Beautiful De Hoop Nature Reserve, Western Cape
It was just before Christmas and we were traversing a lovely stretch of coastline between Noetsie and Hammerkop.
We had just enjoyed lunch in bright sunshine next to a rock pool where we had been snorkelling. As we resumed our hike, I was still thinking about putting on sunscreen when, within half an hour, a wild storm blew in off the sea straight off Antarctica (or so it felt).
For the next two hours, we struggled along a precipitous cliff path through wind and rain with sea foam flying all around us, until we made the safety of the hiking hut. Here we could dry out and string up our soaking clothes around the fire.
There could be no better illustration of why you should always be prepared for all weathers when hiking!
But you don't have to do the Whale Trail to experience De Hoop.
The De Hoop Collection offers a range of accommodation from a handful of campsites to a luxurious stay in an old manor house, with several variations in between.
You can also book a fully catered and guided three-day trail based at the Melkkamer Manor House on De Hoop Vlei. The vlei (wetland) is a birder's paradise as some 260 species have been recorded here.
The main centre of the reserve is at the old Opstal homestead with its enormous wild fig trees.
Here you can also see bright red splashes of colour against the whitewashed walls when the aloes are flowering in winter (June to August).
This Opstal suite has stable doors that swing wide open to allow occupants to enjoy an uninterrupted view.
While De Hoop is more renowned for its whales, there are also animals like leopard, caracal, bontebok, eland, baboons, and, of course, lots and lots of birds. At the Potberg mountain on the eastern edge of the reserve you'll find the only breeding colony of Cape vultures in the Western Cape.
Koppie Alleen, however, is the jewel in the crown. Think turquoise water, unblemished beaches and the sound of the African oystercatchers' piping call against a backdrop of crashing waves.
This is a prime whale-watching spot. An estimated 40% of the southern right whale population that visits South Africa's shores visits this stretch of coastline, and there are anecdotal accounts of up to 700 whales gathering here at the height of the season (the season is in spring, from around August and it can stretch through to November).
Mmm. Maybe time to make a Whale Trail booking again!