Each year from June to November, tourists and South Africans alike (but mostly tourists) flock to enjoy Hermanus whale watching season in its peak. With southern right whales, orcas (aka killer whales) and probably also some other kind of whales I don’t remember, it’s some of the best land-based whale watching in the world. When we visited in September, the season was in full swing! What’s that? It’s November you say? Well then you better get there quick.
At just under two hours from Cape Town, Hermanus is the perfect weekend getaway. For a more scenic drive, you can add about 30 minutes to take the stunning coastal road along Betty’s Bay. As we almost always opt for the slightly longer scenic drive, naturally this was no exception. While whale watching is the most popular reason people stop in Hermanus, there is a lot more to do in this charming seaside town than just stare at the bay with a pair of binoculars. Of course, that is definitely something that should be on your list.
The Cliff Path, Hermanus
One of the most popular things to do for sure is take a stroll along the 11km cliff path that (as the name suggests) follows the cliffs along the coast line. This is not a hike by any means, but a very well-maintained, paved path complete with lookout benches every 25ft the entire way. From the start at Old Harbour it is about 4km to town. I, of course, got confused and assumed the path ended at town so we stopped walking and started drinking beers, but thanks to me, you don’t have to make that mistake!
As you walk along the path the waves crash high and crack loudly against the rocks, and we often stopped just to see how high they would go. Even on a brisk and gloomy spring day, the cliff path offered a somewhat stoic and unforgiving beauty.
Whale sightings were pretty sparse on the first 4km along the path (we saw just one spouting), but once we got to the bay at New Harbour it seemed they were popping up every 10 or 15 minutes. If you check the map above, you will see what I mean. If you want to stop for a beer WHILE whale watching, I highly recommend the patio at Fusion Cafe. We didn’t eat there, but their umbrella-shaded tables offer prime Hermanus whale watching and come with lap blankets to keep you cozy on those brisk, early spring days. Binoculars are a bonus, but they’re not a must.
Gecko Bar Hermanus
If you’re walking the whale trail in the opposite direction (west towards Old Harbour), or even if you’re not walking it all and just want to go to a bar, Gecko’s is my #1 pick. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, the restaurant boasts some outside space, but also huge glass windows so you can continue your whale watching from the wind-less comfort of the indoors. The bartenders were friendly, the drinks were cheap, and they even had live music. If you’re hungry, you can have a real meal at the adjoining sushi place, or just order cheap pizza (that’s super respectable for the price) at the bar. Bonus points for seeming like more of a chill local’s spot than a tourist trap like Fusion.
The Fernkloof Nature Reserve is a botanists dream with 1,800 hectares boasting over 1250 species of endemic fynbos, proteas, ericas, and all the other weird and wacky plants you can only find here in the Cape Floral Kingdom. The weekend we went the Fernkloof Flower Festival was happening, though sadly this wasn’t nearly as cool as it sounds. Mostly just local gardeners displaying their blooms and entering various contests. That being said, there is a gorgeous, well-manicured section of the reserve that offers easy walking paths, benches, and picnic tables for those less inclined to hike.
If you like hitting some elevation a little more, the park has a small handful of day hikes and one hike they claim is an overnighter but it’s only 2 hours to the hut, so I don’t really get it. Maybe you hike out to the hut and then spend all day looking at plants because you’re a botanist? In that case, I kinda get it. We didn’t have time for multiple routes, but I would suggest tacking together a few of them if you want to spend a whole day in the park.
You can find a detailed map of Fernkloof Trails HERE
Without a doubt, this restaurant must be on your list if you’re whale watching in Hermanus. The restaurant is built out of a cave IN the oceans and if you’re brave enough to sit on the patio, you could be in for a treat. Of course you don’t have to actually get wet. There are plenty of front row seats to the crashing waves that keep you and your dinner perfectly dry. Since it’s right in the bay where there is a ton of whale-spotting activity, they can pop out right in front of you! Of course, this didn’t happen to us, but whatever, I’m definitely going back.
Camping in Hermanus
There are two main campgrounds in Hermanus (or caravan parks, if you’re South African): Onrus Caravan Park and De Mond Caravan Park. Each of them are on the outskirts of the town, Onrus to the west and De Mond to the east. We opted to stay in Onrus Caravan Park and generally had no complaints. Except that the braai pits were actually chunks of old concrete pipes that were 3ft tall and not all conducive to campfires or braaing. Also, the sites were a little close and not very well delineated. If we go back, I will definitely check out De Mond before staying at Onrus a second time.
I didn’t get a picture of our actual campsite, so here is a picture of some breakfast I made there:
SIDE NOTE: We also ate at Lizette’s Kitchen, just outside the road that leads to Fernkloof. The restaurant had a nice ambiance and good service, but the food was hit or miss. The pork belly main was delicious, everything else was bland. Eat at your own risk!