About an hour and a half south-west of Cape Town, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, is a town that doesn’t adhere to the quintessential idea of South Africa. Hermanus has no luxurious game reserves, safaris, Zulu cultural parks, or bustling big city life. The town—originally Hermanuspietersfontein, a name inspired by its Dutch founder but considered too long for the postal system—is a seaside resort that looks like it’s straight out of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with picket fences, white-washed buildings, and laid-back charm.
Hermanus is peppered with quaint bed-and-breakfasts, lodges and boutique hotels that are peaceful, with personalised service. Try the Misty Waves Boutique Hotel on Hermanus’s Marine Drive—during peak season (Hermanus hosts the Whale festival in September), you can watch southern right whales directly from the comfort of your room! For those seeking a little more luxury, the Arabella Hotel & Spa, located half an hour away from Hermanus’ centre, is the perfect escape. It is set in the Kogelberg Biosphere, South Africa’s first biosphere reserve and a diversity hotspot. Arabella boasts one of the best golf courses in the country, and offers extravagant rooms, a full-service spa with a heated indoor hydrotherapy pool, and breathtaking Western Cape vistas complete with the invigorating “champagne air.”(www.hermanusmistybeach.co.za; doubles from Rs10,700 per night; get the penthouse rooms for extra indulgence. arabellacountryestate.co.za; doubles from Rs17,500).
The World Wildlife Fund has designated Hermanus one of the 12 best destinations for watching southern right whales in the world. About 60 to 100 whales come here from the Antarctic to breed during the warmer months. The season typically lasts from June to December, and you can watch the whales from land (Hermanus is often touted as one of the best points to whale-watch from land), water or air.
Right whales aren’t the region’s only aquatic creature. Drive south to the fishing village of Gaansbai where the endangered great white shark awaits you. Gaansbai is popular for the thrilling opportunity to cage-dive with sharks. It takes guts so make sure your partner jumps in with you for some support!
About 45 minutes in the opposite direction is Betty’s Bay, home of the Stony Point Penguin Colony. Head there for a dose of cuteness: meet hundreds of African penguins in an intimate, but non-interfering, setting—right in their home.
For whale watching from the shore, head to Hermanus’s Cliff Path, Fick’s Pool, Gearings Point, and Dreunkrans. For viewing from a boat, try Ivanhoe Sea Safaris (www.whalewatchingsa.co.za; from Rs2,300 per person for a 2-hr safari), and for air-based, try Walker Bay Adventures (walkerbayadventures.co.za; price on request). Look no further than White Shark Projects (whitesharkprojects.co.za; from Rs11,300 per person) for a cagey tryst with the sharks.
Hermanus is blessed with a diverse topography: the Atlantic Ocean, the Olifantsberg Mountains and acres of land inhabited by an indigenous range of vegetation called fynbos. To experience the town’s natural beauty, head to the Fernkloof Nature Reserve (www.fernkloof.org.za), which is spread across almost 18 square kilometres in the Kleinrivier Mountains and has several walking, cycling, birdwatching, photography, geocaching and botanical trails. The best way to tour Fernkloof is on a quad biking trail that takes you through the brush (watch out for baboons!) with a stop for a bird’s-eye view of Hermanus, perched on its iconic sea-cliff vantage point.
SA Forest Adventures will sort out your adrenaline while in Hermanus. They curate bespoke experiences as well as a host of adventure activities—we highly recommend the special star-gazing tour. A quad biking trail through Fernkloof also goes through the vineyards of the Hamilton Russell and Southern Right wineries where you can stop to recharge with a glass of wine (www.saforestadventures.co.za; quad biking from Rs2,600 per person; stargazing from Rs4,700 per person, bookings need to be made for 8 people).
With an effervescent arts and culinary scene, Hermanus provides ample opportunity to saunter through its markets, boutique stores and art galleries. The Food & Wine Market is unmissable (Saturdays, 9am – 1pm). The Fisherman’s Village Craft Market (Saturdays and Wednesdays) is a great place to soak in the local vibe. Another cultural gem is the walking tour of the Old Harbour, which was officially declared a museum in 1972.
Sign up for the Chef’s Table at La Pentola and let Chef Shane Sauvage ply you with delectable fusion food, including super seafood (hermanus.lapentola.co.za). Try Betty Blue Bistro (bettybluebistrohermanus.com) for their sweet and savoury pancakes. Head to Hornbill, a studio, gallery and winery (www.hornbillhouse.co.za), to buy art and artisanal wine. Meanwhile, the Hermanus Art Circle (facebook.com/hermanusartcircle) exhibits work by 27 local artists.
Ananya Bahl is a travel writer who loves exploring big cities and swears by the friends she makes on the road. Apart from tall glasses of Aperol Spritz, her obsessions include pop culture, world music and Arabic movies.