Hermanus sits on the southern coast of the Western Cape, along the vast Walker Bay, and above all it’s known for its whale watching. Come in season to see the majestic southern right whales by boat, from the beaches and even from the cliffs. These are now a protected species, but, in the past, they were hunted at nearby Betty's Bay. Head down to the Old Harbour Museum to see learn about the history of the whaling industry in the region. You can also see one of their huge skeletons at the Whale Museum. Another of the reasons Hermanus is so popular with tourists is that you get the best weather from November to February, some of the most miserable times to be in the UK. And if you come in November, the whales are so numerous you can spot them from the cliffs in the town centre.
Southern right whales take their peculiar name from the grim fact that once dead, they float on the surface. This made them the ‘right’ ones to kill for the whalers of the time. They’re abundant in this part of the world, mainly because it’s one of their breeding sites. This means you’ll often see them showing off – leaping out of the water and slamming their huge bodies back down to make the most tremendous sound. You’ll also hear them pulsing to one another as they communicate underwater. One of the most rewarding sights to be seen here is the whale calves when they arrive later in the season, and more and more begin to join the pods. You can also meet the world's only Whale Crier, who signals whale locations using a kelp horn. Or why not see them from the sky by aeroplane? A guided sea kayaking trip is another great way to explore the region’s coastline in search of the southern rights, which have migrated all the way from the Antarctic to be here.
Hermanus hosts an annual whale festival that’s always worth a visit. The festival celebrates the returning of the whale to the bay. Eco-tourism is an important part of the celebrations that take place here, though there are a huge range of eating opportunities and activities for adults and children alike. You can hear from the conservations, trusts and foundations who look after these spectacular creatures. Understanding these creatures means that you can truly get to know them. Central to the town, Birkenhead House is an A&K Favourite hotel which has its own private vantage points for whale watching, not to mention its world-class cuisine and fantastic range of facilities. But you can also explore the cliffs yourself. You can spot whale all along the Cliff Path, a 12km stretch of great viewing points on Hermanus’ coastline. It leads to Dreunkrans, another popular site. They can also be seen from Grotto Beach, a long and secluded expanse of soft sand. There’s so many ways to experience these unique waters, but nothing quite beats strolling along its beaches for a picnic among the coves.
Once you’ve seen the whales, you can take tours to see the marine Big Five, or even go diving with great white sharks. You’re also close to a range of safari locations where you can see the Big Five mammals. Plus, the mountains behind the town of Hermanus are perfect for treks and longer walks to explore the scenery. With one of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet, the town is also part of the Cape Floristic region of South Africa. In the local Fernkloof Nature Reserve, for example, you can find nearly 1,500 plant species. A stay at the Grootbos lodge lets you get in touch with the verdant surroundings, taking fynbos nature tours and excursions to ancient caves of archaeological interest. You’ll see some bird species which can’t be seen anywhere else on Earth. Birders will love spotting the orange-breasted sunbird, Cape sugarbird, Cape siskin, Cape rockjumper and Victorin's warbler. You can also go fishing in the nearby Klein River Lagoon to catch brown and rainbow trout as well as bass.
Travelling further out of the city, you’ll find some of the best working vineyards. Some of our favourite hotels, such as the MOSAIC Private Sanctuary, are situated deep in the popular wine region, with stunning views of the Overberg Mountains. Enjoy tasting sessions and private cellar tours, and learn how the industry holds these local places together. If you continue east, you’ll soon find yourself on the Garden Route, another of South Africa’s marvels.