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Hermanus, a mere 90-minute drive from the city of Cape Town, gained initial popularity for its spectacular beachside whale-watching opportunities. Now the once-sleepy coastal town has evolved to be more than just a day-trip destination.
Including famous restaurants, beautiful nearby wine estates, a variety of land- and sea-based activities and a range of accommodation to suit all budgets, Hermanus is the perfect escape from the city.
The primary reason most people travel to Hermanus is for the whales, and for good reason. During whale season – roughly July to December – the sheltered bay is home to dozens of whales. At this time, the bay is a protected marine reserve, and no boats are allowed close to the whales, but you’re almost guaranteed to spot them just by taking a walk along the coastline.
There are several popular walks that offer good views of Walker Bay and the frolicking whales, but the most popular is the 12-kilometre (seven-mile) Cliff Path, from one side of Hermanus to the other, which at times can get you as close as five metres (16 feet) from the whales. If you’re looking for a more sedate view way to view the bay, head to Gearing’s Point overlooking the Old Harbour; it offers spectacular views of the ocean.
If you’d like to get a unique perspective of the whales, it’s possible to take to the skies for an aerial tour of the bay. There are also dozens of sightseeing boat trips. It’s possible to view a variety of marine life, including whales, throughout the year, even outside of the peak whale-watching season.
If you’d prefer to be closer to water level, and exert some energy while looking at the views and the marine life, it’s also possible to head out to sea on a kayak; both Walker Bay Adventures and Percy Tours offer guided trips.
The restaurants closest to the action on Walker Bay are predictably average, and many of them are chain restaurants designed for a quick in-and-out meal. There are some exceptions to this rule – the elegant restaurant in The Marine hotel, for example – but if you’re looking for the best dining options, you might need to head away from the main street. The likes of Lizette’s Kitchen, Fisherman’s Cottage and Barefoot Cook all serve quality fare at reasonable prices.
If you’re looking for a truly spectacular dining experience in a unique setting, it may pay to head a bit further out of town to one of the region’s famous wine farms.
Hermanus has now established itself as a prominent wine region in the Western Cape. There are several wine estates just a short drive away from the main town that not only offer a good selection of fine wines, but also diverse dining experiences.
The most famous of these is Creation Wines, which has developed a cult-like appreciation from locals and visitors for its extensive tasting menus and beautiful tasting room. But there are several other wine estates to visit in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley that offer better value in equally dramatic surroundings. Plaaskombuis offers sumptuous unpretentious food, La Vierge great wine, views and cheese platters in a lively setting and Sumaridge good wines from a stunning lakeside vantage point.
Really, it’s quite hard to go wrong by taking a drive through the region and stopping on a whim. If all of your party are planning to drink, though, the popular Hermanus Wine Hoppers hop-on, hop-off tours may be the safest and most convenient option.
Hermanus isn’t just about lazy days and wine tasting. If you’re looking to up your heart rate, there are several viable options in the region. The obvious options are mountain biking, hiking and horseback trails in the beautiful mountains and valleys behind the town. If you’re interested in learning more about mountain biking in and around Hermanus, get in touch with the Hermanus Cycling Club. There are businesses based in Hermanus that can facilitate rentals or take you on guided tours.
And if your idea of getting active is stretching out of a pristine beach, Hermanus has you covered. There are three Blue Flag beaches in the area, including the large and popular Grotto Beach.
Many people treat Hermanus as a quick day-trip destination, and given its proximity to Cape Town, it’s a viable option. But to get the most out of the town it may pay to spend a night or two nearby to soak it all in.
There’s no shortage of opulent accommodation options in Hermanus. Rooms in the lavish Thatch House may be financially out of the reach of most travellers, but there’s no denying it’s the region’s most spectacular hotel. There are also several other high-end hotel options around town, including the five-star The Marine, located metres from the ocean, and the more-affordable four-star Harbour House Hotel.
If the formal accommodation options are out of reach, there are dozens of high-quality holiday homes and Airbnb options available for rent. Though these, too, increase in price over major holidays, weekends and festivals, they usually represent the best value in the area.