Whale Trail De Hoop Nature reserve
De Hoop Whale Trail
De Hoop Nature Reserve
The Whale Trail in the De Hoop Nature Reserve is a hike – tramp named after the more than a hundred Southern Right Whales that return to the waters of the De Hoop Nature Reserve every year to calve and mate.
Why the Whale Trail trek is South Africa’s most popular slack pack hike
Between June and December this coastline is transformed into one of the world’s most important nursery areas for southern right whales. Unique habitats and natural contrasts make the Whale Trail of special ecological interest and an exceptional hiking experience.What makes De Hoop so special for the visitor is that the marine life is more easily seen from land than on other parts of the coastline. High dunes and hills make great vantage points to watch the action in the water. Whales, dolphins, sharks and other fish can be spotted regularly. The numerous sandstone rock pools too are filled with marine life – sea anemones, urchins, fish, alikreukel and mussels. Every low tide brings new, fresh wonders to the eyes of adults and children alike.
De Hoop Nature reserve is approximately 34 000 ha in size and one of the largest natural areas managed by Cape Nature. Only 3-4 hours drive from Cape Town it is a favourite destination for hikers, cyclists, bird watchers and during the winter and early summer months, whale watchers – and one of my absolute favourite places to see fynbos in all its glory.
Roughly 260km from Cape Town within the Cape Floral Kingdom , De Hoop Nature reserve is considered a biodiversity hotspot. The fynbos within this smallest of the worlds Floral Kingdoms, is unique and irreplaceable. Some 70 % of the plants in this kingdom are found nowhere else on the planet. Declared a World Heritage Site in 2004 the De Hoop Nature reserve also boasts a RAMSAR listed wetland in the form of a 16 km lake .This particular wetland has over 200 bird species as well as breeding colonies of pelican and the vulnerable Cape vulture.
De Hoop Nature reserves rugged coastline is a Marine Reserve best explored by foot on the world famous Whale Trail slack-pack. The 5 night 56 km trail leads through the eastern section of the De Hoop reserve, traversing the Potberg Mountain with spectacular fynbos and scenery before descending to the pristine bay of Noetsie. From here walkers spend their days exploring tidal pools, dramatic cliffs, caves, ancient middens, limestone sculptures and boulders hosting oyster-catchers, gulls and cormorants until they reach Koppie Alleen. We have viewed many antelope such as Grysbok, Klipspringer, Eland, Bontebok and other mammals such as the Cape Mountain Zebra, Baboon, Yellow Mongoose and Genets.
Marine Protected Area
This is the stretch of coastline where the Southern Right Whales come seasonally to breed and dozens of whales are seen from the cliff. These waters are home to many other marine species such as dolphins & sharks. South Africa’s waters are home to 4000 of today’s global population of Southern Right Whales and every year about 300 come to mate and calve at De Hoop in September and October (during the rest of the year, they travel to the cold waters of Antarctica and the west coast to feed). This makes De Hoop one of the most important breeding and calving areas in the world for southern right whales.
The entire shoreline of De Hoop, extending 51 kilometers in length and five nautical miles out to sea, has been a marine protected area (MPA) since 1985 and is South Africa’s second-largest no-take marine protected area (after Tsitsikamma in the Garden Route National Park). No fishing, boating or exploitation of any kind is allowed and this is one of the reasons the whales favour De Hoop.‘As tourism pressure increases in other areas such as Hermanus, many whales have moved to the quieter waters of De Hoop,’ said Peter Chadwick, former De Hoop conservation manager. Together with his knowledge of this reserve’s terrestrial diversity, Peter knows well the benefits of conserving De Hoop’s marine life. ‘The MPA at De Hoop is important for so many different reasons, not only because of the southern right whales,’ Peter explained. ‘There are more than 300 species of fish, including large concentrations of great white sharks which follow shoals of game fish and rays during the summer months – at one time, we counted 22 great whites along 1,5 kilometers of beachfront. We also once saw a shoal of yellowtail harassing and chasing a great white, in the same way a herd of impala would harass a leopard or small birds would a raptor.’ The comparison with animal behaviour on the African savanna is apt. As with Kruger National Park or other large terrestrial reserves, the 26000-hectare MPA is blessed with an abundance of wildlife. In this case, most of it is under water and mammals include Humpback and Bryde’s whales, while super pods of common dolphin, four thousand strong, move through the area in late summer, followed by several thousand Cape gannets which dive into the sea to catch fish. The rare Humpback dolphin can also be seen.
Recovery of fish stocks
Another significant benefit of the De Hoop marine protected area is the recovery of line fish. ‘Before the MPA was declared in 1985, this was one of the country’s prime angling areas,’ Professor Colin Attwood, a marine biologist at University of Cape Town states. It was heavily exploited by fishers and, over decades, fish numbers decreased dramatically and the size of individual fish became smaller and smaller. The balance of the whole marine ecosystem was disrupted. ‘Imagine what would happen if most of the lions in Kruger were shot,’ Colin said. ‘Targeting predatory fish has a similar effect.’ The concept of a marine protected area was highly controversial. ‘At the time [the MPA was declared], anglers thought their fishing had little impact on fish stocks, believing line fish moved around so much that closing off a section of coastline wouldn’t make a difference.’ But through an extensive fish-tagging study at De Hoop, which started in 1987 and is still going today (making it the longest-running of its kind in the world), Colin and other scientists discovered that many fish species – including galjoen and red roman – are very reluctant to move from their chosen piece of coastline. ‘Not only has the MPA been a huge success in helping fish to recover,’ The study tracks about 30000 tagged fish across more than 40 species. The MPA provides a breeding ground from where fish eggs and larvae can drift on the currents to other non-protected areas of the coast. The oceans of De Hoop are in a sense a repository of fish, which will eventually help repopulate other non protected parts of the shoreline that are fished by anglers. Evidence tells us that the De Hoop MPA works very well.
In a nutshell this is an extra special irreplaceable part of the diverse Cape Floral Kingdom. It has joined the list of all-time spectacular places such as Vic Falls and the Pyramids , a gem that needs to be conserved.
Slack-pack – “backpacking without the schlep”. Travel light with a day pack for water, camera, lunch & raincoat while the overnight equipment is transported ahead.
RAMSAR Site – is a wetland site designated of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. Ramsar
Biodiversity ” Hotspot “- a bio geographic region with significant levels of biodiversity that is under threat from humans.
88 Getaway July 2012