Hermanus is in the privileged position to not only be a great summer destination, but also have more than enough to lure holidaymakers to its shores during wintertime. The reason? The annual return of the Southern Right Whales, of course!
With 2020 and 2019 not being the best whale seasons with regard to the number of whales returning, we hope that the three-year cycle will not disappoint and that there will be more to see this year. If the local Bryde’s Whales’ generous presence during the last few months in the bay is something to go by, we might just be in luck this year.
Hermanus is one of the twelve best whale watching destinations in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Walker Bay (the bay area between Hermanus and Gansbaai) is famous for being the breeding grounds for the Southern Right Whales, travelling all the way from their feeding grounds around Antarctica. The whales normally arrive from the end of May and entertain locals and holidaymakers until the middle of October.
When to Come
The best time to see whale moms and calves frolicking in the bay, is from end of June to September. The climax of the season was normally the Whale Festival on the last weekend of September, but unfortunately, the festival is postponed until 2022. Fortunately though, Hermanus and surrounding areas have more than enough other charms, such as wineries, fantastic restaurants with delicious food, adventure sports, lots of walking opportunities etc. for a memorable holiday.
How and Where to Watch the Whales
Hermanus has whale watching boats which take visitors to experience the whales up close and personal. Book in advance (online or at the offices in the new harbour) and keep in mind that all boat trips are weather permitting.
For visitors on a tighter budget or for those preferring not going on boats, the good news is that the whales are visible from the promenade – with Gearing’s Point, the Old Harbour (in the CBD-area) and further alongside the coast, with Die Gang and Siever’s Punt, popular places to watch from. Hermanus’ own whale crier could be found on busy days, blowing on his kelp horn in town when a whale is observed.
What to pack when visiting Hermanus to do Whale Watching
From May to August we can have anything from wonderful sunny beach days to days when the wind tries to blow one away to heavy stormy weather! Although spring starts showing its warmth in the rest of South Africa from August, Hermanus can see some of the coldest days during September and October, with rainy and windy days sandwiched in between beautiful wind-still days. So, when packing, keep the following in mind:
Bring a raincoat/jacket and an umbrella.
Pack a wind breaking jacket and warm clothes for cold weather and layer when getting clothed in the morning.
With the cool sea breeze almost a constant, carry a jacket, scarf and beanie when going out.
Bringing good binoculars will ensure a great viewing experience.
Although cell phone cameras are incredibly good these days, bring a DSLR or small camera if you have one. If going on a boat, you might be able to take close-up photos of whales, but from the shore you will need a camera with a good zoom ability.
Good walking shoes is a must for going ‘whale hunting’ from spot to spot in the village to get good pictures.
Planning your Stay
Most places of accommodation have Covid specials which might surprise you, so even if your budget is tight, don’t shy away of staying long enough. A weekend in Hermanus is a nice break away, but to enjoy more of the village and the surrounding areas, you need at least four days. A week would be better!
The Overberg region includes Hermanus, Gansbaai, Kleinmond, Betty’s Bay, Stanford, Greyton and many more picturesque towns which can be visited during short day trips while on holiday in Hermanus. Visit SA Places at https://www.places.co.za/html/towns_in_the_overberg.html to read more about these beauties waiting for you to visit.
Fynbos is the generic name for a great variety of fine-leafed plants, with more than 9 000 of the 30 000 species being indigenous and unique only to the Western Cape region of South Africa. Fynbos doesn’t grow naturally anywhere else in the world. Learn more about fynbos here: http://www.percytours.com/fynbos-plants-cape-floral-kingdom.html#.X75UaGgzbDc. A long or short hike in Fernkloof and on the cliff path in Hermanus showcases thousands of species. The Harold Porter Botanical Garden in Betty’s Bay (https://www.sanbi.org/gardens/harold-porter/) is just a stone’s throw away and offers a great morning or afternoon outing for the whole family.
4 Everything the Village has to Offer
Hermanus has some of the best restaurants in South Africa (and we locals believe in the world). The promenade is lined with restaurants with magnificent ocean views, but there are jewels to be found in the heart of the village, offering fantastic food. Walk around to find them or look them up on the Internet. In the December holiday period, booking is essential.
Hiking on the cliff path, in the mountain in Fernkloof, cycling, kayaking and canoeing on good weather days are just a few outdoors things to do. Hermanus Sportsclub (http://www.hermanussport.co.za/) offers tennis and squash and has a restaurant too.
Grotto Beach is Hermanus’ Blue Flag pride with loads of space to swim, surf, sit in the sun or having long walks. The estuary mouth is currently open, which offers canoeing, kitesurfing and swimming opportunities.
Voëlklip, Kammabaai (ideal for families with small children) and Langbaai are more intimate beaches and ideal to enjoy a sunset picnic.
Neighbouring beaches include Onrus, Sandbaai and Hawston.
And there you have it – just a few reasons why Hermanus is such an irresistible place to keep coming back to. Again and again. And again. And again. And…
Hermanus is one of the twelve best whale watching destinations in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund (although we believe it is the Whale Capital of the World). This makes the village a favourite holiday destination for both local and overseas visitors. As the whale migration season is coming to an end, tourism in Hermanus is just starting to pick up again during the current level of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic and with the borders slowly opening, tourists from abroad will hopefully soon start streaming to our shores again.
Walker Bay is famous for being the breeding grounds for the Southern Right Whales, travelling all the way from their feeding grounds around Antarctica. According to marine environmentalist, Noel Ashton, the South African coastline provides an ideal playground for over half of the world’s species of whales and dolphins due to the two oceanic system supporting so many different life forms.
Other than the Southern Right Whale, Humpbacks and Bryde’s Whales are also found visiting Walker Bay. The bay has a few residential whales which are seen infrequently right through the year.
Hermanus’ Whale Season
The best time to come to Hermanus to see whales is between June and November, with September being the ideal time. The annual Whale Festival is normally held on the last weekend of September. Other related festivals around the time is the Kalfiefees (translation: calve’s feast) in Onrus and the Flower Show (normally the weekend before the Whale Festival).
How to Watch our Celebs
Hermanus has whale watching boats which take visitors to experience the whales up close and personal. For visitors on a tighter budget or for those preferring not going on boats, the good news is that they are visible from the promenade, with Gearing’s Point, the Old Harbour (in the CBD-area) and Siever’s Punt, popular places to watch from. Hermanus’ own whale crier could be found on busy days, blowing on his kelp horn when a whale is observed.
What to pack when visiting Hermanus to do Whale Watching
Although springs shows its warmth in the rest of South Africa, Hermanus can see some of the coldest days during September and October, with rainy and windy days sandwiched in between beautiful wind-still days. So, if you plan to visit, please remember to:
Make sure to pack some warm clothes for cold weather and layer when getting clothed in the morning.
With the cool sea breeze almost a constant, carry a jacket and beanie when going out.
Bringing good binoculars will ensure a great viewing experience.
Although cell phone cameras are incredibly good these days, bring your DSLR or a good smaller camera. If going on a boat, you will be able to take close by photos of whales, but from the shore you will need a camera with a good zoom ability.
Good walking shoes is a must for going ‘whale hunting’ from spot to spot to get good pictures.
Interesting Whale Facts
The Southern Right is one of three species classified as ‘baleen’ whale. They are black with brownish bonnets, with parasite crustaceans attaching themselves to the whale’s body.
Whales normally give birth to only one calf, although they may carry up to seven foetuses.
The gestation period is about 12 months.
Calves are born between June and September in the bay, making a visit to Hermanus and surroundings during this time quite rewarding.
Mother and calf stay close together in Walker Bay until the calves are strong enough to make the journey back to the North.
Calves are nursed for about six months.
They usually return to the same place to give birth, although there are exceptions.
Instead of teeth, they have hornlike plates consisting of bone.
It is believed that whales have a three-year cycle of pregnancy, providing them with enough time between calving to feed and recuperate sufficiently.
According to the University of Pretoria Mammal Research Institute’s Whale Unit, there were between 70 000 and 80 000 whales in the 1700’s. From then on, their numbers declined so much that they were put under international protection. It is estimated that there are around 12 000 Southern Rights now, of a third of which roam through South African waters annually.
Reading through books about Hermanus, many a story is penned about people’s experiences with whales – mostly death-defying recordings of men in fishing boats, big and small. Hermanus’ most famous dame though didn’t endanger anyone’s life as far as I have read, but she chose her favourite spot in Walker Bay and kept coming back here. Wendy, as she was called by locals, loved a spot near a cove close to town nearby Hermanus Pieters’ fountain. The cottage standing there on the rocks by itself was thus fittingly called Wendy’s Cottage. It is still standing, being awarded heritage status. Wendy stopped coming there in the early 1940’s and another whale came to inhabit her spot. Of course, she was named after her popular predecessor. Maybe she was even Wendy’s offspring…
Other Residents to Lookout for when the Whales are Shy During your Whale Watching Holiday
If you miss the superstars during ‘whale season’ or if you are here at the right time but they seem to be shy and don’t show themselves, keep an eye out for other stars on our marine stage.
Dolphins are frequently passing through the bay swimming and diving, with their shimmering bodies and bold moves making it look as if they are flying in and out of the water. They are sometimes accompanying penguins.
Close to Hermanus are two sanctuaries for African penguins – at Kleinbaai, (near Gansbaai towards L’Agullas), and the other at Betty’s Bay (to the other side towards Cape Town). A visit to these sanctuaries is a great family activity and a wonderful daytrip to also explore other sights in those areas.
In the absence of the whales, the cute dassies (rock hyrax) entertain locals and tourists with their laziness on the one hand, and their swiftness and craftiness when it comes to acquiring food throughout the year.
Cape Fur Seal colonies are also to be found in Walker Bay and on a walk of the cliff paths they can be seen hunting and playing in the water near to the rocks. The New Harbour, Gearing’s Point and Kwaaiwater are places to be on the lookout for these wonderful creatures.
Sharks are protected in the area and shark cage diving is an option for the ‘dare-devil’ visitor. Kleinbaai, near Gansbaai, is the basis of cage diving in the area.
Birdlife is of course aplenty in the Overberg area. Use your whale watching binoculars to spot the many species found along the coast and keep the camera ready to capture spectacular pictures of seagulls and other birds in flight.
Hermanus is a picturesque village in the Western Cape, South Africa, nestled between the fynbos-dressed Overberg Mountains and the cold Atlantic Ocean. Although Hermanus is a smallish town, it has a big town feeling with a wonderful vibe and lots of events taking place.
As everywhere else, the restrictions during the Covid-19 lockdown had also left its dirty prints on the town and business owners are doing what they can to up the area’s economy and provide employment for residents and travel opportunities for tourists again.
Although the annual Flower Festival (second last weekend in September) and the Whale Festival (last weekend in September) was cancelled this year due to the pandemic, other activities are slowly starting to happen again. The monthly First Fridays Art Walk (September to April) commenced in September and although it was a bit of a subdued affair – probably due to the fact that no wine and snacks were served – it was a necessary step in normalising village life in Hermanus again.
Hermanus is a convenient one and a half hour-drive from Cape Town which provides an easy daytrip opportunity for someone on a limited time budget. Be warned though – a day in the village will not even cover the basics, while a visit of four days or so will give one at least an idea of what the town has to offer.
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when planning your visit to our beautiful little village:
Book in advance to ensure your stay at one of the many guest houses or hotels.
Make sure to include a Saturday in your trip planning to visit one or more of the markets in the area. Also keep the art walk on the first Friday of every month in mind (only between September and April).
Start your visit in Hermanus with a trip up the Rotary Way to the top of the mountain to enjoy the view of the whole of Walker Bay.
The town offers quite a few walking options. There are various routes into the mountain from the Fernkloof Nature Reserve as well as a cliff path walk along Hermanus’ 7.5km coastline from the new harbour to Grotto Beach (or the other way around). One of the local taxi services can be used for transport to the beginning and from the end point. You can also walk shorter distances on the cliff path from anywhere you stay in town.
For nature lovers there are plenty to see. The area is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom with plenty unique fynbos species to be observed.
Weekly Parkruns can be attended on Saturday mornings at the venue on the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley road (after lockdown).
Other physical activities to explore in the area are surfing, mountain biking, fat biking on the beaches, scuba diving, kite surfing, sandboarding, sea fishing etc.
During the months of August through to early November travellers flock to Hermanus to see Southern Right Whales frolicking in the bay with their new-born calves. They can be watched from the shore or from one of the whale watching boats if weather permits. You can read more about this in my next blog entry at https://fieliesdekock.com/2020/10/16/hermanus-whale-watching/
On wind-quiet, sunny days, kayaking is a wonderful way to get exercise as well as do some on-water sightseeing between the two harbours.
The town has no shortage of beaches with the main beach, Grotto, being the largest. On windy days, the estuary is a favourite playground for kite surfers. Alongside the cliff path lies Voëlklip (famous for surfing), Langbaai, which is small and intimate; and Kammabaai – a favourite for parents with small children and also suitable for surfing. Mosselrivier and Kwaaiwater beaches are also well-liked, with Kwaaiwater’s beach being a popular picnic area to lazy away summer evenings when the sun only sets after eight o’clock.
Hermanus’ restaurants are world-class and the road alongside the marine is lined with many options offering delicious food and the most beautiful views.
For art lovers there are 20 art galleries to visit around town as well as outdoor sculptures to adore as part of the annual FynArts Festival (in June).
The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is Hermanus’ contribution to South Africa’s wine industry and offer fourteen wineries to visit for wine tasting and other activities. Tours are available from the Market Square to ensure that tourists do not drive under the influence.
Hermanus is a favourite extreme sports destination, featuring a leg of the Cape Epic. Other activities include hang gliding, zip lining etc. (on the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley road).
Other places to visit are the old and new harbours, the many sites alongside the cliff path from where one can appreciate the view from a wooden bench on the rocks, Hoy’s koppie in the middle of the town and the surrounding suburbs of Onrus, Sandbaai and Vermont. Stanford (and De Kelders are also close by which provides more entertainment opportunities such as river cruising, fishing and much more.
Hermanus is a photographer’s paradise, so bring your camera and tripod or test your cell phone’s picture taking abilities. You will not be disappointed!
Unfortunately, not even beautiful Hermanus is excluded from crime, so always be alert, especially when walking. Preferably, always walk in pairs at least.
(To avoid unbalance advertising regarding businesses, I don’t include links to activities businesses in this article. I plan to showcase individual activities in the future, so watch this space. For now, you can just search (for instance, ‘kayaking in Hermanus’ or ‘restaurants in Hermanus’) to find what you want.
So – don’t even bother wondering about where to go to for your next break away. Come and see why we are raving about our beautiful village. Hermanus is awaiting your visit.