Hermanus is best known as the whale-watching capital of South Africa, and this upmarket, beautiful, quiet small town on the bluffs above the beach is truly a paradise. In this city, perfectly located between mountains and sea on the southern coast of Cape Town, we had the best time of our lives.
Despite its size, Hermanus is nonetheless beautiful and entertaining. Whatever we were doing, whether walking along the cliffs, eating good food, or exploring the surroundings, the city embraced us. Notably, we embraced Hermanus back.
Moreover, if you ever find yourself in the area (and I strongly recommend that you do), consider a slow pace when driving on the stunning coastal road from Cape Town. Each mile along the way took our breath away.
Here is how we spent 48 hours in a paradise called Hermanus.
Driving on the Cape Whale Coast
From Cape Town, in our right-hand drive vehicle, on the left-hand side of the road, we drove about two hours on N2 to R44. The drive was challenging at the beginning, but not because of bad traffic. You see, it was our first time driving on the left side of the road! While my husband was at the steering wheel, I was basically the co-pilot, confirming on which side of the road he should be. It was a much needed team effort.
Although our GPS showed that we would be there in less than two hours, it didn’t happen. The coastal route was too gorgeous to drive without stopping. On one side we saw lush mountains and semi-desert; on the other side, the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, R44 is recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful coastal roads.
The weather wasn’t ideal. It was windy and the waves were spraying, but it didn’t prevent us from making several stops, including Gordon’s Bay, then Betty’s Bay, where we saw African penguins.
Near sunset, we made it to our hotel, safe and sound. The Ocean’s Eleven Guest House is a colonial-style building situated on the cliffs that provided us with incredible views of Walker Bay, the city, and the surrounding mountains. By then, we were already in love with Hermanus.
The cliffside path
While walking part of the seven-mile cliffside path between Hermanus and Walker Bay, we were astonished. We stopped at viewpoints conveniently located adjacent to the trail. Our eyes not only caught blooming flora, birds, and dassies (hyraxes), but also crashing waves, rocky coves, and the misty mountains in the far background. Words and pictures don’t do justice to the views.
June is the beginning of the whale watching season, and the cliffs are a well-known spot to observe the giant mammals spouting in the bay. Due to windy conditions, no whales were visible while we were there, but it didn’t take away from the glory of this place.
The charming village, although small, has bookshops, boutiques, small art galleries, and antique stores. Several restaurants, with cuisine varying from comfort food to delicious local dishes inspired by the sea, are located on the bluffs. The place itself is cheerful. While sitting in the open area of a restaurant overlooking Walker Bay, we absorbed the “flavor” of the place: parents enjoying themselves while kids played in a grassy area nearby; groups of friends chatting, at tables next to ours; other folks strolling along the street. While the breeze softly touched our faces, we savored our food and enjoyed ourselves.
On our second night in town, we dined at the Burgundy Restaurant. Because the sun had already set, it was chilly, so we got a table inside. The place was packed, yet quiet and pleasant. The service and food were outstanding. The grilled Patagonian calamari, red snapper, and gnocchi in a creamy Gorgonzola sauce with butternut squash and bacon were to die for. We agreed it was the best food we’d had on this vacation so far. We toasted with local Wijnskool Sauvignon Blanc and a blue milkshake with bubble gum flavor for our daughter. Cheers!
Whether for a scenic drive, stunning views, or the fantastic wine production, the Hermanus Wine Route in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (meaning Heaven and Earth) cannot be missed.
Although we made an online reservation for tasting and lunch at Creation Winery, we never got any confirmation. Thinking that it was a normal procedure, we drove up on R320, and from there we took a dirt road to reach the farm, which was superbly set on a mountain plateau. Stunning! With trimmed fields and lavish hills, Creation Winery became my romantic image of Africa.
Sadly – and quickly – we understood why we never got a confirmation – the restaurant was closed for renovation. The girl who greeted us was extremely friendly and apologetic for the inconvenience. To help us, she not only brought us inside and wrote a list of wineries that we could visit; she also made phone calls to make sure they were open.
From her list, we chose Spookfontein.
It wasn’t too far. After being warmly welcomed, a waiter showed us to a table that gave us a magnificent view. The restaurant, both elegant and casual, was like a theater, high on a hill, with phenomenal views of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, blue skies, exuberant mountains, and endless vineyards.
Wine tasting was free. With the first of five tastes on hand, we ordered some appetizers, sat back, enjoyed the first sip, and relaxed. For the next 30 minutes, nothing changed except for the wine we were sampling.
The restaurant menu, which caters to your palate with delicious comfort foods using seasonal, locally produced ingredients, offered lovely choices of salads, pizzas, and creative dishes, which we paired with an extra glass of wine. We couldn’t have been more spoiled.
As you may have already noticed, Hermanus is all about getting outside. Complying with our daughter’s wish, we booked a 1.5-hour horseback ride at White Water Farms, near Stanford. After meeting our guide and the horses Willow, Princess, and Riff Raff, we left the horse pen.
The animals were calm and easy to ride. The farm was gorgeous. Along the way, mountains, rolling hills, and clear blue skies created a picture that looked like nothing less than paradise.
While following our experienced guide on trails curling their way through rivers and open fields, we heard about the local fauna and flora. Occasionally, near and far, we spotted impalas, ibis, baboons, and birds.
At times it was so quiet that all we heard were the horses’ footsteps on the ground, and it was like music to my ears.
Zipline between trees
I have lost count of how many times we have ziplined before. We love it. It is a bird’s-eye look over trees, hills, and the horizon. It is freedom.
While in Hermanus, we didn’t miss the opportunity to do that one more time; we booked with South Africa Forest Adventures, located 15 minutes from Hermanus. We arrived 30 minutes early, and even though it wasn’t our first time, the guides went through all the safety rules and training required for the activity.
Gear buckled up, we were ready.
For less than US$2 – which goes to an NGO that raises funds for the local community – a wagon took us on an entertaining ride to near the first platform. The pilot pretended we were in a plane, and before departing, he gave us the safety instructions just like we would have heard before takeoff. Our daughter was giggling all the time.
No doubt, the first ride, even if short, always makes my heart beat faster. Feet on the ground; trolley attached to the cable; grab the handles, a push, and off it goes. Yippee!
As we moved forward, some of the 10 lines were longer and faster. Soaring from 60 feet to 400 feet above the ground level, the views of lush trees along canyons and hills left us speechless.
There were short hikes between platforms. Walking on narrow trails, we heard the sounds of birds and rustling coming from the vegetation around us. It was nature playing its role.