The Ultimate Whale Watching Weekend in Hermanus (+Photos)

The seaside town of Hermanus is located southeast of Cape Town CBD, less than 2-hours drive away. What was a quaint little holiday town in former years, is now a bustling city.

There are many a local who now calls the town home all year-round and a result, the town is booming. With that has come a host of malls, shops, and amazing restaurants. It’s also home to one of my favourite wine regions in the Cape, The Hemel en Aarde Valley. Hemel en Aarde is translated to “heaven and earth” and the name couldn’t be more appropriate. But more on that later.

As a passionate South African who loves nothing more than a weekend out of town I explored the seaside town of Hermanus during the height of whale watching season.

Let me take you on a journey to this beautiful (not so) little town and give you some insider tips and information for a fun-filled weekend of food, wine, and of course, whales.

History of the Town

Old Harbour in Hermanus

Now, who doesn’t love a bit of history? I know I certainly do! Facts like why a town or city is so named or how it came to be, always fascinated me – and Hermanus is no different. Let’s rewind a couple hundred years to the early 1820s (you might’ve heard of the 1820 settlers that arrived in the Western Cape? But that’s a story for another day).

A man by the name of Hermanus Pieters, a local teacher in the town of Caledon, had taken his herd of animals in search of greener pastures for grazing. He followed an elephant trail from Caledon down into the Hemel en Aarde Valley that concluded at the sea. Upon his arrival, he was greeted with a spring and the greener pastures he had been searching for – thus, the town of Hermanus was born.

Getting to Hermanus

Walking Trail in Hermanus

Reaching Hermanus is relatively painless, although passing through the town of Somerset West is my pet hate. I almost always get stuck in traffic and it’s frustrating as you’re almost on the open road but it’s like a last-ditch-effort from the road gods.

Heading out of Cape Town, you take the National Road number 2 (aptly known as the N2) which follows the east coast for almost the entire stretch of the country. Side note, it’s one of my favourite roads to take on any given road trip as passes through some rather awesome towns including the whole Garden Route stretch, Jefferey’s Bay, Port Elizabeth, the Transkei, East London, and Durban. But let’s not get carried away – Hermanus is why we’re here!

After making it through my nemesis town of Somerset West, it’s pretty much smooth sailing until you reach Vermont and Onrus – my indication that I’m almost there. The trip should take you less than 2-hours to do, depending on traffic as you travel the some 125kms.

Pro Tip: be sure to stop off at the Peregrine Farm Stall en route to Hermanus. They have some amazing coffee and probably the best pies in the Western Cape (in my humble opinion, of course).

Best Time to Visit Hermanus

Southern right whale

While most places are best to visit in the warmer months, Hermanus likes to bend the rules a bit. The best time to visit the town is surprisingly over the winter months from about June to November. Why is this, do you ask? I mean, you want to see the Southern Right Whales in all their glory, right? Then this is the best time to see them!

Springtime is always an amazing time to travel to Hermanus as you’re likely to pass through field upon field of flowering canola plants. They are usually in full bloom between July and September and are really a spectacle. They litter the fields with beautiful yellow hues and signal that summer is on its way!

Summertime is also an amazing time to visit the town as the seawater warms up and it’s all about the beaches! There are some amazing beaches such as Onrus, Voelklip, and Grotto that one can catch some rays on or build a sandcastle. There’re even some fun waves to surf which I love to do if time allows for it.

A Whale Watchers’ Paradise

Whale Watching

I touched on the wonderful whales briefly before but let’s chat about them a bit more. Every year, Southern Right whales travel to the warmer waters of the southern Western Cape from their feeding grounds in Antarctica. They grace the waters of Walker Bay with their presence to breed, give birth to, and care for their young. They also like to frolic and play in the shallow waters before making the long migration back to their icy feeding grounds.

Now, when I say shallow waters, I mean SHALLOW! You can literally see the whales with your naked eye from the shoreline pathways. Believe me, it’s incredible. If you wish to see them up close and personal, then I would suggest booking yourself a spot on a charter boat that heads out into the ocean and takes you into the whales’ environment. It’s quite the experience!

Where to Stay

Where to Stay in Hermanus

Luckily for you, Hermanus has a plethora of accommodation options, from campsites all the way up to 5-star – and everything in between. I’m quite lucky in that I have a couple friends that live in Hermanus, so my accommodation is sorted. I have also roughed it and stayed and the campsite before as well as a local Airbnb. Try convincing your mother to go camping – that’s a battle I’m not willing to pursue.

Regardless, Hermanus has no shortage of accommodation, and that’s a fact. I’d recommend looking for a spot that has a sea view. Imagine waking up, grabbing a cup of tea or coffee and then watching the Southern Rights play a couple hundred meters away. I’d call that pure bliss!

The Windsor Hotel Hermanus is a great option if you wish to do just this. It provides unparalleled sea views from the comfort of your room and coupled with free breakfast, free parking, and free Wi-Fi, it’s a no-brainer.

The Hemel en Aarde Valley

Hemel en Aarde Ridge

I briefly mentioned the Hemel en Aarde Valley earlier but didn’t get to tell you more about it. The Hemel en Aarde Valley is arguably one of the top, if not thee top, wine regions in South Africa for delectable Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

The cool, maritime influenced climate ensures that the grapes ripen gently and slowly, retaining precious acidity and resulting in world-class wines. The region can actually be further classified into three sub-wards – the Hemel en Aarde Valley, Upper Hemel en Aarde, and the Hemel en Aarde Ridge.

Top Wineries in the Valley

Vineyards in the Hemel en Aarde Valle

One of my favorite stops is a farm called Newton Johnson, which falls within the Hemel en Aarde Valley ward. They produce outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, of course, but have a few other gems and even a Spanish varietal called Albarino. What’s more, they have an amazing restaurant on-site that pushes out some incredible food to compliment the wines, and of course, the to-die-for views.

The tasting room at Ataraxia
The tasting room at Ataraxia

Ataraxia, a farm located higher up on the ridge, is also a highly recommended stop. The name means “a serene state of mind free of worry or preoccupation” and that’s exactly what I feel when I go there. The tasting room is a church-like building and if you ask nicely, you can even get to ring the bell.

Some Not-to-Be-Missed Places

Art galleries in Hermanus

In town, a friend of mine owns a small restaurant called Onshore Eatery that’s perfect for coffee, breakfast, and light lunches. Look out for their weekly speciality evenings and be sure to book – it fills up fast!

There’s also a food and goods market called Die Markie (The Market), which happens on a Saturday at the Hermanuspieterfontein Winery. Remember the guy who discovered Hermanus, Hermanus Pieters? Do you see it? The bonus here is that you can also do a spot of wine tasting (or drinking) when visiting the market.

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