Trails and Travel offer self-guided walking and cycling holidays in Hermanus, South Africa. The town is famous for beautiful beaches, mild climate, rich floral kingdom and whale watching
Hermanus is part of the Cape Winelands which stretch from the Cape coast to the plains of the Little Karoo in South Africa. Hermanus has the status of being the best land-based whale watching destination in the world and one of the most beautiful coastlines in South Africa
A visitor to Hermanus can consider a wide variety of options to compliment a walking or cycling holiday offered by WalkingHolidays.co.za. The following are some of the activities and special interests :
Shark Cage Diving – Meet a Great White Shark face to face from the safety of a cage hung from the side of a boat. Imagine the photo’s you will be able to send to friends and family !
Scuba Diving – Join a group, led on a rope on an underwater tour of the coastline around the New Harbour area.
Whale Watching, Bay Cruise – The whales move from the cold southern Antarctic waters to the warmer water along the southern coast of South Africa. They can be seen in the southern hemisphere winter months from June to December. Whales can be watched close up from the elevated cliff path or even more spectacularly on a cruise of the bay. Read more below. Click on whale watching.
Horse Riding – You can take a leisurely guided ride on horseback along some of the mountain paths and on the long beach.
The history of early inhabitants, Hoy’s koppie – the famous geological feature that overlooks the town. You will learn about its origin 400 million years ago, its flora and fauna, a 100 000 year old cave hidden away under its cliffs, and the life of Sir William Hoy, after whom the Koppie is named. This walk takes 60-75 minutes
Historic Hermanus – Starting from the Marine Hotel, you will learn about the Old Harbour, the “Champagne Mile” along Marine Drive, the spring that gave the town its first name (Hermanuspietersfontein), the Windsor Hotel (once a sanatorium), Swallow Park and Harbour Road. This walk takes 75-90 minutes. Click on history to read more
Bird Watching from a hide on the lagoon – At the end your second day’s walk above Voëlklip you can walk down to the lagoon and sit in a hide to watch the many water birds resting or playing in the water before you.
Indigenous Plants – The Cape Floristic Kingdom – An experienced guide can walk with you and relate parts of the amazing story of the Cape Floristic Kingdom. This Floristic Region, the smallest of the six recognised floral kingdoms of the world, is an area of extraordinarily high diversity and endemism, and is home to more than 9 000 vascular plant species, of which 69 percent are endemic. Click on Fernkloof for more information below.
Sea Kayaking –Row in a group across the bay from the Old Harbour to the New Harbour in a kayak.
Paragliding – When the onshore wind starts up in Hermanus it is not long before the airspace above the mountain is full of paragliders. If you haven’t done it before why not try a tandem paraglide?
Adventure activities – Quad Biking, Tree Top Sliding, Tubing and Rafting, Zip Line Riding. Just outside Hermanus, amongst the trees in the Hemel en Aarde valley, a group of young people are waiting to provide you with the adventure experience of a life time.
Abalone farming – Hermanus has one of the most progressive Abalone farms in the world. At Abagold the tour starts with a brief introduction to the history of the abalone industry in South Africa (and the history of Abagold) through the various stages of breeding, growth and cultivation techniques used in the processing and marketing of cultivated abalone. The 45-minute tour shows aquaculture as it is run on a day-to-day basis.
River Cruise on the lagoon – Take a slow sunset cruise down the Klein River lagoon and enjoy the scenery and birdlife with a glass of wine in your hand.
Space Science (South African National Space Agency) – The South African National Space Agency Space Science facility in Hermanus used to be called the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory. Now its functions have expanded. Scientists there monitor space weather and the Earth’s fluctuating electromagnetic field. They do fascinating work, and you can find out more by doing a tour.
Tennis and Squash – There is an active Tennis and Squash club and visitors are welcome. We could arrange a partner for you.
Golf – Hermanus has a 27 hole golf course. The Arabella golf course nearby is well known for it’s quality and setting. Both courses have hosted major events.
In the early 1800’s Hermanus Pieters, who was a shepherd and teacher, followed an elephant trail leading through the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to the sea where he came upon a spring just to the west of the Mossel River farm. He found this to be an ideal spot to graze his sheep during the summer. He also spread the word to the farmers of the district. The spring came to be known as Hermanuspietersfontein but was shortened to Hermanus when municipal status was given to the town in 1904.
The first school was built in 1868 at St Peter’s Mission School, attached to the newly built St Peter’s Church. The bay was named after a Royal Naval officer called Walker.
The farmers may have discovered Hermanus, but it was the fishermen who settled here. With an abundance of fish, the village attracted more and more families. By the early 1900s word of the excellent fishing, outstanding beauty and “healing” air had spread across the world. It even became fashionable for Harley Street doctors in London to prescribe visits to Hermanus’ “champagne air” to their patients.
One of the first regular visitors to Hermanus was Sir William Hoy, General Manager of the Railways. He ensured the natural beauty of Hermanus would stay unspoilt by blocking any attempt to extend the Bot River railway line to the village. His legacy lives on in the Hermanus Station that has no lines or trains and the hill that lies in the middle of the village, Hoy’s Koppie, where he and his wife are buried. Hoy’s Koppie not only provides an easy walk though fynbos to a lookout point over the village, but is also an important link to the earliest inhabitants of the area, the Khoisan. Klipgat Cave, a large overhang on the southern side of the koppie, has archaeological evidence of these indigenous people inhabiting the cave long before Hermanus Pieters came across it.
From 1992 the town was promoted as a land based whale watching spot of international repute.
During the summer months the white sandy beaches are filled with holiday makers enjoying the sunny weather and excellent swimming in the sea. Hermanus is the ideal overwintering resort for visitors who wish to escape the cold Northern Hemisphere.
Hermanus offers the best shore-based whale watching in the world. Nature lovers from all over the world visit Hermanus to view these magnificent creatures from the the cliffs.
Every year around July, locals eagerly await the arrival of special guests of honour, the The Southern Right Whales. These visitors are an endless source of delight as they gambol in Walker Bay, in easy view of the cliff paths. They favour the relatively shallow waters of the bay for breeding and mating.
The Southern Right Whale is a baleen whale, which means that instead of teeth it has long plates hanging from the top jaw. These baleens work like a sieve when the whale feeds.
Land Based Whale Watching
The seaside resort of Hermanus in Walker Bay offers the best whale viewing from land in the world. A cliff path stretching from one side of the town to the other, hugs the coastline for about 12 km giving whale watchers unlimited opportunities to study the gentle giants in the coves below or lolling just beyond the breakers.
From the path or from rocky outcrops just off the path, whale watchers can get within 20m of whales cruising in the coves. Benches all along the cliff path provide comfortable resting and watching spots. Start at Gearing’s Point which gives a panoramic view over the bay. A telescope situated alongside at the Old Harbour makes it possible to survey the entire bay and the whales and dolphins at close range. Next to the telescope is an information plaque which provides additional information on the whales.
The whale seen most frequently in the Walker Bay area is the Southern Right Whale, but other species do make an appearance occasionally. The whales start arriving in May in order to calve and to mate in the shallow water. Peak time for whales at any one time is October, but many can still be seen in November, tailing off in December.
Humpbacks migrate through the region between May and December each year, while Bryde’s whales are found slightly futher offshore all year round. Occasional sightings of Killer Whales have been made.
Dolphin species which may be seen in the region include the endemic Heavisides dolphin, Bottlenose dolphin and Common dolphins.
The first Whale Crier in the world is not only a major attraction but keeps visitors informed as to where the whales can be seen when he does his rounds every day. The sound of his kelp horn has become a characteristic of the charm of this seaside resort during the whale season.
A whale watching hotline provides visitors who wish to travel to Hermanus and environs with up to the minute information on the whereabouts of the whales ( 0283122629 ). Walker Bay is one of the favoured bays for Southern Right Whales to calve and mate and between September and November sitings are practically guaranteed on a daily basis.
The Southern Right Whale got its name during the time when they were hunted. They were referred to as the “right” whales to kill because they would float when dead (which made it easy for the whalers to find them in the ocean and transport them back to the whaling station. These whales have a large amount of oil (also called blubber) and baleen.
They are named “Southern” as there are two species worldwide of Right Whales, one in the Northern Hemisphere and the South African species in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Southern Right differs from most other whales in the following ways:
It has no dorsal fin on its back
When it breathes out there is a V-shaped cloud above the water.
Presence of callosities on its head. These callosities are white warts or rough skin patches on which little creatures, called whale lice, are attached.
The Southern Right Whale
The Southern Right Whale is a migratory whale, which means that they spend one season in one place and the rest of the year in another, and travel long distances between these seasons. In summer (December through May), they are in the cold polar regions of the Southern Hemisphere where food (mainly krill) is present and in quantity. Winters (June through November) are spent around the shallow coastal waters of Southern Africa, South America and Australia.
Our coast is exactly what they need during this season.The shallow, sandy-bottomed and sheltered bays are perfect for mating, calving, nursing their young and resting.
One female will mate with a number of males. There can be even up to 8 males at a time trying to mate with one female. During mating, there is a lot of activity on the surface (splashing, pushing, shoving, large and frequent blows). The males producing the most sperm is probably the father of the calf. This mating strategy is known as sperm competition.
Females usually have one calf every three years. gestation (pregnancy) is about 13 months. Most calves are born during August. They have an average length of 6.1 meters (20 feet). They suckle for 4 to 8 months and drink up to 600 liters of milk per day growing 3 cm (1.2 inch) per day. The mothers apparently do not feed during this season but live on the blubber they store up during the summer feeding season closer to Antartica.
After the mating and calving season ends (November / December), the Southern Right Whales move South. By April they are between 50 and 55 degrees South (2000 kilometers or 1300 miles South of Cape Town) where they then feed.
Females measure about 13.9m and males are generally slightly smaller, average weight estimated 41 tonnes. They have a life expectancy of about 50 years.
Their favourite food is small animals called copepods (a plankton crustacean) of which they consume up to 600kg per day.
The Right whale’s only long-term bond is between mother and calf.
Their number grows by about 7% every year, which means that their population doubles every 10 years. The number of Southern Right Whales should be back to what it used to be in 2040.
Fernkloof Nature Reserve covers 1800 ha in the Kleinrivier Mountains above Hermanus and ranges in altitude from sea level to 842 m. In late 1957, the Reserve was proclaimed by the Provincial Council of the Cape. It protects coastal and fynbos and a small patch of evergreen forest. Parts of the coastal area including the Cliff Path Nature Area, the Mossel River valley and the area from De Mond to Kettle Point, including the mouth of the Vogelgat River and part of the Klein River lagoon have recently been incorporated in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. This means that the coastal area with its unique fynbos – different from that on the mountain slopes – as well as the sensitive lagoon area, are now being included, and for the first time mountain and coastline will be linked.
There is no other place on earth where so many different species can be seen growing in such close proximity. In Fernkloof 1474 species have thus far been collected and identified. The name of the principal vegetation type of this region is derived from the Dutch word ‘fijn bosch’ which is the collective name for a myriad of evergreen shrub-like plants with small firm leaves, often rolled – but also includes woody plants with hard leathery leaves, usually broad, often rolled. The prevailing climate is Mediterranean with cold wet winters and hot dry summers with strong south easterly winds.
Grey rhebok, Cape grysbok, klipspringer, baboon,mongoose and dassie are present in small numbers.Others such as porcupine, genet and hare are nocturnal and these mammals are seldom seen. Although not as rich in bird-life as other areas in South Africa, 92 bird species have been recorded. Species most likely to be seen include the Cape Sugar Bird,Sunbirds,Rock Thrush and Rock Jumper. Raptors include the Jackal Buzzard and Black Eagle. Limited areas of forest alongside streams support numbers of seed and insect-eating species such as Rameron Pigeon, Canaries,Flycatchers and White-eyes.
The reserve lies on the northern side of the town with a 60 km network of trails.These provide the opportunity for people of all fitness levels to go out and enjoy some exercise and fresh air. A display of some of the flowers that can be found in the veld is permanently maintained at the Fernkloof Visitors’ Centre. The various trails offer magnificent and unequalled views of Walker Bay, the Hemel en Aarde Valley and Maanskynbaai
View pictures of Fynbos in Fynbos Gallery