Once a tiny fishing village, Hermanus – just over a 90-minute drive south-east of Cape Town – is now a bustling seaside town with a range of accommodation in all price brackets and tons of things to do. Think wine tasting, good restaurants and art galleries, whale-watching, hiking and long white beaches. Here’s my pick of 17 things to do in Hermanus on the Cape Whale Coast, South Africa.
Hermanus has a magnificent natural setting between mountains and ocean at Walker Bay, with the Bot River Lagoon to the west and the Klein River Lagoon to the east. The town dates back to the early 1800s and later became a popular place for people with tuberculosis to recuperate. By the 1920s there were about 15 sanitoriums in Hermanus and some of them later became hotels that still stand today.
In 2019, Overstrand Hermanus became Africa’s first UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. To achieve this, it had to put creativity and the creative community at the heart of its urban development plans and ensure a safe, inclusive and sustainable environment. Join in the gastronomic abundance of the area by sampling its food (see point 9) and wines (see point 8).
In Hermanus itself, try The Brewery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Village. Order a tasting tray of five varieties from lager and pale ale to pilsener and stout. For those who don’t love beer, order from the wine list or choose from a selection of spirits, non-alcoholic drinks and milkshakes. Hungry? Enjoy a meal, from salads, pizzas, sushi and burgers to pork belly and mussels.
2. Visit a museum
Don’t miss a visit to the museums in Hermanus. The Old Harbour is an open-air museum below the main square that depicts the history of the fishing and whaling industry around Hermanus (see the intro photo). See some restored old fishing boats, the jetty and the tables where fish was gutted and cleaned, as well as indoor displays in stone buildings where fishing shacks used to stand in days gone by.
3. Walk the cliff path
4. Take a hike at Fernkloof Nature Reserve
If you’re a plant enthusiast, don’t miss the Hermanus Botanical Society and Fernkloof Nature Reserve’s Fernkloof Flower Festival in September. Expect displays about the plants and birds of Fernkloof, a plant sale, and some fynbos-inspired workshops.
5. Drive the Rotary Way
6. Spend time at the beach
7. Go whale-watching
During whale season, listen for the whale crier who blows his kelp horn to alert the public to sightings nearby. Gearing’s Point on Marine Drive is a good place to view the whales. If you don’t mind crowds, you’ll love the Hermanus Whale Festival each September. There’s usually a street parade, a fun run, fascinating nature talks, displays in the eco-marine tent, arts and crafts, music and kids’ activities.
Those who want more than land-based whale watching can pay for an exciting whale-watching boat trip from the New Harbour with Southern Right Charters.
8. Enjoy Hermanus wine tasting
Without doubt, my favourite stomping ground for Hermanus wine tasting is the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, which has around 20 wineries like Newton Johnson, Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson and Creation, many of them with expansive views over the vineyards from their tasting rooms and some food offerings as well.
Visit Spookfontein for its lovely position in the vineyards above the valley and the story of its name. Back in the 1800s, when the farm was established, the iron in the water of the fontein, or spring, interacted with the cool coastal breeze to create mist, which the locals thought was a spook, or ghost.
Although Ataraxia wines are yummy, it’s worth a visit just for the tasting room that looks like a small chapel – sometimes hired out for intimate weddings. The name Ataraxia means a feeling of serenity and that’s what you get looking through the windows onto the vineyards.
Some wineries are open by appointment only; for others, check opening times on the Hemel en Aarde Wines website before you go.
9. Eat at some Hermanus restaurants
Another good place to try if you enjoy a sea view and the buzz of the Hermanus Waterfront is Pear Tree, which offers anything from seafood to burgers, poke bowls to tacos. Other Hermanus restaurants with views out to sea include La Pentola at the Hermanus Waterfront and The Rock at the New Harbour.
10. Go shopping
11. Poke around some Hermanus markets
There’s also a Country Market from 9:00 till 13:00 on Saturday mornings at the corner of Fairways Avenue and José Burman Drive. Pop in to experience the laid-back vibe and buy items like cheese, artisanal breads, pastries, craft beer, wine, gin and good coffee. Hermanuspietersfontein Winery also hosts a Saturday morning market. Find it at The Village at the turnoff onto the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley road.
12. Tour an abalone farm
Near the New Harbour is the Abagold abalone farm where you can put on gumboots to tour the facility on Mondays to Fridays at 11:00. A guide takes you around the farm where abalone is cultured to fulfill the huge demand for this species without putting pressure on wild stocks. Learn about its life-cycle and the threats from poaching, see the hatchery and how the abalone are fed, sorted and cleaned for export. You can also have a tasting or visit the shop in the shed, which sells canned abalone, abalone shells, abalone pearls and jewellery.
13. Visit an art gallery
14. Visit the South African National Space Agency
Why, might you ask, is the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) located off the beaten track in Hermanus? Well, the lack of a railway line means it doesn’t interfere with the magnetic measurements. SANSA was created to strengthen co-operation in space-related activities while fostering research in space science. Its work includes monitoring space weather and Earth’s fluctuating electromagnetic field. If all this gets you excited, make sure you don’t miss the free hour-long tour every Wednesday at 11:00.
15. Go sea kayaking in Walker Bay
Bring shorts and a T-shirt, windbreaker/fleece, towel, sunhat and sunscreen, as well as a change of clothes for afterwards. Note that if there’s too much wind or swell, the trip may be cancelled for your safety.
If sea kayaking doesn’t appeal to you, Walker Bay Adventures also offers other active experiences like horse trails, quad biking, kite surfing and scuba diving.
16. Stay over in Hermanus accommodation
There’s no question that a day in Hermanus isn’t nearly enough to explore it properly. You’ll definitely want to check out some Hermanus accommodation and stay over for a few days. Whether you want to push out all the stops in a luxury seafront boutique hotel, go budget self-catering, or stay in a B&B or backpackers’ accommodation, Hermanus has something to suit everyone. There’s even camping in nearby Onrus if that’s your thing. To explore some of the many options, have a look at Hermanus Tourism’s website.
17. Take a day trip
- Arniston – see 17 things to do at Arniston
- Bredasdorp with its ship museum
- Kleinmond – see 21 things to do in Kleinmond
- L’Agulhas – southernmost tip of the continent of Africa with its lighthouse
- Gansbaai – see Things to do in Gansbaai
- Greyton – see 15 things to do in Greyton
- Stanford – see 17 things to do in Stanford
Getting to Hermanus
Best time to visit Hermanus
The winter months of June to August are cooler, with lows of around 12-13 degrees Celsius and highs in the upper teens. Bear in mind when planning your activities that Hermanus is primarily a winter rainfall area, with some 70-95mm of rain likely to fall in any one of these months. This is the second busiest tourist season in Hermanus given that it’s peak time for whale-watching.
Although we often visit in the busy summer months, my preferred seasons are perhaps the more temperate spring (September/October) and autumn (April/May). I particularly fancy early September, when temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold, there’s less than 10% chance of rain, and a high chance of spotting whales in Walker Bay as well as lots of birds on your hikes. If you dislike crowds, try to avoid the weekends towards the end of September when Hermanus hosts the Fernkloof Flower Festival (see point 4 above) and the much busier Whale Festival (see point 7).
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