Hermanus is in the Overberg in the Western Cape, a two hour drive south-east of Cape Town. The locals call it Our Paradise, for good reason. It has incredible natural beauty – the sea, the mountains, nature reserves, fynbos, rock cliffs along the seaside, white sandy beaches, vineyards, hills with wheat and canola fields. And very little in the form of human intervention. It is largely an agricultural area. Nature is king here.
The Overberg is simply beautiful! Dramatic mountains which appear to rise out of the sea, vast nature reserves of virgin fynbos, renosterbos and strandveld; the rugged inter tide coastal area with many rock pools and kelp forests. The tastes, flavors and smells come from the unique terroir – the hot dry summers; the cool sea breezes; the scant winter rainfall; the sandy soil; the rocky outcrops; the hardy, fragrant fynbos and renosterbos. This is a hardy terrain, where you have to look beyond the obvious.
As the Overberg is largely an agricultural area, it has a long and rich culinary tradition which is unique to the area. The local cooks, chefs, vintners, artisans and crafts people use the local produce in such a way that it brings out the best in the tastes, flavors, textures, colors and aromas of the produce. The food and wines reflect something unique and special about this beautiful area and its people. A new generation of farmers, vintners and chefs have ensured that the food and wine is contemporary and refreshingly playful.
Hermanus it is located in Walker Bay. The vast, cold Atlantic Ocean lies to the south. This large protected bay offers perfect sanctuary to the Southern Right whales who visit every year between June and December to mate and calf. The Marine Reserve is home to populations of great white sharks, dolphins, penguins, seals, crayfish and other sea life. To the north are the Kleinrivier Mountains. Although not very high, they create a dramatic landscape as they appear to run directly into the sea. They are protected by Fernkloof nature reserve, with its incredible fynbos and wildlife, including baboons, small antelope, tortoises, porcupines, mongeese and many species of birds. To the west lies the Hemel en Aarde Valley in the folds of the mountains. It runs down to the sea and is influenced by the sea breezes and mists. This has created an ideal micro climate for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. On the eastern side is the Kleinrivier lagoon which enters the sea at Grotto Beach. This large lagoon is home to many water birds.
One of the most special things to do in Hermanus, is to walk the Cliff Path. The path is 10km long, and is mostly paved. It stretches from the New Harbour in the west to Grotto beach in the east. It hugs the coastline, along the cliffs and rock pools, over the little rivers which flow into the sea and across some small hidden beaches. It is perfect for watching the whales. You can have a swim in the tidal pools or at the beaches.
Hermanus is blessed with beautiful beaches. Many are smaller and nestled between rocky outcrops, and protected from the wind. There are rock and tidal pools for swimming too. Grotto beach is a Blue Flag beach, which means that it is clean, well managed, environmentally conscious, wholly safe and able to provide educational services. It offers 18kms of fine white sand and rolling turquoise waves. It is perfect for long walks, sun tanning, surfing and picnics. And because it is so big, it is never crowded.
The Fernkloof Nature Reserve is criss-crossed by many well-maintained paths and allows visitors to experience the sights and sounds and smells of the incredible fynbos floral kingdom. Hikers gain elavation quickly and easily and are able to see right across the majestic Walker Bay.
Covering about 1 800 hectares in the Kleinrivier Mountains, Fernkloof’s unique topography has given rise to flourishing and diverse plant life, including some unique species of fynbos. A network of colour-coded hiking trails runs throughout the reserve, offering spectacular views of Walker Bay and the Hemel en Aarde Valley.
The Hemel en Aarde Valley has dramatic high hills covered in pristine fynbos with sweeping views down the valley towards the sea. It is world renowned for its high quality noble wines, particularly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There are also export berry and olive farms in the valley as well as many good restaurants. They source their ingredients locally, and some are known for their foraged ingredients including fynbos, mushrooms, seaweed and mussels. The dishes are local too: Bredies, salads, breads, charcuterie, cheeses, sweet fruit and honey desserts.
The Caledon district, just beyond the Valley, is vast and fertile. It is known as the bread basket of South Africa, producing most of the wheat that our country needs. The rolling hills with their green winter wheat look like they have been draped in silk velvet. In spring, the huge fields of bright yellow canola crops remind you that summer is on its way. In summer the fields lie fallow – vast tracts of sandy stony furrowed lands with fat woolly Merino sheep huddled in the shade of copses of old eucalyptus trees close to the little farm dams. It is hard to believe how fertile this countryside is.
The Botrivier district to the west of Hermanus lies in a shallow flood plain. It is a rich mixed farming area for wheat, canola, wine, olives and dairy. Beaumont Wines is situated in the middle of the village and is one of the oldest wine farms in the region. There is a watermill on the farm which is over 200 years old and the wooden water wheel has been restored to working order.Limited quantities of stone ground flour are produced here at times.
The charming picturesque village of Stanford is located on the eastern side of the Kleinrivier lagoon and is located on the banks of the Klein River. It was founded in 1857 and the Edwardian and Victorian houses are beautifully preserved and were declared a heritage site in 1992. The Stanford Food Heroes are a small group of chefs, artisans and farmers who create and farm a large variety of locally produced food produce which is organic, indigenous and sustainable. The produce is varied and of an exceptionally high quality.
As you leave Stanford in the direction of Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa, you pass through some of the villages of the Strandveld.
You will pass Grootbos, a luxury eco lodge, on 2500 hectares of virgin Strandveld fynbos. The dramatic displays of the colorful floral kingdom are incredible, particularly the pink Ericas in July.
De Kelders is set on the eastern cliffs overlooking Walker bay. It is the perfect setting to watch the whales during the whale season from July to October. Walker bay is well known for its incredible land based whale viewing. The whales return to the bay every year to mate and calf. Because of the geography of the bay, with its steep cliffs and deep waters, the whales are often no more than 25m from the view site.
De Kelders was also home to some of the earliest inhabitants of the region, the Strandlopers. The caves where they lived are protected from the weather and offered protection to these early people. The caves were conveniently situated for the hunter-gatherer prople to fish and collect seafood in order to survive. Visitors are able to walk the Klipgat trail (7km) and explore, the caves, rock pools, beaches and Strandveld vegetation.
Gansbaai is the last village on Walker Bay. It is a small fishing village with a few small fish factories. It is the largest village on the eastern side of the Bay.
At the end of the peninsula, you will find the Dangerpoint Lighthouse.
Bartolomeu Dias originally named Danger Point, Ponte de Sao Brandao, when he landed there on 16 May 1488. The name Danger Point is derived from the treacherous reefs and rocks below the water that make it very dangerous for ships to sail close to the coast.
The troopship HMS Birkenhead was wrecked off Danger Point in 1852. It became famous because it was the first shipwreck where the “women and children first” protocol was applied. All women and children were saved but most of the men perished.
More than 140 ships have been wrecked and thousands of lives lost between Danger Point and Cape Infanta.
The Danger Point Lighthouse was built in 1895, to provide security for the ships in the dangerous waters.
Kleinbaai is a small slipway and home to the shark cage diving industry. The world famous Shark Alley is close by and home to some huge great white sharks. Visitors are able to get into cages in the water and see these magnificent creatures up close in their natural habitat. There are also Marine 5 safaris available. Visitors can see great white sharks, various kinds of whales, elephant seals, dolphins and African penguins on a gorgeous boat trip.
Behind the mountains is the tiny, surreal village of Baardskeerdersbos. It is bizarrely named after a scary creature which is half spider, half scorpion. Many artists live here and there is a notorious pub. It is the kind of village which you will never get to know unless you live there. It is very intriguing.
Tucked away in a faraway valley, you will find the settlement of Wolvengat. It has become a refuge for people wanting to escape the rat race and live at one with nature. The hills are redolent with many species of proteas, Erica’s, leucodendrons and other fynbos species. The veld flowers in color waves, and there is always something in flower.
The village of Elim is situated on the vast plain of the Cape Agulhas peninsula. It was established in 1824 by German missionaries as a Moravian mission station. As well as preaching the Gospel, the missionaries taught the villagers a variety of trades and skills. Elim’s thatchers continue to be renowned for their craftsmanship.
Elim is incredibly pretty and has changed little over the years, it looks like a medieval village. It is filled with heritage whitewashed thatch cottages, fruit trees and fynbos. All the roads in the village lead to the beautiful thatch roofed church. The community, still mainly Moravian, consists of farmers, farm workers and artisans.
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