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Text: Fiona McIntosh. Pictures: Shaen Adey. Article from the July 2012 issue of Country Life Magazine.
A superb ‘no pack drill’ saunter on the Overberg coast with several options, many points of interest and tasty seafood treats.
The Overberg coast is famous for whale watching, shark-cage diving and the seafood delicacy known in South Africa as perlemoen but elsewhere as abalone. A rare opportunity to sample this much-sought-after mollusc occurs on the recently launched Perlemoen Trail, a slackpack hike along the coast with South Africa’s famous shark-cage diving capital of Gansbaai at its centre.
There are three options: a three-day, 40km hike all the way from Die Dam in the east to De Plaat in the west; a two-day 24km hike; and an 8km day walk known as the Five Caves Trail.The two-day trail (marketed as The Walker Bay Whale Trail) has proved the most popular – a glorious weekend of hiking and taking in the sights of this spectacular coast.
The trail is guided so you learn all about the area, famous for its shipwrecks and infamous for its perlemoen poaching. As on most slackpacking trails, each day is taken as it comes, with the direction and distance hiked dependent on wind, tide and, most importantly, the hikers’ fitness levels and interest. So this is a trail for whale watchers, fynbos and nature lovers, historians and softies as much as for serious hikers.
A range of accommodation options allows you to select a package in your price bracket – true slackpackers can enjoy the Full Monty of luxury accommodation and three meals a day while those on a budget can self-cater.
Day one of the three-day trail (15km) is a long but mostly flat walk through vegetated dunes and along the beaches between Die Dam and Pearly Beach.This little-visited stretch, with its fascinating limestone pavement overlying softer sandstone, offers wonderful caves and rock formations to explore.The orange lichen-covered boulders and great swathes of colourful vygies that typify the strandveld vegetation are magnificent, there are numerous African Black Oystercatchers, cormorants, great flocks of gulls, Sacred Ibis and other birds, while the beaches are empty and you have plenty of opportunities to swim in sheltered gullies and pools.
The highlights include Quoin Point, where you’re regaled with stories of the numerous ships that have been wrecked along this coast, and the opportunity to taste perlemoen and other local seafood delicacies, such as alikreukel (periwinkel) pastries, at the quaint little store of Oppie-Draai in the fishing village of Buffelsjag.
Although it’s a long day, you take it easy, stopping for tea breaks on the rocks. There are also several bale out options should you tire, feel like visiting a museum or other local attraction, or simply wish to enjoy a little beach or chill time before settling down to some warm Overberg hospitality at your guest house.
On day two, those doing the full three-day trail continue walking from Pearly Beach to Gansbaai, but weekenders cut out this stretch and jump straight to the final 8km day walk section from Gansbaai to De Kelders. This is a wonderful adventure that graphically illustrates the diversity of this coastline.
The day begins with a visit to the quaint Strandveld Museum in Franskraal, which the charismatic owner author S. D. Fourie, and her husband, Oom Pyp Fourie, have restored to the style in which the pondokkie would have been furnished in the 1940s. The museum is a treasure trove of memorabilia from Dyer Island and the surrounding area, and is home to the largest private collection of artefacts from HMS Birkenhead, the British troop ship that sank off Danger Point in 1852 and saw the first enactment of the famous maritime drill of ‘women and children first’ observed by the gallant but doomed troops.
You learn all about the area, famous for its shipwrecks and infamous for its perlemoen poaching
After a quick cup of coffee at the Lighthouse Tavern, a typical thatched building in the local style, where again the story of the Birkenhead is a central theme, you’re transferred to Gansbaai harbour for the start of the hike.
Gansgat, a freshwater spring which used to be frequented by geese (ganse) and led to the growth of the town, is the first stop. Then it’s a short walk through the camping and caravan park to the start of the Duiwelsgat trail, which you follow for the rest of the day. This impressive and recently renovated trail leads past a tidal pool which is unique in containing both salt and freshwater; to Standford’s Cove, a popular picnic spot and safe bathing beach bordered by magnificent milkwood trees and an ancient fig planted by the first settlers in the area.
The path then winds through the limestone fynbos towards De Kelders. The sheltered bay here is a haven for whales, which arrive in their scores between June and December to mate and calve. The bay’s high cliffs provide a perfect vantage point for watching the leviathans. The water is deep and the whales so close that you don’t even need binoculars to catch the action – Southern Rights, Bryde and Humpback whales are right there, metres away.
It’s easy to get carried away by the whales, but the limestone fynbos of this core area of the Cape Floral Kingdom supports some rare endemic plants as well, so you can’t help but feel privileged to be on an interpretive tour of such a unique area.
And if that isn’t enough, wait until you see the caves.
Huge caverns and passageways have been carved out of the underlying limestone by the elements, the most famous of which is the privately owned Drip Kelders, the only freshwater cave on the South African coast. It has been closed to the general public for 10 years but can be visited with a guide. The mineral-rich pool in the cave, which is said to have healing qualities, has been a favourite haunt of visitors over the centuries, including, in 1798, the well-known diarist Lady Anne Barnard, wife of the Colonial Secretary of the Cape. Although many of the stalagmites and stalactites in the huge cavern have been damaged, it’s a magical place.
Lunch is at Coffee on the Rocks, a top whale watching spot right on the edge of the cliff. Here you could sit and watch the action all day, but don’t be tempted – the final section of the trail is mindblowing.
Along it, jagged rocks poke up like great teeth, waves crash into deep, narrow gullies, and on calm days the rock pools are wonderful for swimming in. If you’re feeling adventurous you can scramble down and worm your way into another deep cavern, Duiwelsgat, below the wonderfully luxurious Cliff Lodge guest house or, if you prefer a more sedate option, peer into its deep exit hole. At low tide you can easily crawl into this cave from the bottom and view the impressive 20m-deep hole in the rocks from below.
The sweeping sands of Die Plaat, the long beach between De Kelders and Hermanus, stretch out before you as you traverse the final section of cliff before descending down the steps to Klipgat, a vast cave that was used as shelter by the Strandlopers, and which has been excavated by archaeologists.
Then there’s time for some more whale watching and sundowners on the rocks before heading home. Alternatively, if you don’t have to rush back to the office, you could stay on for a day or two and brave a shark cage dive or indulge in some of the tamer activities offered, such as a Dyer Island cruise, quad bike ride, hike in the Platbos indigenous forest or a tour of the Walker Bay vineyards.
By the time you read this the whales will be in the bay — making this the perfect time for a coastal stroll.
The Perlemoen Trail 021 913 0358,
082 578 3023 firstname.lastname@example.org,
- The trail is designed to be fully catered, guided and portaged, but there is a cheaper, self-catering option. One, two and three-day packages are offered.
- Although this is a slackpacking trail on which you carry only a day pack, day one is long with significant sections of sand. There are ‘escape’ options, but you’ll enjoy the trail more if you’re reasonably fit.
- The trail is open year-round, but the whales are usually sighted from July to December and the wildflowers are in bloom in August and September so these are probably the best months.
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