The Whale Coast

De Kelders and Southern Right Whales

A fine breakfast again the next morning although when I told Koos we were off to see the whales he wasn’t impressed.’They’re boring’ he remarked, pulling a face.’They don’t DO anything.’ Whales? Boring? I couldn’t believe it;  whales/cetaceans are just thrilling when we see them at home; minkes, pilot whales, orcas occasionally, dolphins, porpoises. It seemed a ludicrous thing to say. (A few days later, I had to admit, he wasn’t far wrong.)

Said goodbye to delightful Wonderlings and two very nice people and headed off north towards Betty’s Bay and Hermanus.We had 3 nights booked in De Kelders in Kleinzee Oceanfront Guest House – the honeymoon suite no less.Well, we’d only been together 17 years! But it promised the best views over the ocean and a big balcony all to ourselves and a lounge,  so we forked out the extra cash for it.It sounded perfect.

DSC_0146

First stop was Betty’s Bay to see the penguins.They were all over the place; super cute and wobbling about comically.The smell   – wow – fishy and powerful and a huge reminder, if you needed one, of how wild this coast is and what an amazing natural sight the penguins are.Spent far more time there than planned, watching the surf pounding the bay, the birds scrabbling about under the boardwalk. Being swept off balance as they waddled in, just like humans, testing their toes in the water first.Laughed out loud at times at their antics.Youngsters too, all brown and fluffy.Walked out to the point where black cormorants dried their wings,  outstretched like creatures of the night.The whole place is magnificent – wild ocean, big mountains all around. Just a joy.

It’s a fine drive to Hermanus though not quite up to Clarence Drive standards.The cloud had thickened and light rain drizzled on and off. And it was cold.No matter,  we’re experts at cold and rain. Parked in one of many pull-in spots on the Hermanus coastline, yards from the main drag and almost immediately found ourselves watching a whale, it’s huge black back dipping under the ocean swell maybe 50 yards off the rocks.Wow! Then another surfaced a little further out.Then another. Three in under a minute. Amazing!

I’m always staggered by how rich these waters are with wildlife. Great Whites were out there too, beautiful creatures which we’d seen on our first visit to the Cape. Picked up some literature from the Tourist Office and wandered along the coastal path for half an hour or so until the rain really began in earnest. It looked an attractive, lively town and I wished we had a wee bit more time there to browse the shops.But on we headed to De Kelders, which we could see across the enormous expanse of Walker Bay.As ever, the sheer scale of the Western Cape was taking a bit of getting used to.

Another 30 -40 mins and we were driving along the front of De Kelders, a newish residential area of big holiday homes.It was nicer than I expected, given Lonely Planet’s assessment of ‘bland holiday homes’ and the setting was just first class.We were a bit early for getting into our accommodation,  so had a coffee in ‘Coffee on the Rocks ‘looking out over the ocean. Seemed a quirky, nice little place but the apple crumble cake I had was quite stale.

But we liked De Kelders.

Even more so when we got into the  superb Honeymoon suite of Kleinzee Oceanfront Guesthouse,  with its beach-house decor in soft blues and greys and off white.Huge windows looking onto the balcony and the sea.Gorgeous.And the balcony! All ours – enormous, the full width of the house with a full dining table and a built in braai.

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g472522-d1177888-r320624456-Kleinzee_Oceanfront_Guesthouse-Gansbaai_Overberg_District_Western_Cape

I don’t think the setting of Kleinzee can be beaten for whale watching. Whatever the charms of the ocean were right below the guesthouse, it meant that a mother Southern Right and her calf drifted and played just off the rocks for the three days we were there.We saw them from the balcony, within minutes of arriving.A quick grab of the cameras and we were off, haring downstairs and scrambling down the path and onto huge pink boulders for a better look.Not that we needed to rush – this was their spot.One or two other folk had also spotted them and the rocky shore was soon a frenzy of amateur photo nuts, clicking away.The calf waved an enormous fin every now and again and sometimes its nose came out of the water.Mum just lounged on the top of the water, coy and never revealing too much of herself just like a lady should. She was a long, barnacled back, shiny blue-black.The surf swirled below us and further out another whale suddenly breached  before disappearing into the depths again.This was wow.

DSC_0451

In fact, that was as much as we ever saw of the whales; they are finless so you don’t see a dorsal emerging and disappearing again, just that log-like back.The vast majority of the whale is hidden.Unlike dolphins, they didn’t jump up in front of us, revealing an eye and so, I have to say, after 3 days, I began to understand what Koos meant a little.After the first flush of amazement – that was it.Further out, there were always other whales, like enormous pieces of black timber bobbing gently on the surface.Oh to have been able to see more of them to really sense the scale of these magnificent creatures.For that reason, it was difficult to connect with them, or be engaged by them after the initial thrill – not something I thought I’d ever feel as I’m a wildlife nut.

A beautiful sunset later that night and we popped open the sparkling wine and toasted to finally arriving in this lovely part of South Africa, in as fine a place to stay as we might have wished for. Cold meats, cheese, tomatoes, crisps, lots of good bread and butter, cornichons,olives.Perfect.Chris enjoyed a bottle of his wine from Vergelegen while I migrated onto my usual gallons of tea with some chocolate; good old Ritter Sport Marzipan.

P1140315

And odd scenario happened later when a young woman staying in the downstairs rooms, suddenly appeared in our lounge and came out onto the balcony to see the sunset.I was quite shocked but reckoned she just didn’t know these were private spaces but a couple of things she said made me think she was chancing her arm.Turned out she’d been up and down before to retrieve wine she’d put in the main kitchen,which was beside our lounge,  despite having access to a small fridge in the downstairs breakfast area beside her room. I said politely that this was part of our accommodation and sorry, no , she couldn’t just invite herself in to enjoy the last rays of the sun or see what was happening with the whales. No, she couldn’t access our lounge either to wander through to the kitchen whenever she wanted which seemed to be what she was looking for too. I think she took the hump a bi.

T sat out for ages, got a fire going and just enjoyed the quiet until 10pm or so.Just the sound of the surf pounding gently on the rocks 50 yards below.Magic.

Ivanhoe Sea Safaris and Arniston

A nice breakfast served by the manager, hot and cold choices and a lovely array of fresh fruit salady things though he seemed a bit under pressure. And their own granola.Chatted to him about whether going to Koppie Alleen was worth it , as it was somewhere which had caught our interest.But responses on trip advisor to my query had been negative –  it was too far away. “Definitely!’ came the reply and a detailed description of how long it would take (2 hours) along the unsealed roads. And there were eland to see. Wow. We were convinced – that was tomorrow sorted.

Took a walk in lovely weather along the shore towards the Walker Bay Nature Reserve.Good path amongst the fynbos. There is an enormous beach at the end, which looked reasonably inviting as I love a good beach walk but I did remember a trip advisor forum member advising that it was isolated and mentioning ‘bad guys’ being around – possibly.Oh well, forget it.It looked ok but not amazing and there wasn’t another soul around so we headed back, cowards that we are.Too cautious? Probably.But bedecked around our necks were two good cameras and various binoculars and Chris always carries our cash and cards in his shirt pocket.Our B&B owner in Kommetjie had previously advised not walking anywhere laden with ‘stuff’ and doubly laden we were.Felt annoyed by the curtailment – again – but, that’s the Western Cape for you.It ain’t like home where you can walk where you want without a care in the world in the Highlands and Islands.

P1140390

We were still ‘stuffed’ after that big breakfast so skipped lunch and munched on oranges and some crisps and bought some water for the 1pm Whale Watching boat trip with Ivanhoe Sea Safaris.I love boat trips and really hoped this would get us up close and personal and seeing a bit more of the whales.I’d read how they sometimes are curious about the boat and come right up.Fingers crossed.

We had a bit of time though before the trip so headed 15 mins along the coast to Arniston bay or rather, a beach just before the village itself.It was a great choice ; a safe-feeling unspoiled white beach , very reminiscent of the Outer Hebrides, all huge skies and dazzling light. Spent half an hour just strolling along the sands, a few folk dotted around, kids playing in the rock pools and a breeze whipping across us.Beautiful spot.Nicer than Walker Bay’s beach.Loved it.

P1140402

A fine day for the ocean it was too; cloudless sky, hardly any breeze and a relatively flat calm sea.Gaansbai wasn’t particularly attractive and as the boat headed away form the harbour, the big houses of De Kelders appeared, strung out along the coast. We passed a few fur seals, leaping through the water like mini- porpoises.It’s a fine piece of coastline, this.The ocean was a deep, sparkling blue.

In all, we saw 7 or 8 different whales that 2 hour trip.One, with a calf, came within 30 yards or so for a few seconds then disappeared. They didn’t really surface  for long and seemed very wary of the boat, despite the engine being switched off.Far, far out a whale breached but none of us were quick enough to get the shot.It wasn’t easy, anyway, getting good shots as the boat  dipped and pitched in the ocean swell.I’m glad we took the trip, it’s always nice to be at sea, but it was ,overall,  a wee bit disappointing.We had as good sightings of the whales  from the rocks as at sea and it was far easier to get a decent photo there.Chris gave it a 6 out of 10 vote – so I knew he felt exactly the same. Surprising, too,  as he loves boats and the sea.

DSC_0297

Made our way through BBQ’d steak and sausages, cooked excellently by Chris on the braai. Not something we ever enjoy too often at home as it’s usually too cold! Another fine South African tradition. Sipped on sparkling wine and enjoyed another fine night on the mega-terrace. I could take a lot  more of this holiday lark.

DE HOOP NATURE RESERVE; KOPPIE ALLEEN AND ARNISTON

It looked a fine day for Koppie Alleen, part of the remote De Hoop Nature Reserve which also promised sighting of Eland .These were the most revered animals of the San people and we had only got a glimpse of them in Botswana’s Savute. Mythical status almost.Plus the promise of white surf washed beaches, totally unspoiled and safe.My kind of place.

Stuffed full from breakfast we set off sharp around 9.30am, enjoying the drive along a deserted road before heading onto the first section of unsealed(dirt) road beyond Bredasdorp – which would be our lot now for the rest of the journey.Our hire car was quite small and there were enough potholes and uneven bits that Chris had to really focus on when driving so it wasn’t a relaxing drive.Did our insurance cover us for unsealed road? Bit late to worry about that now ( I don’t think it did.)

We passed very few cars and the countryside was nice if not wow. Oh well, the final destination would be the thing.

Two hours and 45 mins later we FINALLY drove up to the security barrier of this Nature Reserve, paid a small fee,  then headed downhill towards the still – distant coast.The terrain wasn’t particularly attractive. I tried not to think of the nearly 3 hour non-relaxing drive back. We already both had a feeling of the trip being a bit of a mistake but we were here and had better get on with enjoying the day.The weather was great, sunny and warm.

DSC_0505

“Eland!” We both saw the huge herd at the same time, grazing a hundred metres off the road.Pulling  up quickly we got out of the car and just gazed at the wonderful sight. They’d escaped us in 10 days in Botswana – apart from a brief distant sighting through heavy mist and dust.Now here they were in all their huge, bovine glory.Pale ivory almost, muscular and strong.They looked mythical in the landscape, as if they were not quite of it.It’s the strangest thing; there is something indefinably special about them, something which elevates them above other antelope  – other animals full stop – and which I assume may also have touched the San people. A combination of their features, colouring, shape.

There were hundreds of eland – we passed many others as we drove to the beach.And ostrich. And a fine herd of Roan antelope, chocolate brown. The fynbos was beautiful  – and many people come for that alone , but I didn’t think it was any more special than what was on our doorstep elsewhere. My ignorance possibly – no doubt an aficionado would recognise flowers or plants which we didn’t have any specialist knowledge of.The African Daisies were out, in all their amazing colours; a bee-eater passed by and blue starlings darted here and there.

There were only a few other cars in the small car park so we got some water together – it was quite hot already – and some crisps and fruit and wandered down the path to the whitewashed traditional building which had captured my imagination in photos.It looked like one of the croft houses we have at home but turned out to be a public toilet. Hhmm. Not a very well maintained one at that.On down to the beach and over the board – walking that crosses the area.We arrived at a small cove with creamy sand and edged with low, eroded rocks.It was underwhelming.Nice, yes but I’d been hoping for more than that after nearly 3 hours drive one-way. Ok, the eland had already made it worth the trip but still……They hadn’t even been in the marketing stuff for Koppie Alleen ;our host had just happened to mention they were here.The info was all about the unspoiled beauty, the beaches etc…….But nothing that we saw was any nicer – in fact far less so I would say – than some of the magnificent stretches of coast we already knew in the Western Cape.

A bit underwhelming overall.

It certainly all felt very safe.Perhaps that heightens its appeal to those that make the journey.

Wandered the beach a bit, took photos and snacked on oranges. Then headed back. Around two hours tops.

It was good to reach the sealed road again and we had time – just  – to drop in on Arniston proper, not just the outlying beach. The place had captured me, with its dazzling white beaches and traditional fishermen’s cottages.

Liked the village immediately.We parked beside the main hotel, well situated on the seafront.It was all very quiet, with some beautiful beach houses and a working harbour. Colourful boats were berthed and one or two were now making their way in to shore, bobbing on the surf as the fishermen steered them in.The cottages were lovely from the distance though untidy and a bit unkempt close up.But great character and nice to see these buildings have been kept so intact.Children sat outside some of them.I wasn’t wholly sure of their racial background; they had lighter skin, finer features.

P1140567

Enjoyed a great latte on the hotel’s terrace as Chris sipped his glass of wine – much needed after the day’s long driving.The place had a light about it missing from the Nature Reserve, the beach whiter, the sky bluer with a harsher light. A bit like the Hebrides, I thought again which was perhaps why I liked it so much.Dazzling in the sunshine.I often find myself making comparisons with places at home in Scotland – not because I am always trying to find ‘the same’ but because much of our coastline can’t be beaten worldwide so it’s difficult not to feel, sometimes, ‘ well that’s great but…..’

Picked up more steaks and chicken from the supermarket in Gaansbai –  the meat is so good here and cheap – for cooking on the braai later. Potato salad and pickles and the usual tomatoes and bread and we had a nice feast to look forward to again.Relaxing on the balcony was just too good to miss, especially on our last night here.

DSC_0569

Grabbed a shower, packed away washing we’d done the day before , got the cases packed too and sat outside with some sparkling wine and nibbles.Bliss.The heat soon left the day as the sun went down so Chris got the fire going for the braai which also warmed things up a bit.Nice sunset though rain was promised during the night and tomorrow.

P1140452

Next day  –  Swellendam, the Robertson Wine Valley and stunning accommodation at Les Hauts de Montagu.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s