The coastal town of Hermanus is best-known as a prime whale-watching destination, being a favourite spot of Southern Right and Humpback whales.
The town is southeast of Cape Town, in South Africa’s Western Cape. A popular holiday town in the summer holidays, it is surrounded by smaller towns like Onrus (meaning “unrest”), Stanford and Gansbaai. Hermanus is a great place to visit all year round, however, as the town offers an exciting variety of activities, museums, galleries, shops and restaurants.
Hermanus truly has something for everyone.
Although its coast consists mostly of cliffs, Hermanus has a few beaches including Voëlklip Beach, Kammabaai Beach, and the broad Grotto Beach, overlooking Walker Bay. These beaches are ideal for tanning or beach games such as beach bats or volleyball. For those who enjoy getting wet, these beaches are popular spots for swimming and other water sports, especially surfing.
Hermanus has been recognized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as one of the 12 best whale watching destinations in the world. You can either look for whales from land or you can take a boat-based whale watching tour that can bring you within mere metres of magnificent whales.
The three types of whales you can see in Hermanus are:
- Southern Right whale: Distinguished by calluses on its head and a long, arching mouth, these mammals often swim close to the shore. The best time to spot them is June – November.
- Humpback whale: This whale has long pectoral fins and a knobby head. They pass Hermanus between May and December, heading to St Lucia thereafter.
- Bryde’s whale: These whales are medium-sized and dark grey in colour with a white underbelly. They are named after John Bryde, a former Norwegian consul to South Africa who helped set up the first whaling station in Durban. Bryde’s whales can be seen all year round.
Hermanus has a number of hiking trails. Therefore any hiker ought to find something appropriate, whether he or she prefers rocky mountains or paved paths.
A favourite is the Hermanus Cliff Path. The 11 km-long path runs along the cliffs that line the town’s coast, stretching from the New Harbour to the estuary at the mouth of the Klein River. The path displays the area’s remarkable biodiversity: fynbos, rock hyraxes, and field mice. If you keep an eye on the ocean while walking the path, you might catch a glimpse of marine life such as whales, seals and penguins.
The Fernkloof Nature Reserve, located in the Kleinrivier Mountains, offers landscaped gardens and scenic hiking trails. The nature reserve has a 60 km network of paths. The selection of paths are differentiated by colour, some taking you as high as 824 m. Dogs are permitted on some of the trails.
There are many more great hiking trails around Hermanus, including one in Frans Senekal Nature Reserve in Vermont (just outside Hermanus proper), the Drie Damme Hiking Trail (meaning “Three Dams”), the 4 km Salmonsdam Mountain Trail, and the Salmonsdam Waterfall Trail.
Hermanus has a lot of options for shopping. From shopping malls to vintage stores, there is a shop to meet your every need.
Malls and markets
Whale Coast Mall is the newest shopping centre in town. The mall, situated on Main Road in Sandbaai, is anchored by Checkers and Woolworths. The centre’s 85 diverse shops range from fashion to home & décor. The mall also offers the only multi-purpose cinema theatre in the area, Whale Coast Theatre.
Hermanus Shopping Centre, which is smaller than Whale Coast Mall, is within walking distance of the town centre. The modern, convenient centre has a selection of retail stores and a Checkers supermarket.
Furthermore, the Hermanus Country Market opens every Saturday morning. “For great coffee, unforgettable brekkies, home bakes and the best of local craft in the Overberg. Local wines, handcrafted breads, delicious eats and treats,” the organisers describe the market.
Other popular shops in town include:
- OneLove: This “Fashion Shack” sells hippie-style clothes and accessories for the modern bohemian.
- Hemingways of Hermanus: This magical bookstore, a favourite in town, offers both new and secondhand books, from Africana to philosophy to fiction.
- The Book Collector: The antiquarian bookstore sells and ships books to book lovers and collectors across the world. Apart from the literary classics, the store’s filled with works on various topics, for instance Self-Help and Wild Life. Additionally, it has a selection of first editions and signed copies.
- Funky Vibes: This funky, relaxed shop sells a large, varied collection of eclectic music as well as hippie-style clothing, jewellery and knickknacks.
- Beach House: The lifestyle store truly lives by its slogan: “Comfort, Quality and Style… Naturally.” They stock exquisite ranges of brands from interior decorating & homeware to clothing. From handmade bath & body products to homeware to footwear, you’re sure to find something that catches your eye.
- Wine Village: This lovely wine shop has a wide selection of wines on sale and it also offers wine tastings.
Betty Blue Bistro
Betty Blue Bistro is probably the most popular restaurant in town. Some say the appeal is the welcoming service provided by the friendly hostess and her husband; others say it is the quirky, mostly yellow decor. Either way, the bistro is always bustling with girlfriends having lunch, mothers treating their daughters, families sharing a meal together…
Their food is great. Betty Blue Bistro serves breakfast, lunch and sweets. The wide selection on their menu offers classic (Croque Madam and Betty’s Steak Stack) together with quirky (Red Breakfast, Nutella Sandwich and Lemon Meringue Pancake). Their speciality is filled pancakes, however. The Coronation Chicken Pancake and the Peppermint Crisp Pancake are highly recommended! If you want to try something completely new instead, go for the Trout Pancake.
The Cuckoo Tree
This intimate restaurant is family run, making it inviting and homely. You can sit inside and enjoy the pretty interior or you can sit outside in the courtyard. The Cuckoo Tree hosts theme nights such as their Indonesian Night.
Although The Cuckoo Tree serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is best known for their breakfast, which they make from scratch. Ther varied menu has European cuisine and seafood. Moreover, some of their most-loved dishes are stuffed black figs, the Craig Special, lamb curry, crème brûlée, and calamari.
Dutchies, situated directly opposite Grotto Beach, has spectacular views and delicious food and cocktails. The restaurant, resembling a Greek taverna, has an authentic ambience and friendly staff. This laid-back restaurant is a great venue for groups of friends or family. It is ideal for breakfast, lunch, sundowners with tapas, or dinner.
Their food ranges from Dutch to Mediterranean: Enjoy a traditional Dutch meal for breakfast and have fresh seafood (mussels, sushi, you name it) for lunch or dinner. Not to mention the bitterballen which make great appetizers or in-between snacks.
Tapas Food and Wine Bar is a popular spot for young adults and locals, thanks to its casual atmosphere. The restaurant has a beautiful setting overlooking the ocean and the old harbour and market area. Furthermore, adding to its appeal, Tapas also has live music from time to time.
As the name suggests, they have a selection of tapas which is great for sharing. Buffalo wings to jalapeno poppers to escargot, they have it all. In addition, there are great main meal options too, such as seafood, pasta and burgers. Tapas has a wide variety of drinks: whiskeys, gins, local and international beers, cocktails and so much more.
Museums and galleries
Old Harbour Museum
The Old Harbour was proclaimed a ‘Museum’ in 1972. The site then expanded to create the Old Harbour Museum including the old harbour, a fishermen’s village and the Whale House Museum. The latter has a suspended skeleton of a whale, interesting specimens, photos, and informative displays.
Lembu Gallery and Studio
This gallery specialises in fine art and craft. It sells locally-crafted ceramics, glassware and jewellery. Moreover, a wide range of colourful hand-printed African fabrics is individually produced in an adjacent studio that you can visit to watch the fabrics being printed and to custom order your own fabrics.
Originally named The Fisherman’s Gallery, the Rossouw Modern art gallery is housed in a quaint historic fisherman’s cottage. The gallery showcases a focused range of art by the most sought-after, individual and original expressive young artists.
Malcolm Bowling Art
This art gallery hosts three different artists’ works. It showcases the art of Malcolm Bowling who does oil painting and pencil drawings focusing on birds, wildlife and nguni cattle. Second, Boniface Chikwenhere’s driftwood sculptures are there too. Thirdly, Richard Pullen has a diverse range of ceramics.
Want to read more about Hermanus? Read my post about my trip there with my family last weekend: A Family Weekend in Hermanus