Below is Mama Cat’s description of her experience on the Whale Trail, and what an experience it was! Everything you need to know from the facilities, the slack packing and the horse flies that bite you on Day 1 & 2! Click on the day headings to watch Mama Cat's videos of the day.
Time of Year: I went in March 2022
Management & Bookings: Cape Nature - make sure you book a year in advance. A lot of private tourism companies buy up a lot of the slots so it’s very difficult to book. Be on the lookout for cancellations! firstname.lastname@example.org
Getting there: It’s a 3-4 hour drive from Cape Town, with the last 53km on a dirt road. The first night you are expected to stay in Potberg Hut where you will be briefed. So you have a night to prepare, pack your boxes and settle in with your crew. Make sure you put the Potberg Hut entrance into google maps otherwise you will drive 20km in the wrong direction to the main gate.
Check In: There is a compulsory briefing that every hiker has to take part in either the day before you start, or the morning that you start hiking.
Parking: You leave your cars at the Potberg Hut inside the reserve, and Cape Nature will fetch you in a bus at the end of the trail and drive you back to your cars.
Facilities: This is the most luxurious “hut” experience of any trail I have done. Each hut has solar powered hot showers, charging points for your phones. A fully equipped kitchen with everything from a peeler and a grater to a range of different sized cast iron pots. The showers have showergel in them and the kitchens have dishwashing liquid. While the cleaners do come and clean the guts everyday it is respectful to wash your dishes and clean up before you leave.
Each hut has at least 3 rooms with 4 bunks in them, not every hut has the same make up - some rooms are open plan and others behind closed doors. If you are doing the hike with less than the full 12 spots and you don’t like sharing, then make sure you are a group of 4/8.
Cost: Jan- June = R1920 | July to Dec = R3100
There will be a price increase in Sept 2022, R2050/R3320
Length: 5 nights, 5 days (you spend the first night at Potberg Hike)
Distance: 55km. 8-15km per day.
Weather: We were blessed with wonderful weather. The first day had a steady drizzle for half the day, but most of the crew didn’t bother with rain jackets. As you are next to the ocean every evening except the first, make sure that you pack warm clothes as it gets quite cold, even in summer. There are indoor fireplaces in all the huts, so you can warm up if you need to.
Water: Apart from Day 1 there is no water on the trail, so make sure you have sufficient water between the huts.
Difficulty: The first two days are long, but the trail is very manageable. And then Day 4 has 8km on the beach which is quite challenging. Overall its a very enjoyable trail and I wouldn’t consider it to be strenuous or exhausting.
- Horse flies! An odd phenomenon, but on Day 1 & 2 you will encounter horse flies that bite you all day. Cape Nature recommends that you pick a soft fynbos branch (yes we know you should not pick the fynbos but Cape Nature suggested it) and use that as a swat, brushing your legs continuously to avoid being bitten.
- Water shoes: if you like swimming and you don’t like sharp rocks then bring water shoes. There are very few easily accessible swimming spots on this trail, even at Stilgat you have to walk over rocks to get to the pools (I walked to the pools in my walking shoes and then took them off at the water which was a bit awkward as the rocks are sharp :)).
It’s a slack packing trail. So take a 30l backpack for your swimming things, lunch and snacks and a rain jacket. One box per person is more than enough for your clothes, sleeping bag and all of your food. You can fit in a few luxuries like a pillow and a couple bottles of wine. Its R520 per 70l box (there are also two cooler boxes which are also 70l), either pay beforehand or bring cash. The card machine at the hut couldn’t get enough reception.
Day One: 15km | Potberg - Cupidoskraal
We started with our briefing which was very informative and entertaining. This day has two ascents, the first is bigger and longer than the second, but it’s a nice walk that winds up the mountain, giving you a view of the valley below. Nestled among the restios were king proteas scattered along the path, some fully open and others ready to open. Once you summit you cruise along the ridge between the two ascents and come across two benches that have been placed on the ridgeline with a good view. Great spot to stop for tea. After about 3 hours of hiking you reach a stream with a bridge which is where we stopped for lunch. Towards the end of the day you walk past the old hut which has burned down, and then through a small section of forest just before the hut. We had time for naps, playing Afrikaans Bananagram and roasted bananas stuffed with chocolate on the fire.
On the menu:
Lunch: Wraps with Mama Alles Hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes and leftover corn salad.
Dinner: Roasted vegetables and couscous salad with pesto and feta. Dessert was roasted bananas and figs stuffed with chocolate.
Day Two: 14.7km | Cupidoskraal to Noestie
You backtrack on the path you came to the hut, until you reach the burnt down hut where you turn right and head up the mountain. There is less elevation than the first day but a lot more horse flies! Make sure you have your swats ready. We experienced a beautiful flower show, watched a flock of Cape Vultures fly over us and then arrived at the ocean just in time for lunch. We chose to eat our lunch on the cliff overlooking the ocean before descending to the ocean, enjoying the view before arriving at the hut. We had a swim before we went up to the hut which was glorious (and rocky). This hut is by far the most extraordinary, perched right above the tidal rock pools with glass faced walls on each end of the hut so whether you are eating breakfast or waking up in your bed you have views in every direction. We enjoyed the afternoon in the hut as it began to drizzle and then it cleared up for a braai under the boma for dinner.
On the menu:
Breakfast: Mango & Turmeric Oats with Almond & Honey Buttanut nut butter and Okja Mini Oat Milk.
Lunch: Central African Peanut Stew (soaked in the morning so we just heated it up at lunch)
Dinner: Ethiopian Dhal with charcoal bread and lemon and fresh coriander to garnish.
Day Three: 7.8km | Noetsie to Hammerkop
We started the day with a beach clean up. Cape Nature makes it really easy, there are refuse bags at the beginning of each day where you spend a chunk of time on the beach. You can leave the bags on the beach (we were at the hut so we just took it back up to the hut) and the rangers will collect them throughout the month. There were so many pieces of washed up plastic, and then if you look closer, a lot of nurdles! It’s a short and easy day so it’s worth taking the time to clean the beautiful beaches. You begin the walk again by heading back up the oath you came down to the hut on, make sure you look for the marker that leads you closer to the cliff, if you are heading back inland (like me) you are going back to the previous night’s hut! This is the Stilgat day! If you reach the pools at low tide you get to swim in the crystal clear water and look for creatures. We were very luck to spot an octopus and watched it right up close as it moved around the rockpools and then completely camouflaged itself until we couldn’t see it anymore. We spent a couple hours here, enjoyed the water, had a lazy lunch and then began the last 3 or so kilometers to the hut. The last few hundred meters are on the sand, giving you a taste of the long stretch you will do on Day 4. The hut is nestled in the dunes just off the beach and there are great views of the ocean from the upstairs balcony.
On the menu:
Breakfast: Apple & Cinnamon Oats with fresh banana and oat milk.
Lunch: Multiseed bread with Beetroot Hummus, cucumber and tomato.
Dinner: Pasta with cherry tomatoes, olives and artichokes. Dessert was s’mores.
Day Four: 10.5km | Hammerkop to Vaalkraans
This is the beach walking day (another opportunity to collect trash so make sure you take a rubbish bag with you!) with the first 8km on the beach. It is quite challenging, we tried walking along the waterline but it was squishy. We tried walking in each other's footsteps but everyone has a different stride, we tried shoes on, shoes off. I think the main thing is to keep changing it up so you don't get too tired of any one method :). We stopped off at the blowhole sight for lunch. If you walk all the way to the end of the beach (to the right) there is a great little cove where you can all pick a rock or section of beach and make your lunch, while watching the blow hole. There is also a tiny part of the beach without rocks where you can dunk yourself for a “swim”. The last 2.5km are thankfully on a trail in the fynbos which leads you down to the hut (there is no place to swim here so make sure you swim along the trail!). This hut is perched on a cliff in front of a small bay and its just exceptional watching the waves crash against the cliffs. We made an indoor fire, had a nap and then had drinks on the cliff as the sun went down, really enjoying our last night on the trail.
On the menu:
Day Five: 7km | Vaalkraans to Koppie Alleen
Two of us had a birthday to get to in the Karoo, so we rose at 4:30 and began hiking at 5am. It was quite beautiful to hike in the dark and then watch the landscape illuminate as the sun rose. The highlight of the day would have been Hippo Pools but we just managed to see the beautiful pools before we reached our car (you can also park your car at the end, but you need to arrange this among yourselves, not part of the Cape Nature service). As we neared the end of the trail we were blessed with a close sighting or two Eland eating their breakfast.
On the menu:
Snacks: we were on a mission so we had rusks for breakfast, and the nuts, cookies, naartjies and any other left over snacks we could find as we walked :)
This is definitely a trail for the bucket list! We are truly blessed that we get to experience trails with the level of exclusivity that we do in South Africa. You pass a luxury hotel on Day 4, where people are paying tens of thousands or rands to experience what hikers can for a fraction of the cost. To be alone on the edge of the earth like this is something everyone should get to experience.