History of Hermanus
When having a closer look at the history of the Overberg, a myriad of different people seemed to have lived here through the ages and have left their legendary footprints in the sand. A closer look reveals that Middle Stone Age people roamed the coastline of Hermanus and settled in caves at Klipgat near De Kelders between 65 000 and 85 000 years ago. Many signs of life of the Late Stone Age people, the Khoisan, are still found here today. Bientang's Cave (now a restaurant), the cave on Hoy's Koppie and the cave at Sopie's Klip on Die Plaat, are three of the shelters that have accommodated centuries of humanity and still witness the passing parade.
The 1700's was also assured to see many a shipwreck survivor, escaped slave and missionary making their way through the beautiful, yet wild and uninhabited area as they made their way to the Cape.
Then, in the mid 1800’s a shepherd and teacher by the name of Hermanus Pieters made his way from the Caledon area with his livestock in search of summer grazing. He looked down on the bay from the top of the mountain and made his way down to the fresh water spring on the edge of the cliffs where he camped with his flock for several months. He returned to Caledon with the good news of the fresh water spring, sweet grazing and spectacular seascapes and more folk along with their flocks followed in the next season.
In the meantime, fishermen who had settled in Herrie’s Bay (now Hawston) heard stories of excellent catches further down the coast and decided to try their luck. It was a fruitful decision and the fishing community around the small natural harbour started to grow. Naturally the fresh water spring was a central meeting point and soon the little hamlet of fishermen’s cottages that grew up around it was known as Hermanuspietersfontein.
In the early 1900’s, when the very first erven were laid out by the Surveyor General of the time, (taking care to include the existing fishermen’s cottages in an orderly fashion,) the title deeds referred to the town as Hermanus Peters Fontyn. The long and unwieldy name was eventually reduced to Hermanus when a post office became necessary.
Now that the name of Hermanus was finally reduced and established, the development of the town lay ahead. The course of Hermanus’ development was directed by a few momentous decisions, like Sir William Hoy’s selfish intervention to halt the railway line that would link Cape Town and Hermanus. He was a great fisherman and a fan of the peaceful coastal town and as general manager of the railways at the time he was able to halt the line at Bot River and keep industry and crowds at bay. Little did he know that his actions would also create the ideal circumstances for the establishment of a magnetic observatory a century later, and today this is an important South African National Space Agency.
Another direct result of this decision was that Hermanus became the only town to have a station with no train and in 1912 it became the first Road Motor Transport depot in the country. Goods and passengers had to be brought to Hermanus from the station in Bot River by lorry and later by railway bus. This service continued for 80 years and the Hermanus Station won many awards for being The Neatest and Most Well Run Station in the country! Today The Station is the site of a commercial mall and the original building accommodates the Tourism Information Office.
Another important step forward came directly from the little harbour where loads of fish were being landed, cleaned and pickled daily. This unfortunately resulted in the stench of the offal and fishermen were eventually forced to carry the offal and pickle back out to sea to Frans se Klip where it was dumped. The municipality received complaints of the smell for years until it was finally decided 1932 that a new harbour had to be built to accommodate the fishing trade. Building on the New Harbour started in 1939 but due to the war, it was only finished in 1951. Today, 60 years later, the two harbours are still known as the Old Harbour and the New Harbour.
Fishing continued to be an important economic drive of the town until tourism became the new lifeblood of the town due to the natural beauty and abundance of whales which allows for spectacular land based whale watching.