The History of Hermanus in a Nutshell

Known now as the bustling centre of the Overberg and Cape Whale Coast, the coastal town of Hermanus had rather humble beginnings. The peace and quiet and beautiful scenery of the town caught between mountain and ocean were the initial reasons people flocked to Hermanus. This is the story of the quiet beginnings of one of South Africa’s favourite holiday destinations.

Hermanus was founded in the early 1800’s by a man called Hermanus Pieters who had happened upon the area when searching for better grazing for his livestock. A freshwater spring and excellent grazing pastures convinced him to stay and soon other farmers and fishermen followed suit to the plentiful area. The word of the natural beauty and bountiful oceans of the area soon spread and by the 1890’s the town had 2 schools, 2 churches, various shops and a thriving fishing industry. 

Hermanuspietersfontein continued to expand as more people fell in love with the town, unfortunately the same could not be said for its name. The unusually long name created some issues for the postal services and it was eventually decided by the postmaster in 1902 to shorten the name to simply Hermanus. The town of Hermanus continued to grow and finally received municipal status in 1904.

As the town thrived and the fishing industry flourished it soon became apparent that the Old Harbour would not suffice. Plans began and in the 1940’s the bigger and safer New Harbour was opened. As more fishermen flocked to the bountiful shores of Hermanus, the town also became a popular shark catching spot. One famous catch is that of bait shop owner Bill Selkirk, descendant of Alexander Selkirk aka Robinson Crusoe. Bill battled for hours to finally pull in the massive 4m Blue Pointer Shark and everyone gathered to take photos with the fisherman and his catch. A full colour photo of Bill and the shark was published in the London News.

The thriving fishing and business industry in Hermanus required better and faster means for the transportation of goods to the established town. Thus plans were drawn for the extension of the railway line in Botriver to continue to Hermanus. However, these plans did not sit well with the Head of South African Railways and Harbour Services, Sir William Hoy. Sir William and his family often vacationed in Hermanus and he believed that the influx of pollution from the trains and extra holiday-makers would spoil the tranquil beauty of the town. For this reason, Sir William overruled the plans for the extension and established a horse and carriage service between the 2 towns instead. Till today, the Hermanus Station remains the only train station in the world where no train has arrived to or departed from. Today the Hermanus Tourism Bureau operates from this historically important building.

Although strange and obscure at the time, the need for preservation of the original settlers in Hermanus has ensured that present day visitors and residents can enjoy the full beauty of the town. The Old Harbour has become a popular attraction in Hermanus along with its museum that holds various information and memorabilia of the whaling industry that took place back in the day. Do remember to stop by when you visit Hermanus and experience the history of Hermanus.

Hermanus Old Harbour