The town is a 90-minute drive southeast of Cape Town and easily slots into a self-drive trip along the Garden Route. Treading its streets, you pass galleries, shops and waterfront cafés. In the evening, you can dine in one of the seafood restaurants while watching the sun set over the ocean. Farther afield, go wine tasting in the Hemel en Aarde Valley (a worthy alternative to the Winelands).
Hermanus is a town that has fully embraced its status as South Africa’s chief whale watching destination. Every year, the season is celebrated with the Hermanus Whale Festival, where live music, sizzling food trucks and art and craft stalls are accompanied by educational exhibits on marine life and conservation. There’s even a town Whale Crier, who stands watch on the waterfront and blows into a dry kelp horn whenever a whale surfaces.
Joining a boat trip is the best way to get close to the whales — both southern right and resident Bryde’s whales frequent the bay, fluking and spouting right before your eyes. You might also glimpse humpbacks, which sometimes pass by on their way to the east coast, as well as dolphins, sea lions and Cape fur seals.
You don’t have to be waterborne to see them, though. Between Hermanus’s New Harbour in the west and Piet-se-Bos in the east, you can follow a 12 km (7.5 mile) coastal path along the clifftops. From this lofty position, you have undisturbed views over the ocean and of any marine life that’s in passing. Viewing benches are spaced strategically along the coast, and you often don’t need binoculars for a clear sighting.
Your stay in Hermanus needn’t have a single focus. You can also join a ‘wine safari’ to the nearby Hemel en Aarde (Heaven on Earth) Valley. Here, the clay-rich soil and high altitude ensures vines thrive, producing wines to rival any of the more prominent Winelands’ exponents, particularly pinot noirs.
You travel in an open-sided safari vehicle through mountainous terrain, hopping on and off at different wineries to spend as long as you like sampling (and, perhaps, purchasing) their finest tipples. The area is also winning renown for its food, and you might like to lunch in one of the restaurants that have opened up within the wine estates.
Hermanus is backed by Fernkloof Nature Reserve, which spreads across the Kleinrivier Mountains. Here, you can walk among rare heather-like fynbos vegetation, following some of the 60 km (37 miles) of trails. As you wander, look out for wildlife such as rock hyraxes (known locally as dassies), mongooses, baboons and Cape grysbok.
Best time to visit Hermanus
While you can see marine life year-round from Hermanus, the main whale watching season lasts from June to November. Predictably, the town does get busy during this time, so it’s best to plan well ahead if you’d like to visit during these months.