The popular whale-watching town of Hermanus lies on Walker Bay, a marine reserve renowned for the great number of southern right whales that visit from June to November. It’s the largest town in the Overberg, and a long skinny one at that. Stretching 12 kilometres from east to west it’s built between the steep slopes of the Klein River Mountains and the alternately sandy and rocky coastline of Walker Bay. Fernkloof Nature Reserve hugs it on the north-east side, the Klein River Lagoon reclines to the east, and small coastal settlements dot the shore to the west. To the north-west lies the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley - renowned for great wines and beautiful scenery.
The attractions list for Hermanus and the coastal strip of the Overberg region - dubbed the Overstrand - offers visitors a wide selection of choices to suit every taste. This is probably the primary reason for the area’s local and international renown. Land-based whale watching is the town’s signature dish but really that’s just for starters, with an advertised 300-odd things to do and see in the vicinity.
Hermanus is a relatively large commercial centre, with an estimated total population in the Greater Hermanus area of 70 000. It’s an atmospheric town with a good selection of just about everything that makes up a seaside settlement: great restaurants, art galleries, book shops, and quaint retail outlets, plus a whole army of accommodation options.
Whale watching - Whale-season runs roughly from Jun-Nov, peaking in Sep-Oct, and visitors often enjoy excellent sightings of the great creatures from the rocky shore. There are also a number of registered boat operators that run daily trips from the new harbour to the west of town.
Whale Museum - just west of the Village Square, the museum offers fascinating facts and an audio-visual Whale Show focusing on the southern right whales.
The Village Square - This is the social hub of town and overlooks the sea with only the coastal road between it and the lawns that lead onto the cliff path. It’s a place of trendy shops, good restaurants, and has a pleasant vibe. East of the square is the Whale Fountain, and there’s plenty of parking all around.
The Cliff Path - offers 12kms of strolling along the coastal cliffs with fabulous sea views. It is accessible from several roads and parking areas along its length. It winds through the fynbos along the coastline and there are benches overlooking secluded coves.
Beaches - Hermanus has great beaches, the best of which are east of town in the Voëlklip area. The most famous is the blue flag Grotto Beach. Closer to town is Voëlklip Beach, popular with surfers; further down the coast, Kammabaai is a favourite with families, and after that is the secluded Langbaai. There are also several tidal pools; the Marine, also known as Bientang se Baaigat, is at the foot of steep steps below the Marine Hotel, and Fick’s Pool is off Westcliff Road near the Plein Street junction.
Fernkloof Nature Reserve - north of town in the Kleinrivier Mountains. The 1800ha reserve includes the Cliff Path, fynbos, and a small patch of evergreen forest. It’s known for the 1600+ plant species collected and identified within the reserve. Along the 60km network of hiking trails visitors are likely to spot small wildlife and some of the 90-odd bird species resident here. Gate hours are 07h00-19h00 in summer, and change with the seasons, www.fernkloof.com.
Hemel-en-Aarde Valley - Tucked between the folds of the Glen Vauloch Mountains, the valley runs 35kms to Caledon and farmers grow flowers, olives, apples, cherries, pears, berries, and grapes for wine. There are twenty-eight wineries including Bouchard Finlayson, Newton Johnson, and La Vierge, and seven offer tasting and sales. There are a few good restaurants as well.
The Wine Village - 4km west at the Hemel-en-Aarde turnoff. This is one of the top 10 wine shops in the country, stocking 1600+ wines from 400-odd estates. Open Mon-Fri 09h00-18h00, Sat 09h00-17h00, Sunday 10h00-15h00, tel +27 28 316 3988, www.wine-village.co.za.
Neighbouring towns - Stanford.