Hermanus overlook

36 Hours in Hermanus

Everyone in South Africa knows Hermanus, a quaint little town about 90 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, as the whale-watching capital of the world. Hermanus is overtaken by tourists in whale season, which runs from June to December but is heaviest during the peak calving season in July and August.

Hermanus overlook
Overlooking Hermanus and Walker Bay, where the whales are.

Up until recently I had been to Hermanus only once — an October day trip many years ago. My friends and I drove from Cape Town, wandered the promenade looking for whales, spotted a couple far out to sea, walked through a couple of shops, had lunch, then drove back to Cape Town.

I now know this was a mistake. I recently revisited Hermanus again for 36 hours (still not long enough) and couldn’t believe how beautiful it is and how much there is to do there — even when it isn’t whale season. It’s a crime to drive to Hermanus and not stay for at least a few days.

Here’s a quick run-down of everything I packed in during my two nights in Hermanus.

1) The drive from Cape Town

If you take the right route, the drive from Cape Town to Hermanus is one of the most beautiful in South Africa. I took N2 highway to Somerset West, hopped off onto Sir Lowery’s Pass Road, drove five kilometers, then turned left onto the R44 (Clarence Drive). The R44 hugs the coastline and takes you nearly all the way to Hermanus past a constant stream of jaw-dropping scenery.

R44 Highway between Cape Town and Hermanus
The R44 somewhere around Gordon’s Bay. There are pull-offs every couple of kilometers, allowing for countless photo-ops.
View along the R44
So beautiful it’s almost ridiculous.

I can’t believe I never knew this before but there is a penguin colony on the way to Hermanus, at the Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay. I stopped briefly but didn’t have time to fully explore the reserve. It looked beautiful though — way wilder and prettier than the more well known penguin colony in Simon’s Town.

I did find time to say hello to a few penguins.

Penguin couple at Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty's Bay.
Penguin couple on a retired boat ramp outside the Stony Point Nature Reserve.

2) Vermont, South Africa

I chose a Hermanus Airbnb almost at random, not paying attention to exactly where it was, and wound up staying in a tiny village ten minutes outside of Hermanus called Vermont.

This turned out to be a great move because: 1) Rene, my Airbnb hostess (find her on Facebook at 57 on Vermont) turned out to be the queen of Hermanus tourism and helped organize a bunch of fun activities for me; and 2) Vermont is beautiful.

Sunrise at Breakfast Bay Beach, Vermont.
Sunrise at Brekvis Bay (which everyone calls Breakfast Bay), Vermont.

Vermont (named for the Green Mountain behind it, and probably also for the American state with the same name) and its neighboring village, Onrus, have rugged, pristine beaches and a laid back vibe. There’s nothing much happening there, which is wonderful.

I spent my first afternoon hanging around Vermont and Onrus, taking pictures and eating ice cream.

Onrus Beach outside Hermanus
Onrus Beach in the late afternoon.
It looked and felt magical.
Ice cream from Sweet Moments Soft Serve Ice Cream in Onrus.
The restaurant at Onrus Beach, the Milkwood, was closed so I had lunch at the Sweet Moments Soft Serve Ice Cream truck.

That night I skipped dinner and collapsed with exhaustion in my cozy Airbnb.

3) Tulip Coffee Bar

In the morning I tootled up the road to Hermanus and landed at Tulip Coffee Bar, where I had a wickedly delicious breakfast.

Tulip Coffee Bar, where locals go for coffee and breakfast in Hermanus.
Zucchini, spinach, and corn fritters topped with avocado and scrambled egg. I cannot explain how good this meal tasted.

Don’t bother going for breakfast anywhere else. Tulip serves lunch too, which I’m sure is equally great.

4) The Old Harbour

After breakfast I wandered around the main Hermanus waterfront, which is built around the “Old Harbour”. This original harbour, built in the 19th century when Hermanus was just a tiny fishing village, was replaced by the larger “New Harbour” just outside of town in the 1950s.

Highlights of the Old Harbor include the Whale House, the open-air museum, and the “Sculptures on the Cliffs”.

The Whale House museum in Hermanus
The Whale House is a fairly interesting and informative museum about whales. It has some nice exhibits and costs R20 (about $1.50) to get in.
Southern right whale skeleton in the museum
A full-sized southern right whale skeleton inside the Whale House.
The World War I Memorial, part of the Old Harbour’s open-air museum along the water.
A beautiful sculpture by Marieke Prinsloo-Rowe on display near the Old Harbour. This is the start of the famous Hermanus Cliff Path and there are sculptures like this all along it — the rotating exhibition is part of the annual Hermanus FynArts Festival.

5) Lunch at Creation Wines

The area around Hermanus, called the Overberg, is known for its wines as well as its whales. Just above Hermanus, the Hemel-en-Aarde valley (“Hemel en aarde” means “Heaven and earth” in Dutch) is full of beautiful wine farms specializing in “cool climate wine”.

Through some magical fluke I scored a six-course lunch and wine pairing at Creation Wines in Hemel-en-Aarde, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Hermanus. Creation is known for its innovative food and wine pairings and has just released its 2019 winter menu, called the FynArts Story of Creation.

Tasting room at Creation Wines in Hemel-en-Aarde
The tasting room at Creation Wines.
Garden at Creation Wines
Beautiful art by sculptor Nanette Ranger, whose exhibition is carefully integrated into Creation’s food and wine menu.

My lunch at Creation was spectacular. Every single detail of this meal — from the pat of butter shaped like a tiny protea flower using a mould Nanette Ranger created herself, to the delicate spices and aromas in the deconstructed bobotie main dish, to the mouth-watering array of wines (the chardonnay and pinot noir are the crown jewels) accompanying each course — was perfect. It was more like an edible work of art than a meal. I could not have enjoyed it any more than I did.

Butter at Creation Wines
The protea-shaped butter.
Sensory wine tasting with granadilla and salt at Creation Wines
Chapter 1: A “sensory wine tasting” in which the scents of granadilla and sea salt enhance the flavor of the wines they’re paired with.
Broccoli and pear soup from Creation Wines tasting menu
Chapter 2: Broccoli and pear soup served in a dish shaped like a pinot noir leaf — also made by Nanette Ranger.
Chapter 5: Line fish and beetroot with radish and a bunch of other yummy things, served with the 2017 Reserve Pinot Noir.
Pinot noir from Creation
My only regret about this meal: I came by car so I could only taste a tiny sip of each wine. Note that drinkers can book a shuttle to Hemel-en-Aarde from downtown Hermanus.

The Creation wine pairing lunch, including six food courses and eight wines, costs R575 (about $40) and is worth every cent. Creation also offers a tea pairing and other non-alcoholic options for kids and non-drinkers.

6) Hermanus Sightseeing Bus

After lunch I headed down the mountain for a 90-minute sightseeing bus tour of Hermanus. This relatively new service is offered by a company called ChillGuru and is designed to give visitors a quick overview of Hermanus and its surrounds.

The Hermanus sightseeing bus.
The Hermanus sightseeing bus.

The bus makes several stops around town including the New Harbour, the Old Harbour, Zwelihle Township, and Grotto Beach. I really enjoyed the lively expert commentary from our guide, Sipho Kilibane.

William Ntebe of the Zwelihle Youth Cafe outside Hermanus
William Ntebe of the Zwelihle Youth Cafe, one of the stops on the tour. Visitors can also hop on and off the bus for longer visits at each stop.

In addition to the 90-minute tour, Hermanus visitors can also book an all-day “Big Five Taste Safari” bus tour, in which the bus visits several great culinary and wine spots across the entire Overberg region. Visit chillguru.com for details.

7) Dinner at the Wine Glass

In a continuing celebration of the Overberg’s excellent wines, I was invited to dinner at the Wine Glass in downtown Hermanus. The Wine Glass offers more than 100 wines, each one available by the glass, and every single wine on offer comes from the Overberg region.

The Wine Glass in Hermanus
The Wine Glass.
Wines on offer at the Wine Glass
Just a few of the wines on offer.

I love the idea of a 100% local wine bar, especially in an area where the wine is so good. The Wine Glass also hosts special wine pairing dinners on Wednesdays and Saturdays, called “Grape Expectations”, in which a local winemaker comes and speaks about his/her wines and how they’re made. The night I attended featured Strandveld Wines.

Farewell, Hermanus

The next morning I finished my trip with a lovely breakfast at the Peregrine Farm Stall in the Elgin Valley, about 30 minutes outside Hermanus on the N2. And thus, my far-too-short Hermanus visit came to an end.

Breakfast at Peregrine Farm Stall
I’m not sure why but breakfast tastes (and looks) particularly good in this part of the world.

My lunch at Creation Wines, the Hermanus bus tour, and dinner at the Wine Glass were all complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.

Sunrise Breakfast Bay
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14 Comments

  • Reply Jean Orban June 3, 2019 at 6:16 pm

    Hemel en aarde is not Dutch, but Afrikaans

  • Reply Emily Cannell- Hey From Japan June 3, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    Awesome post. Loved “tagging along” which is what I felt like I was doing!

    • Reply 2summers June 3, 2019 at 9:48 pm

      Thanks Emily!

      • Reply eremophila June 4, 2019 at 11:02 pm

        Oh nice, all of it. Loved the classic kombi ice cream van☺
        Next time you get an offer for food and wine tasting, I’m willing to be your driver, in return for some food scraps.πŸ˜€

        • Reply 2summers June 4, 2019 at 11:03 pm

          I also loved that πŸ™‚

  • Reply AutumnAshbough June 4, 2019 at 3:08 am

    Gorgeous. Apparently Vermont is pretty all over the world.

    • Reply 2summers June 4, 2019 at 8:20 am

      This whole country is so damn pretty.

  • Reply stargazer076 June 4, 2019 at 8:13 am

    Fabulous post! So informative! I’ve only ever done day trips to Hermanus. I’m now compelled to build more time into the schedule for this coastal treasure when I visit the Western Cape again in August.

    • Reply 2summers June 4, 2019 at 8:20 am

      Yay, I hope you can!

  • Reply Amanda Hardy June 4, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    Wow, I’ve always wanted to visit Hermanus. Going to be in CT in November – will have to do at day trip (at least). Thanks for the lovely article.

    • Reply 2summers June 4, 2019 at 2:14 pm

      It’s a pleasure!

  • Reply Lani June 7, 2019 at 5:48 am

    Looks like an idyllic escape! Love those penguins!

    • Reply 2summers June 7, 2019 at 6:22 pm

      Me too 😍🐧🐧🐧

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