Just east of the southernmost tip of the African continent, Cape Aghulas, where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic is a beautiful nature reserve called De Hoop. It is a place with a wonderful, wild coastline, endless sand dunes and spectacular fynbos (Afrikaans for fine bush). Fynbos is a very special type of vegetation that only occurs along a limited part of South Africa’s coastline. It is also the smallest of the 6 floral kingdoms, and the one with the most species! Amongst the more spectacular inhabitants are the proteas.
Every year between June and October, the Southern Right Whale migrates to this coast to mate and calve. The mothers and calves usually swim very close to the coast, whereas the males are a bit further out putting on spectacular displays. These magnificent animals can get up to 15 metres long, and weigh an unbelievable 47 tonnes!
De Hoop is also home to the Whale Trail, a spectacular 5-day hiking trail that traverses the fynbos and skirts the coastline of the nature reserve. It is a slackpacking set-up, so you only need to carry your daypack and at the end of the day you arrive at a cottage that is fitted with everything you need: solar lights, toilets and gasheated showers and a kitchen with gas stove, barbecue space (including wood) and all crockery.
The first two days the trail goes through flowering fynbos. You will see more colours and shapes than you knew were possible! On day two, the trail ends by a sheltered bay of the Indian Ocean, and after this you never leave the coast. When we arrived here, the first thing we saw was a Southern Right mother and calf frolicking in the waves. During the next few days, we saw more whales than we could count.
The Whale Trail is an amazing experience! It is physical, spiritual and emotional. Although the whales are around from June, the very best time is probably August when the fynbos is flowering and the weather is turning spring-like. Be sure to book early though, we booked 6 months in advance and that is probably cutting it fine!