New Hats And Old Bats - Hiking The Whale Trail
Hiking the whale trail has been a dream for many years. When the opportunity presented itself we said yes without missing a beat. One of the most picturesque hikes in the Western Cape (possibly, even the world, when the whales are frolicking in the breakers) and probably the most booked up route too. Reservations are hard to obtain and must be done well in advance. Beggars can't be choosers here. We were lucky, 6 months ago, when Mariclaire enquired, there were two vacant spots; either in March or April. We were lucky with kind weather, but, I think, autumn is upon us and nights could already be cold until after spring.
Groups motored from various towns to meet up in Bredasdorp, another surprise, worth a visit, with many eateries, quaint shops, revamped Victorian homesteads and the pottery factory.
Finding 12 hikers was the easy part, disappointing friends in not making the cut was difficult. I had the privilege of being able to invite four of my very best friends, sadly, Butch, at the last moment had to cancel his spot for work commitments, but, my sister-in-law enthusiastically filled the slot in minutes. What an achievement!
Of course one must be fit to hike and this was just the motivation we needed to get back on the road again, resuming our Tuesday and Thursday morning walks. My feet are my Achilles heel and I dreaded the thought of getting blistered, swollen feet as I’ve had recently. Advice comes liberally from all corners and as soon as I mention hiking someone has a great idea about footwear. Walking in flip-flops was my idea of doing it, but, knew it would be impractical so opted for a “hiking sandal”. A good choice. I shod myself with a pair of Rockies and went galloping off a few weeks prior to departure to “test” them. I must confess I did blister, but, got the Elastoplast out immediately and have since walked with a bandaged toe. I think it’s going to stay that way.
My feet were a dream. No blisters. I did, mind you, slip while not concentrating on the path, and did a very gentle, ladylike “bollemakiesie” (somersault), in slow motion hitting my head, shoulder and scraping my foot! Sue, was of no help at all, she couldn’t contain herself and just laughed! Thank goodness the path was rocky and a boulder stopped me from going down a sheer drop into the ravine.
Cape Nature gets all the praise. Although making a booking is a mission, once we’d paid our fees and our booking was secure we were able to download very clear, concise instructions regarding all aspects of the hike. Maps are up to date, distances accurate and all handicaps are clearly marked. 10/10 Cape Nature.
We would do “slack packing” which meant we had portage and were able to carry light day packs while our heavy sleeping bags, beverages and food were carted from one hut to the next. Bliss. Having a chef on board meant our main meals were catered for. Mariclaire served a beautifully prepared meal every night, some were precooked e.g. pork belly and chicken thighs and a most delicious Cape Malay Mutton Curry. These were frozen beforehand and kept in a large cool box. On our third evening vacuum packed Texan Steaks were served and for the three remaining nights she used Chorizo, smoked chicken breasts and bacon in one pot dishes. Not only was it great sharing our meals, but, we were able to sit down to supper each evening and enjoy each other’s company.
Trying to travel light is always difficult even if one has had ample warning, perfectly crafted lists and horror stories to the contrary any lady worth her salt would find it staggering to think she might have to wear one ensemble for five days! My daughter for one would be horrified if she knew I washed and wore the same shorts for a week and I'm proud of it!
The hiker’s cottages are fantastic. Situated in beautiful surroundings, one reaches them when you’re just about ready to drop. Charming they are. Accommodation is for 12 hikers and all amenities are spot on. The showers were always hot, communal bathrooms were spotless and spacious too. Sharing sleeping space can be tricky at our age as we all have our peculiarities and many of us are set in our ways and find it difficult to share. I find it hard to encroach someone’s personal space and have become claustrophobic to boot, so an open window or door must be my escape route if dark spaces start coming down upon my head in the dead of night!
Of course I have an endearing gentle purr too, which make the Peters of the world get out of bed on the wrong foot! On a few occasions I, with a few others opted for the balcony or veranda. Pure joy! To hear the waves crashing while counting falling stars is pure magic.
It would be very rare to spot whales in March. We knew that, but it would be warmer we thought than April, our alternate date. We were not disappointed. The landscape is magnificent. We set off in the mist which on occasion turned into light showers. We could do a rain dance we were so delighted. The sun didn’t show itself for three days, which is a hikers dream, not too hot and rarely too cold once one had the blood flowing. Wind follows inclement weather and on a few occasions we had to slip into our down puffer jackets, rain gear or warm tops. I relished the cooler weather as I’m sure other post-menopausal souls did.
The fynbos was on show and the rain quickly transformed the dry earth and saturated the colours around us. The Giant King Proteas were just starting to bloom which was very special and someone even observed that they were so much prettier in the wild, which has put paid to her penchant for having them in a vase in future.
We were treated to a sighting of Cape Vultures circling and finding thermals to glide them to their hunting grounds. A rare and beautiful sight. Only later did we spot a few lizards but, on the whole I was disappointed by the lack of wildlife in general. Besides the coastal birds like the Black Oyster catcher, tiny double banded plovers and gulls even the birdlife was quiet.
While hiking along the spine of the mountains we were able to enjoy the seascape on the one hand while enjoying the gentle meander of the Breede River on the other. In spring when the canola and wheat fields are alive it must be spectacular walking there.
To hike along the beach is always a highlight, that’s when I relish my bare feet and tackle the sand with gusto. Soft sand does have its disadvantages, sore Achilles and calves, but, a good leg needs an exercised calf muscle, not so?
Cliffs high as can be line the coast as we meandered on our way, at times taking us back off the sand onto the ridges, but, that makes whale watching possible when they’re in the bay scraping their barnacles on the jagged rocks and sand ridges.
Were it not for the fact that this piece of coastline was Nature reserve we might’ve been hard pressed to resist the abundance of coastal seafood. Foraging would be a dream at low tide, black mussels paint the rocks black as they cling to them and for kilometres we tread gently to avoid the open oyster beds and drew our hands over the greenest kelp and seaweed, dune asparagus and dune spinach growing abundantly on the white dunes. In tiny pools tiny fish swim waiting for the incoming tides to take them out to sea.
Like me, crabs scurry back and forth not knowing whether they’re land or sea creatures as the tides determine their moods.
As we hiked we chatted and encouraged one another, small groups would dot the path while others relaxed, cooled feet down or enjoyed a snack, breakfast or lunch in a shady spot in the most perfect setting.
It was on the beach that we came into contact with man’s destructive, greedy and most foul ways. The beaches were littered with debris, buoys, ropes and lines, plastic in all its forms and glass with its cutting edge. Toothbrushes littered the beaches everywhere; do cleaning crews shamelessly toss all toothbrushes overboard Willy nilly forgetting that the tides bring it all to shore?
Routine soon caught on, we’d drop our bags on the veranda to rush into the cottages to check out the scene, always surprised by how comfortable each unique cottage was. Afterwards we’d slump down onto our bunks, some to rest or to kick off shoes for a gentle massage. After we’d all showered and recouped our energies we’d gather around to rehash the day’s adventures, play games or take a nap.
It was while I showered that a game of Yahtzee started up, one dice short was the first obstacle but then came the rules. Everyone, including those who’d never played the game had their two cents worth and it was hilarious. Like magpies they went at it continuing well after I’d dressed and sat down with my drink. Rules were loose, varied and very flexible as long as it suited the majority!
One evening we stuck bits of paper to our foreheads and played “who am I?” this really took one’s celebrity knowledge to new heights and I’m afraid I would never had guessed I had Claus Kinsky stuck to my head. But, fortunately my wiley opponent didn’t know he was Sylvester Stallone either. Sue quickly got my larger than life hint... Dolly Parton.
As the hours melded into days we all relaxed, shortened our steps, took deeper breaths, told our stories, and divulged a few secrets knowing they were safe. We showed our vulnerabilities, shortcomings and if one was observant or cared enough our frailties became apparent.
I am the lucky one. 12 people have become my friends. They all have these qualities in common: Kindness, compassion, integrity, a love of nature, being alive and staying healthy mentally and physically is paramount. They are the brightest buttons around. They are seriously smart, successful, some attain their goals through their shear stubbornness and resilience, and others are brutally honest about themselves and their opinions. They are all refreshingly funny, unfazed and comfortable in their own skins. Among the many things we have in common I think realising we are all human, not perfect but happy with those peculiarities makes it easy to accept each other. We’ve all had our share of disappointment, pain and confusion but we’ve worked it out, for now! With this lot I could walk a thousand miles or more. To all my friends on the hike I say thank you, once again you enriched my life, made me laugh, restored my faith in friendship. I returned home tanned (very important) toned and thankful.
It is a given that I would love to do another Whale coast walk, maybe next year, and, if I can, I’d urge you to do it too. To Sue, Bronny, Lorraine, Bee, Peter, Tammy, Tweet, Peter, Mariclaire, Juanita and Frank I say thank you for an unforgetable time.
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I showcase some of my favourite photographs in chronological order and include a short YouTube video, enjoy the music if nothing else!