SCHAAPEILAND HIKING TRAIL, YZERFONTEIN
Schaap eiland Hiking Trail skirts the edge of the village of Yzerfontein. Approximately two kilometres long, it starts from the Main Beach – or Sixteen Mile Beach as it is also known – and then runs in a southerly direction, that is, towards the harbour. It is an easy walk for most people.
Once you leave the main beach the Trail runs higher up along the rocks. A well-maintained footpath covered in crushed mussel shells is clearly signposted with white footprints to show the way.
On the Trail many indigenous bird species may be encountered, one of the most important being the small black Oyster Catcher with its bright red legs, long, pointed red bill and shrill whistle-like screech. This bird is on the Cites Red Data List of endangered species.
When fish are abundant, large flocks of Black Cormorants fly over the water, diving down repeatedly to feed. Three species of seagulls are always present: the black Kelp gull, Hartlaub’s, and the Grey headed gull.
During the whaling season from July to October and even later in the year, Southern Right and Humped Back whales come inshore and, near the safety of the harbour, mate and calve, making it possible to watch these graceful giants from close by.
A short distance from the start of the Trail one passes a rocky outpost in the sea with the quaint local name of Koeskatgat. Here you will encounter the first colony of dassies (also called hyrax, rock rabbits or coneys). Believe it or not, this furry little brown animal is the closest living relative to the elephant! Babies are born between September and October. They forage in the morning and late in the afternoon. On cold mornings they first warm up by sitting in the sun, while a female stands guard! For the rest of the day they sun themselves and look tame and cuddly but remember – they are wild animals – please do not feed them! Do not touch or pick them up, they will bite!
After passing Koeskatgat, the Trail soon passes the whitewashed and thatched “Vishuis” (Fish House), the oldest building in Yzerfontein, now home to the Yzerfontein Tourism Office. Feel free to come in and visit us, and view the black and white photographs showing life in the village from bygone days. About 80 years ago this little building was used to store salt. Salt from the nearby pans was transported in pans running on a railway line to the store and later shipped in small freighters to Cape Town.
In front of the building, stop to view a replica of a lime kiln – you may have noticed a few kilns next to the road as you drove into Yzerfontein. These lime kilns were originally used by the local farmers and builders to burn mussel shells, which were found in abundance, to make a kind of cement and whitewash. Many of the houses on the farms were built using this material.
From the “Vishuis” follow the street a short way and turn right into the harbour. The original harbour wall was built during World War II. When the fishing boats return early in the afternoon with their catch (mainly snoek and yellow tail) the harbour is a hive of activity.
Walk through the harbour and pick up the path on the far side where it climbs the hill to a lookout point. This is a good place to sit and watch the fishing boats returning with their catch for the day. It is also a good vantage point to look for whales – you can read all about the different species to be seen on the information boards.
The Trail continues past a number of fishing coves with descriptive local names: Blaasgat, Hoëbank, Starck’s Bank, Duiwenes, Deurspring, Spuitgat, Gladdebank, Skuimgat, College, Draaibank, Grasbank, and Kreefgat. During the spring flower season from August to the beginning of October, this part of the Trail is spectacular and walking through the vygies (succulents), aloes and other small flowers is an unforgettable experience.
The Trail ends at Schaapeiland. Schaapeiland is not a real island but a little peninsula which is cut off from the mainland during high tide. In earlier days Yzerfontein was the holiday spot for the farmers of nearby Darling who brought along cattle and sheep to provide meat for their families. Under the watchful eye of a shepherd the animals grazed on the island and were safe from jackal and other predators.
After your hike, have a rest on one of the wooden benches erected for this purpose and enjoy the sea, the peace, the whales and the view of Dassen Island nine kilometres away in the distance. On a clear day you may even see Table Mountain. Here again are signboards with interesting information about whales.
If you are short on time, return to the centre of Yzerfontein village following the tarred road, this time keeping the sea to your left.
We hope you enjoyed your hike. Do visit us again!