As long ago as 1875 people used to meet at the Old Harbour in Hermanus to welcome the fishermen bringing in their catch – today it is still a magnet to visitors and residents but they throng here to watch whales, picnic on the lawns, swim in the little bay or simply admire the spectacular view.
The Old Harbour was the centre of all life in the early days of the village – the boats would be rowed out by rugged fishermen at dawn and rowed back in on the next tide, laden with fish which the women would clean on wooden tables. The proliferation of fish attracted many well-heeled holidaymakers, especially from the UK and photos of their over enthusiastic catches can be seen in the De Wet House Photographic Museum.
Perhaps the most famous of all catches was the world record shark caught with a rod and reel from the land by Bill Selkirk in 1922. It took him five hours to land the 4,03 meter, 987kg shark. Visitors can view the photograph of him with his catch in the photographic museum – this gives a better idea of the size of the shark and what a battle it must have been. The jaws of the shark is in the small museum down in the Old Harbour.
Today the Old Harbour and the Market Square above it forms the heart of the village and any visit to the town will naturally begin here. The Old Harbour lawns and rocks offer a delightful escape from the hustle and bustle of the town above and sometimes the area resounds with music and laughter when residents gather to celebrate. A small museum housing samples of the marine history and natural history of the bay is situated in the Old Harbour as is the office of the museum curator. The South African Shark Conservancy has offices and an educational facility in the Old Harbour. Pop in and see the shy sharks in tanks and also the fascinating little baby shark “pods”.
When fishing became big business a safer, bigger harbour was needed and in the 1940’s the New Harbour was opened. The fishing industry thrived until the early 2000’s when depleted resources forced Lusitania and others to move their fleets to Cape Town or elsewhere. It is still a thriving marine centre for Hermanus with abalone aquaculture taking over most of the harbour area. Still there are colourful little fishing boats, the occasional trawler, and rubber dingies used by the scuba diving outfits. There are always children and oldies fishing from the quaysides and seals dipping and diving to catch whatever fish is around. Ski boat fishermen and line fishermen crowd the slipway when the snoek are running and makes the harbour come alive with excitement as boats come in laden with fish. Seagulls crowd and hassle each other for the bits of gut and scales as locals clean fish on the rocks and visitors press closer to buy a fresh feast.
The whale watching boats also operate from the New Harbour and offer cruises and sundowners around the bay when it is not whale season.
Harbours are essentially about the harvest of the sea and both Hermanus harbours provide a treasure trove for those who wish to discover and explore. Dine or picnic, or simply wander around and absorb the colours, textures and smells of these fascinating anchorages.