Once a tiny fishing village, today Hermanus is one of the most popular seaside towns in the Western Cape. Perhaps best known for being South Africa’s top destination for whale watching, there are many more reasons to visit Hermanus from the pristine white beaches to the nearby nature reserves, vineyards and excellent local food.
How to get to Hermanus
The little seaside town of Hermanus, also called the ‘Riviera of the South’ is located round about one and a half hours drive time from Cape Town.
Your best option getting to Hermanus is having a car as there are no direct public transport connections.
It’s actually a scenic drive on the N2 via Sir Lowrys Pass from where you will have one of the most breathtaking views back over False Bay all the way to the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town.
Alternatively turn onto the R44 at Somerset West and follow the rugged coastline via Gordon’s Bay (stop at Stony Point for the large penguin colony and later on at Bot River Lagoon for the pelicans and flamingos on R43).
Where to stay at Hermanus
There is plenty of accommodation in and around Hermanus from apartment rentals to Bed and Breakfasts as well as hotels spanning any category.
If you are looking for luxury accommodation, your best bets would be Birkenhead House, Harbour House Hotel or The Marine.
Though located right in the middle of the small town centre and overlooking the breathtaking coastline, a slight downside at the Harbour House Hotel is lying at the pool means being in plain sight for every car and person walking by.
Where to eat at Hermanus
Hermanus was recently awarded UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy and there is no shortage of bars, bistros and restaurants in and around the small town.
The gorgeous little Fishermans Cottage is among the most popular places around the small town centre, located just behind the Whale Museum. It offers local seasonal food, including an awesome seafood curry.
One place not to miss is the quite unique Bientang’s Cave Restaurant and Wine Bar, located at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean at food of the cliffs just below Marine Drive. The restaurant is nestled into a old cave inhabited by a Khoi Strandloper by the name Bientang. The name ‘strandloper’ actually means ‘beach walker’ and the Khoi Strandlopers were thoses tribes living and hunting along the coast.
It’s is an amazing spot year-round but definitely one of the prime spots during the whale watching season; so make sure to book ahead should you be there during the season.
For a special lunch or dinner, head to the Origins at The Marine hotel. The menu includes local favourites with a good choice of seafood and excellent meats.
12 attractions not to be missed at Hermanus
Whale watching in Hermanus
The whale watching season runs from June to early December when large numbers of Southern Right Whales migrate here from Antarctica to mate and calve in the warmer waters.
During this time, you can be almost sure to see them just off the coast. So there is not even the need to take a boat – although obviously you could do this as well.
One of the best locations to see them from the coast is the 11 kilometre long Cliff Path, with plenty of spots to observe them along the way.
Visit the Whale Museum in Hermanus
As we visited Hermanus at the end of December, unfortunately all whales where gone for the season. Therefore we were only left with the whale museum. Though understandably I would have preferred seeing them in the water, the museum sure is a place offering tons of interesting insight into everything about whales. Including an impressive huge skeleton of a southern right whale hanging from the ceiling.
Walk the Cliff Path and take in amazing views over Walker Bay
The Cliff Path stretches for around 11 kilometres along the coastline, offering stunning views over the ocean.
If you are not up to the whole 11 kilometre walk, the best part of the path is from the Old Harbour – a national monument since 1970 – to the New Harbour. This stretch includes Gearing’s Point with its stunning changing art display that you definitely should not miss. It is also one of the best whale watching points along the coast thanks to its elevated level.
Visit the Old Harbour Open Air Museum in Hermanus
Going back to the late 1850s, the Old Harbour marks the place from where Hermanus – or Hermanuspietersfontein as it was originally called – took off.
Located directly off Main Square, today the area is a fantastic place to learn more about the history of fishing with lots of remnants of the area’s historic fishing activity still scattered around the site.
Explore Curio and Craft Daily Market
I am always a bit partial about street markets selling quite apparently a lot of cheep industry made souvenirs. Whilst you need to remain a bit cautious – and absolutely should negotiate prices – I found these typical South African street markets actually offer some nice items. I am definitely a huge fan of the colourful paintings and have a couple of them hanging at my house.
Therefore, I recommend checking out the daily Curio and Craft market located at Old Harbour Market Square.
Hit the cute little galleries and art shops of Hermanus
If you after some serious pieces of art or craft, Hermanus is full of lovely little art galleries selling everything from pictures to sculptures and anything in between. Just walk along Main Road – but don’t forget to stroll down the adjacent alleys too so not to miss some of the more hidden spots.
Visit Die Markie country market
Taking place each Saturday morning, this very popular local country market is located slightly out of town at the wine village which marks the entrance to the Hemel-en-Aarde wine valley.
Nestled into the courtyard of Hermanuspietersfontein winery, there is a focus on food with stalls selling a variety of breakfast choices, meat pies, burgers, seafood, pastries, home-made bread, cheese and charcuterie, as well as fruits and sweets. Off course, you can also taste the whole range of the winery’s wines plus there
Go to Grotto Beach
One of South Africa’s Blue Flag beaches, located around five kilometres outside of Hermanus this large white sandy 18 kilometre long stretch is the perfect spot for a day out at the beach.
Have a swim at the tidal pool at The Marine
Located right below The Marine Hotel, the tidal pool is another popular spot from swimming in Hermanus. So it is officially labelled as part of The Marine, the pool is open to everybody. Given the rugged Hermanus coastline with lots of rocks and often large waves dangerously breaking at the rocks, the pool is a save swimming spot in the central town. It is still recommended to wear dive shoes and bodies due to sharp rocks and sea urchins.
Go wine tasting in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Chances are you have already heard raving about the amazing Cape Winelands. Well, most times when the talk shifts to South African wines and the Winelands, this means people will talk about the famous Stellenbosch-Franschhoek area.
However, the there are so many more areas producing excellent wines across the Western Cape. And one of them starts literally minutes away from Hermanus. In fact, whilst its official name is Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, it is often referred to as the Hermanus wine route.
There are a number of gorgeous family-run little boutique wineries including Bouchard Finlayson, Sumaridge Estate Wines and Creation Wines to name a few.
Should you not have the time for a trip to Hemel-en-Aarde, then at least pop into The Wine Village. Located at the end of the Hemel-en-Aarde road, this little shop offers a huge selection of wines both from the nearby region and other South African appellations.
They have been voted one of the best South African wine shops and bottles here sell at cellar door prices. The shop also holds regular wine pairing events and they always have some wines open to taste as well.
Visit the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary at Gansbaai
If you take the longer scenic route via R43 and R44 from Cape Town to Hermanus, you can observe penguins in the wild at Stony Point , Gordons Bay, about an hour away from Hermanus. However, it’s also well worth to head to Kleinbaai to pay a visit to the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary.
The sanctuarywas established by the Dyer Island Conservation Trust for the protection and rehabilitation of penguins and birds living across the Western Cape. It is an important venue not only to look after injured penguins and birds but also to raise awareness of the difficult situation of South Africa’s penguin colonies whose numbers have plummeted over the past decade to the point that some of the colonies are now endangered.
The entrance to the sanctuary is free but if you visit, consider making a donation to support the local maritime and bird population.
Go on a hike at Fernkloof Nature Reserve
Located in the Kleinrivier Mountains above Hermanus this 18 square kilometre area boasts over 60 kilometres of hiking trails with breathtaking views over the coast from the advantage of its elevated mountain setting.
The area is home to the endemic Cape fynbos and you can find six of the seven common plant families of the Cape Floral Kingdom across the reserve.
And with a bit of luck you might also spot some of the local wildlife, including the hard-to-spot klipspringer, mongoose, grysbok or baboon.
Have you been to Hermanus yet? Let me know about your experience.