi-day hike!

Our group of ten hikers, hailing from Swellendam and Cape Town, all drove through to the starting point at Potberg in De Hoop Nature Reserve, where we overnighted at the Potberg Hut before starting the walk early the following morning. On the way there Michele and I saw the smoke from a bush fire near Arniston. Huge, enormous billowing clouds of smoke. We were nervous that it might affect our hike but fortunately it did not.

As we drove in the Potberg gate we were greeted by a small group of bontebok. Ahead we could see the mountain we'd be climbing the following day. It didn't look too daunting. The highest point is 611m, which is less than Lion's Head. There was a bit of cloud about on the mountain, and it was a pleasant cool temperature.

We spent the afternoon packing (and re-packing) our stuff. We'd opted for the 'slack pack' option and were each issued with a 60l crate for our food, clothing, sleeping bags and other belongings. Every morning we left these in the overnight hut, and carried only our day-packs with warm clothing, rain gear, first aid kit, lunch, snacks and other daily essentials. When we arrived at the next night's accommodation our boxes were waiting for us. Fantastic! As a first-timer, though, I wasn't sure exactly what and how much to take, but learnt a lot during the course of the hike. I'll know for next time that one much needs less than one thinks ;-)

In the evening, after a pre-hike briefing from the park ranger, we enjoyed a tasty braai. The hut was pretty comfortable although it was the first time I'd slept on a bunk-bed in years!

We set off bright and early the next day. Our destination: Cupidoskraal Hut, nearly 15km away, over Potberg and Grootkloof.

The first section was a steady climb up the Potberg. As we climbed we got views out over the flat plains, and could see the sea in the distance. We'd be walking along that stretch of coast in couple of days. For the moment though I was loving being in the mountains.

Many of the fynbos plants here were a variation on yellow-green. Lots of leucadendrons. The two most dominant ericas in flower were the yellow and brown Erica coccinea and the light green Erica sessiliflora. I particularly liked the yellow-tipped Penaea.

Look, a daisy taller than my brother!

Between the rocks purple Lobelia flourished.

Some slopes were dominated with a pink flower which I think I have identified correctly as Acmadenia. Cheerful little flowers facing the sun.

Every now and then we saw a dinner-plate sized King Protea.

Another pink flowers we saw occasionally: Corymbium glabrum.

And this one which looked like it could be type of Muraltia.

Cape vultures were gliding around in the distance.

After a couple of hours of walking we reached the radio mast that marked the highest point, and our stop for tea. Out came the little gas stove! Tea on a mountaintop is one of my greatest pleasures.

Fabulous views across the Breede River Valley to the Langeberg.

Our walk continued along the ridge.

Here we spotted the most beautiful flower, Gladiolus cardinalis. What a red!

Our route throughout the entire hike was marked with white footprints. We didn't have trouble finding our way as the path was clear and the signage throughout was pretty good. Plus we had a map that showed the route and suggested stops and points of interest. It was all very straightforward.

As per usual Michele and I found ourselves at the back of the pack. Neither of us are fast walkers plus we stopped often to take photos. Of course we were in no hurry as we had all day to enjoy the walk. So we dawdled.

Some of the usual suspects: restions, conebushes, berzelia and protea.

Our path descended a bit as we approached Grootkloof.

What beautiful views. There's the Breede in a perfect horse-shoe bend. And such pretty clouds. We couldn't have asked for better walking weather!

We could see the path ahead, along the top of Grootkloof.

We spotted several red flowers on the way. I was surprised to see so much considering March isn't a good month for fynbos generally. I can only imagine what flowers one would see in springtime.

This is pretty Lobostemon sanguineus. I didn't even know a red one existed.

The walk along here was wonderful. Past lichen-covered rocks, with panoramic views in all directions. It felt like paradise.

We began a slow descent into the valley.

Spotted en route: blue Aristea, a pastel gladiolus (maybe Gladiolus martleyi?) and two mystery white flowers. Bottom right... a Strumeria?

Before long we reached the Melkhout River. Here most of us swam... the water wasn't particularly clean, or plentiful, but it was cool and refreshing. Afterwards we had a picnic lunch, and a rest in the small patch of shade.

And then we set off again, up the hill on the other side of the river.

Once over the hill we walked through another shallow valley. Not a soul or sign of civilization in sight... so peaceful and lovely. It was hot and sunny now, and we paused often for drinks of water.

Mimetes alongside the path. This plant fascinates me.

We watched a sugarbird feasting on the sweet sap in the proteas.

Other wildlife spotted on the way: lizards, and some very large ants.

We were constantly on the lookout for snakes but didn't see any. The path here was sometimes logged steps, sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy.

We began to climb again, out of the valley.

And on the other side we saw Cupidoskraal dam near our overnight hut, and the hill we'd have to climb tomorrow. This day's hike was nearly over. It had been a long day's walking but not difficult; we were tired but not exhausted.

On our descent we saw the paintbrush lily, Haemanthus sangiuneus.

Also everlastings and a pelargonium.

As we walked down the hill we looked back. Bye bye mountain.

And there in the valley was our cute little cottage.

The others had arrived a little earlier and highly recommended a swim in the dam, so Michele and I dumped our backpacks and headed straight there.

The water was clear and cool and perfect. Excellent swim!

We wandered back to the hut clean and refreshed, to watch the sunset and then eat a delicious pasta supper prepared by Marianne, followed by an early sleep. What a great start to the hike. Next up: Day Two.



Firefly said...

I'm quite surprized to read this post. I always thought that the Whale Trail only follows the coast. It must have been quite nice crossing through the fynbos and over the mountains like that as well. Now I can also understand why you needed to be so fit.

Helen said...

Yes, indeed. I loved the first day's walking in the mountains. Probably my favourite section of the whole hike!

Klaus Wehrlin said...

Hi Helen,
What a beautiful hike, we just returned aweek back. Thanks for your great blog and even greater pictures. I have one correction, I think your Gladiolus cardinalis is actually a G. carmineus - I hope I am not misleading you here :-)

Helen said...

Hi Klaus
Thanks for your kind words. Hope you enjoyed the hike as much as we did. Thanks too for the correction on my id on the gladiolus. Goodness me they look so similar!