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