Safari in South Africa and you will want to include the famous Garden Route on your itinerary. It is truly one of South Africa’s gems, stretching from Durban way up on the Eastern Coast, right down to Cape Town, passing South Africa’s most southerly point, Cape Agulhas.
One of the best starting points for those people starting out from Cape Town is Hermanus. Situated about 90 minutes drive out of Cape Town, Hermanus retains much of it’s original small fisherman’s village feel, with low, white-washed cottages clinging to the cliff tops, very reminiscent of Cornwall, here in the UK.
The drive along the coast between Cape Town and Hermanus is spectacular in itself. Winding its way long through villages such as Betty’s Bay, you’ll find such delights as the Harold Porter Botanical Garden, famous for its ericas and proteas, proteas being the national flower of South Africa.
Safaris in South Africa usually mean watching animals through the lens of a camera. The Garden Route is no different! Catch the Jackass penguin colony at Stony Point. The penguins have had a name change to African penguins, but they were called Jackass because the noise they make is remarkably like a donkey. You can actually swim with the penguins down at Boulders Beach, if you take a trip down to Cape Point, but that’s for another day.
Hermanus is a very popular destination, part of its attraction lying in its history. The tiny harbour with its coloured boats pulled up onto the quayside is as pretty as a picture and offers visitors an insight into Hermanus’ past. Artists and crafters are drawn to the area for its light and dazzling array of possible subjects.
In the early 1900’s Harley Street doctors prescribed Hermanus for its “champagne air” to their patients, simply because of the excellent fishing, outstanding beauty and “healing air”.
From here the village has gone from strength to strength. Hotels and guest houses to suit every pocket have sprung up, while still retaining that wonderful tranquillity which first attracted travellers to this area.
More than the sun, sand and outstanding beauty, Hermanus is best known for whale watching. Because of the magnificent 14 km cliff path, Hermanus offers visitors some of the best land-based whale watching in the world.
Dotted along the path are telescopes to best view the whales that are a bit further out, generally the ones with their very young calves. Also watch out for the Whale Crier, who sounds his kelp horn to announce where the whales have been sighted. You’ll find him down in the town, with his sandwich board on his back, directing you to where they’ve been spotted.
Expect to see the Southern Right Whales on a daily basis from August until the end of October, although the season starts in June, they’re more difficult to see. The whales are attracted to Walker Bay where they can mate and calve in the calm waters. The calves are almost all born by August and that’s why it’s easier to see them at this time of the year.
The wonderful spectacle can be seen from as close as five meters from the rocky cliffs and they seem to enjoy entertaining the crowds with their frolicking. You’ll find that dolphins are frequent visitors too, so don’t forget to add these delightful creatures to your “must see” list.
Of course, watching the whales is only a part of the attractions on offer in Hermanus. The calm waters that attract the whales also attract their two legged cousins in boats. Yachting and boating of all kinds take place around the bay, along with fishing, diving and fly-fishing.
Coupled with bird-watching, hiking, cycling, golf, bowls, riding and more dangerous sports such as shark diving and paragliding, I think we can safely say there’s something for everyone here.
Whilst you’re there, don’t miss out on one of the world’s most unusual restaurants – a cave. Bientang’s Cave Seafood restaurant really must have one of the most spectacular settings, being 10 meters from the water’s edge. Quite an experience – watch the whales at the same time as you dine!