Hiking in De Kelders

This article appeared in the Cape Times and ‘Walks with a Fat Dog’ by Peter Slingsby

The whales have arrived at Hermanus, but you can find even better whale-watching opportunities at the other end of Walker Bay. There are plenty of whales, some wild beaches, and dramatic sea-caves thrown in for good measure. There’s also a “tidal pool” that is, uniquely, filled naturally with fresh water.

The Duiwelsgat trail traverses the coast at De Kelders, from the Klipgat caves in the north to the Gansbaai Caravan Park in the south. The full route is only 7km one way, so a turn-around to retrace your steps from the tidal pool will give you a walk of about 11km. The views both ways are brilliant.

You can either start at the Cape Nature office at Klipgat, where you have to pay a small fee, or you could pick up the path at the northern end of Vyfer Road, Die Kelders, in which case entrance is free.

The path soon meets Cape Nature’s boardwalk and steps, and you descend to Klipgat where there is a fresh-water reservoir at sea level and a gush of pure, clean water to slake your thirst. This is also a good spot for a sea-bathe.

There is no real path – our guide, Gideon Shapiro of the excellent Cliff Lodge at De Kelders, led us into and through a succession of caves, where archaeologists are excavating remarkable relics of our distant human past.

Iziko SA Museums and the universities of New York and Stanford have been busy here uncovering traces of Middle Stone Age people from up to 80,000 years ago, as well as pottery, beads and sheep bones from Khoisan herders from the last few thousand years. Don’t touch anything!

Beyond the southernmost cave, the route climbs the limestone cliffs until you reach a low stone wall that surrounds the Duiwelsgat, the scary hole that gives the trail its name. Hang on to your kids and dogs here – the “gat” is really deep and the wall seems designed to keep out nothing bigger than a tortoise.

Rather carry on southwards, keeping an eye out for whales and admiring the incredible view past Hermanus to Cape Hangklip and, far in the distance, Cape Point. Here are some of the most dramatic seascapes in Africa, so if the whales are shy there’s still plenty on which to feast your eyes.

The limestone cliffs are crumbly, and you should keep back from the edge as you round the bend and De Kelders comes into view.

From here the path is not well defined – there are occasional green footprints and red dots, but if you have any nervous moments it’s best to retreat to the beachfront roads of De Kelders. You’ll pass the famous “Drupkelder”, where Hendrik Cloete allegedly stole a stalactite in the 18th century and had it transported to his house at Alphen.

You’ll have to follow Cliff Road here past Whalesong Lodge and Coffee on the Rocks. This is another excellent whale watching point. When you’ve had your coffee, you’ll soon find yourself back on the rocks, circling round past Stanford’s Cove – another safe bathing place. Another kilometre of jeep track takes you to the tidal pool, and there are plenty of rock pools here to interest you.

CapeNature recently received a handsome grant from the Lotto Board for the upgrading of the facilities at Klipgat. Gideon and Stanley are driving moves to have the whole Duiwelsgat trail upgraded to the standard it deserves, but they’re having a bit of strife from the Overstrand municipality in this regard. Some small towns just don’t seem able to appreciate their finest assets!

Both Gansbaai and De Kelders have many good restaurants and coffee shops for your refreshment, and there are many fine accommodation establishments, too, if you want to make a weekend of your visit.

You could do some shark cage diving, visit the famous Danger Point lighthouse, or enjoy a fine meal at the unique Ikhaya laba Thembu restaurant in Masakhane.