Every so often I come across a gem of a hiking trail – and the newly launched Perlemoen Slackpacking Trail in the Overberg is one. Based near South Africa’s famous great white shark cage diving and whale-watching capital of Gansbaai, the Green Flag trail provides a fascinating insight into an area famous for shipwrecks and infamous for perlemoen poaching.
What makes it of particular interest is the trail’s versatility – the direction and distance you walk is dependent on wind and tide as well as fitness and interests so it’s equally appropriate for families and leisure groups as for serious hikers.
Designed as a slackpacking trail (with a budget self-catering option too), it consists of two days of hiking and an optional third day of activities such as a boat trip out through Shark Alley to Dyer Island, a quad-bike ride or a hike through Platbos, Africa’s southernmost milkwood forest.
The trail starts at De Dam, just east of Pearly Beach, and meanders along fynbos-covered dunes, sandy beaches and rocky shores past Quoin Point lighthouse to the little fisherman’s village of Buffelsjag, where I tasted perlemoen for the first time “¦ and decided it was overrated. Along the way, we learnt all about the unique environment, the prolific bird life and the numerous ships wrecked along the coast and enjoyed swimming in sheltered pools. Tired from walking on sand and looking forward to some beach time, we took a vehicle back to the guesthouse after 15 kilometres, but if you’re strong you can continue for another seven kilometres past the Otari Maru shipwreck to Pearly Beach.
Day two begins with a visit to the Strandveld Museum in Franskraal. The treasure trove of memorabilia from Dyer Island and the surrounding coastal community is also home to the largest private collection of artefacts from the HMS Birkenhead, the British troop carrier that sank off Danger Point in 1852.
We hiked for eight kilometres along the spectacular cliffs of De Kelders to Die Plaat, where you can watch waves crash into the narrow gullies or spot the area’s seasonal visitors, southern right whales, which come to the bay between June and December to mate and calve.
There’s a guided tour of the normally off-limits Drip Kelder, the only freshwater cave along the South African coast, and plenty of time to explore other caverns that have been carved out of the limestone rocks and to enjoy the magnificent fynbos.
In true slackpacking tradition, the trail is flexible and there’s a bed, wine and traditional dinners at the end of the day. If you enjoyed the Whale Trail and want a luxurious alternative, this one’s for you.
A fully catered luxury package for a group of 10 is R1 200 a person, while the budget option costs R650 a person.
The route on day two follows the recently renovated Duiwelsgat trail (http://duiwelsgattrail.co.za) which is free. The Five Caves Trail, on which you explore Drip Kelder, Gideon’s Cave, Duiwelsgat, Dry Cave and Klipgat, is also offered as a one-day option on the Perlemoen Trail. Cell 082-578-3023, email [email protected], www.perlemoentrail.com.