Hermanus, The Seaside Village
The Greater Hermanus area is situated between two large lagoons namely the Botrivier Lagoon on the western side and the Kleinrivier Lagoon to the eastern side, with the small Onrus Lagoon in the middle. It consists of various settlements namely, Fisherhaven, Hawston, Vermont, Onrus, Sandbaai, Hemel en Aarde Valley, Mount Pleasant, Zwelihle and Hermanus. A diversity of peoples live harmoniously in this exquisitely beautiful heart of the Cape Whale Coast.
The town of Hermanus "proper" meanders along the western cove of Walker Bay between magnificent sea cliffs and the foot of the Olifantsberg Mountains. Hermanus Pieters, an itinerant teacher of Caledon farmers' children, was the first permanent resident in the early 1800s. Having come across a fresh spring and greener pastures he settled on the shore of this enchanting bay. The spring came to be known as Hermanuspietersfontein but was shortened to Hermanus when municipal status was given to the town in 1904.
Hermanus has a station that has no trains or railway lines, thanks to Sir William Hoy, Commissioner of the South African Railways, who in the early 1900’s stopped any rail development making certain that Hermanus retains its clear, crisp, clean “champagne air” to this day. The Hermanus Tourism Bureau is housed in the Old Station Building in Mitchell Street.
Hermanus, also referred to as the Riviera of the South, is attractive to travelers not only because of its wondrous setting, quaint fisherman’s cottages and unspoilt natural beauty, but also because it offers a myriad of Activities all year round. The sun and pristine beaches (Grotto Beach has Blue Flag status) in summer and land-based whale watching in the green months; fishing, diving, hiking, cycling, fly-fishing, boating, bird-watching, paragliding, golf, bowls, quad biking, mountain biking riding, and great white shark cage diving close by at Gansbaai...there is always something to do. The beautiful Hermanus Golf Course sports 27 holes and meanders along the base of the Raed-na-Gael mountain range, below up market area called Hermanus Heights towards the Fernkloof Nature Reserve.
Fernkloof, one of the Nature Reserves in the Greater Hermanus area, is saddled between Lemoenkop and Olifantsberg and hosts one of the richest of the six floral kingdoms in the world. `It has 50 km of hiking trails and a mountain biking track..
The walk along the 14 km cliff path is spectacular, especially in "whale season" and has earned the village the reputation of offering the best land-based whale watching in the world. Hermanus has the world's only Whale Crier who sounds his kelp horn to announce where whales have been sighted.
The Old Harbour Museum gives visitors an insight into the history of the village. There is a telescope above the Old Harbour for visitors to see the giant visitors when they are far out in the bay. De Wet's Huis Photo Museum provides a fantastic photographic documentation of the history and development of the town. The Whale House presents daily slide shows throughout the year explaining the life cycle of our fascinating annual visitors, the Southern Right Whales.
The beauty and magic of Hermanus has attracted many famous artists. The town has thus become home to a number of Galleries that house both local and international works.
The village holds several Festivals and Events every year, including a Passion Play in the Old Harbour; celebrates the arrival of the whales in the bay with the Whale Festival (which is an art and environmental feast); offers some of the best local and national theatre productions (mainly in Afrikaans) at the Kalfiefees; serves the most glorious seafood at the Hawston Sea Festival (December); and chases away winter chills at the Food & Wine Fair (July) with delicious cuisine and delectable wines from over 60 exhibitors.
The easternmost part of Hermanus, at the foot of the Kleinriviersberg which stretches to Stanford, is the residential area of Voëlklip. This is where Beaches are dotted in coves along the shoreline culminating in the long Grotto beach, which stretches out to meet the magnificent lagoon at the mouth of the Klein Rivier. On the opposite bank of the lagoon lies Die Plaat, part of the Walker Bay Nature Reserve, 12 km of unspoilt beach that goes all the way to De Kelders.
Tourism is the cornerstone of Hermanus' economy. Visitors have an excellent selection of accommodation and restaurants to choose from. In addition to the hotels there are many guesthouses, self-catering cottages, backpackers' lodges and campsites, offering visitors excellent hospitality.
Fisherhaven, the most westerly settlement on the R43, is a quiet little place and has one shop and many holiday homes. Originally a holiday resort, Fisherhaven is now home to many locals who prefer the peace of the hamlet to the quiet bustle of Hermanus. Situated on the beautiful Bot Rivier lagoon with amazing views and sunsets, it offers fishing, sailing and boating facilities and accommodation.
Close by is Hawston, which nestles in a cove at Mudge Point. It is one of the oldest settlements in Greater Hermanus and was designated a "coloured" area by the former government. Hawston has some of the best sea views in the area and has many buildings of historical interest. It has a long stretch of beautiful beach, Sandown Bay, where the wild horses can be spotted in the area surrounding the lagoon... The eastern side of the beach, near Hawston Harbour, is a popular surfing spot. The recently developed Abalone Village Tours of Hawston can be arranged through the Hermanus Tourism Bureau.
Vermont and Onrus River are situated on the coast where the Onrus River runs into the sea through the small Onrus lagoon. Though the Onrus River, which rises in the Babilonstoring mountains, is little more than 10 km long, it was regarded by the Dutch settlers who first saw it as restless and they named it Onrust. together with the fact that along its banks higher up in the valley a leper colony was established who used the water for washing until 1845. The spelling of Onrust has been modernised to Onrus in spite of opposition from traditionalists. Particularly vocal defence of the ‘t' came from a group of distinguished artists who have homes at Onrus and the adjacent resort of Vermont. Many artists have settled here over the years including Uys Krige, Jan Rabie, Jack Cope, Elsa Joubert, Bill Davis, Gregoire Boonzaaier, Marjorie Wallace and Cecil Higgs. Vermont and Onrus consisted mainly of holiday homes and their owners arrive in droves during the holidays to bathe on Onrus Beach. Today there are many permanent and retired residents who have settled in these beautiful surroundings.
The Onrus lagoon and beach offers showers, cloakrooms and a restaurant right on the beach make this a very friendly spot for holidaymakers; it is also a favourite surfing and body boarding spot. The Jewish Habonim Holiday Camp borders on the beach preserving the green belt behind the beach from development. Brekvis Bay at Vermont lies on the boundary of the Vermont Nature Reserve and is one of the most undisturbed beaches in the area. Shielded by high dunes, Brekvis Bay is the perfect place to picnic and paddle. Vermont and Onrus have excellent accommodation from camping sites to luxury 5 star guest houses.
Sandbaai lies on the coast at the entrance to the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley. It is the most recently developed and fastest growing residential area of Greater Hermanus with an eclectic range of homes. There is a pretty even mix of holiday homes and permanent residences with permanent residents being, in the main, families with young children. The Sandbaai beach is dotted with rock pools and coves and provides safe swimming at low tide. It is a popular snorkeling spot and there are cloakrooms and showers. Sandbaai has a few art galleries, one specialising in aviation. A wonderful seaside meander has been built along the Sandbaai shore where whale viewing is a pleasure. Sandbaai also sports a variety of accommodation establishments from budget self catering and B&B to 5 star guest houses.
The Hemel-en-Aarde Village is situated behind Sandbaai and has a variety of shops - farm stalls with delectable home-made items, restaurants, ceramic studios, galleries, jewelers, wineries, nurseries and more. It is the first stop on the Hermanus Wine Wander up the serene Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. This valley, heaven and earth, between the Babilonstoring Mountains and the Kleinriviersberg was not always the propitious place it is today. In 1817 Moravian missionaries established South Africa's first leper colony in the valley. It was also the country's first specialised public health institution and operated until 1845 when all the lepers were sent to Robben Island.
The valley truly is the epitome of its name making the Hermanus Wine Wander an extremely pleasurable experience as guest may visit numerous wine farms to sample the wines and partake of the fare at wonderful restaurants. Accommodation is also available in this heavenly valley.
Zwelihle, designated a "black" area by the former government, is a residential area that consists of shacks in the main. Slowly, proper housing is being built to accommodate the residents who are empowering themselves by starting their own small businesses. Zwelihle even has its first B & B and restaurant and tours of the "township" can be arranged through the Hermanus Tourism Bureau.
Mount Pleasant, another area formerly classified "coloured", lies at the western entrance to Hermanus. It is the smallest subsection of Hermanus and is infused with bright colours of pink, turquoise, blue and green by Operation Preen, a community collaboration to clean and paint the houses in the area.
The Southern Right Whale, Eubalaena australis is a large black stocky whale that has a number of features making identification relatively easy. They reach a maximum length of 17m and weight of 80 - 90 tonnes. It is the only large whale that lacks a dorsal fin. It has short blunt paddle-shaped flippers and the broad head carries a number of white callosities (raised rough patches of skin) that form individual identifiable pattern. This latter feature enables researchers to gather vital life history information on this species. This distinctive appearance combined with its slow moving behaviour make it difficult to confuse with any other species. The common name refers to the fact that it was the favoured target of the early whalers, the 'right ' whale to hunt.
DISTRIBUTION, HABITAT AND STATUS
The Southern Right Whale inhabits the southern and sub-antarctic oceans except during the winter breeding season. During this breeding season the whales migrate to warmer temperate waters around the southern parts of the African, South American and Australian land masses.
Like the Humpback, commercial whaling decimated Southern Right Whale numbers. Its habit of lingering in bays and sheltered coastal areas made it an easy target so much so that it had virtually disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century. Fortunately, with strong protection its numbers are gradually increasing and the species is returning to most of its former range.
FOOD AND FEEDING
Like all the baleen whales, Southern Rights are essentially filter feeders, using their finely meshed long narrow plates to catch their prey, usually copepods or krill. They do not undertake the spectacular feeding displays of the Humpback, but use a steady open mouthed movement through prey swarms skimming out the food.
Calving is thought to occur only every three to five years. A single young is born after a gestation period of 12 months and within a year, the calf is weaned and independent.
The Whale Crier‘s Kelp Horn was first heard in Hermanus in August 1992. Pieter Claasen, then an employee of the Old Harbour, was our first Whale Crier. Little did he realise when he agreed to dress up in the now familiar regalia what he was letting himself in for. His friends and associates all felt that he was making a fool of himself dressing up as a “papegaai”. With constant encouragement from Jim Wepener his mentor, he stood his ground and as his reputation spread abroad (literally), they slowly changed their tune. Trips to Cape Town and Johannesburg followed and one of the highlights of his time as Whale Crier was surely his trip to Topsham in the UK where he was Guest of Honour at the annual Town Crier’s competition. He opened the proceedings with a call on his famous kelp horn and then shouted his greetings from Hermanus in true Town Crier fashion. He received a resounding applause. Later in the afternoon he led the colourful procession of Town Criers, floats from far and wide and a large crowd of onlookers down the Main Street of Topsham.
On that trip he also participated in a presentation on Whale Watching in Hermanus and the Whale Route at the South African Embassy in London. Subsequently a letter received from the Ambassador said that the invited guests had enjoyed the presentation tremendously and congratulated the delegates saying it was one of the best presentations given at the Embassy.
As the information has spread far and wide about the wonderful whale watching in Hermanus, so has the media interest increased both in the Whale Crier and Hermanus. Pieter has given literally dozens of press and TV interviews and these have continued to publicise Hermanus as an important tourist destination.
Pieter was succeeded by Wilson Salukazana a well respected and dignified figure from Zwelihle, Hermanus. He took the Whale Crier icon to greater heights and is arguably the most photographed South African after Nelson Mandela! One of his highlights was his visit to Great Britain, representing Hermanus as the only whale crier in the world in the city of Manchester. He walked the cliff path beat for 8 years imparting his vast knowledge of the whales and Hermanus. At the same time he has always been very closely involved with the Zwelihle community. He started his own township tours called Ubuntu Tours which are thoroughly enjoyed by visitors. At the age of 66 Wilson retired as he said it was time to slow down a little. (Needless to say he only “slowed” for a few months!)
Godleck Baleni was the following person to show off the Whale Crier boards and blow the kelp horn! He had very big shoes to fill and did a sterling job. His huge smile and charming character was a great attraction to visitors. Sadly the pressure of holding such a prestigious position overwhelmed him and he too resigned.
At this very time Pasika Noboba was looking to grow his career. It is clear that he was born to carry the name of Worlds only Whale Crier™ and started in September 2008. His personal profile shows his great dedication and great achievements. He bears tremendous knowledge of Whales and Hermanus but is so keen to learn more. We envisage him expanding the brand of the Worlds only Whale Crier™ to an even greater platform.
Located between mountain and sea and with nature reserves in and around the greater Hermanus area, bird watchers can delight in spotting an astonishing number of different birds. You can walk along the cliff paths, hike in the Fernkloof nature reserve or just sit in your garden and you're sure to see a large number of our avian residents.
Species most likely to be seen include the Cape Sugar Bird, Sunbirds, Rock Thrush and Rock Jumper. Raptors include the Jackal Buzzard and a pair of Black Eagle, the latter feeding mainly on dassies. Limited areas of thick scrub and forest alongside streams support numbers of seed and insect-eating species such as the Rameron Pigeon, Canaries, Flycatchers and White-eyes. The summer months herald the arrival of migrants of which the swallows and cuckoos are the most obvious. Some birds are adapted to feeding on fynbos species such as proteas and ericas, and in this way play a vital role as pollinators.
Fynbos is one of seven floral kingdoms in the world and is endemic to the Western Cape. These extraordinary flowers grow on the roadsides and in private gardens but you can see many of the hundreds of different species in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve and along the Hermanus Cliff Path.
FERNKLOOF NATURE RESERVE
One of the most beautiful aspects of life in Hermanus is that even when you're in the centre of the village nature is just a few meters away. Fernkloof Nature Reserve covers 1800 ha in the Kleinrivier Mountains above Hermanus and ranges in altitude from sea level to 842 m.
The reserve lies on the northern side of the town with a 60 km network of trails.These provide the opportunity for people of all fitness levels to go out and enjoy some exercise and fresh air. A display of some of the flowers that can be found in the veld is permanently maintained at the Fernkloof Visitors' Centre. The various trails offer magnificent and unequalled views of Walker Bay, the Hemel en Aarde Valley and Maanskynbaai.
In late 1957, the Reserve was proclaimed by the Provincial Council of the Cape. It protects coastal and fynbos and a small patch of evergreen forest. Parts of the coastal area including the Cliff Path Nature Area, the Mossel River valley and the area from De Mond to Kettle Point, including the mouth of the Vogelgat River and part of the Klein River lagoon have recently been incorporated in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve.
This means that the coastal area with its unique fynbos - different from that on the mountain slopes - as well as the sensitive lagoon area, are now being included, and for the first time mountain and coastline will be linked.
There is no other place on earth where so many different species can be seen growing in such close proximity. In Fernkloof 1474 species have thus far been collected and identified. The name of the principal vegetation type of this region is derived from the Dutch word 'fijn bosch' which is the collective name for a myriad of evergreen shrub-like plants with small firm leaves, often rolled - but also includes woody plants with hard leathery leaves, usually broad, often rolled.
Grey rhebok, Cape grysbok, klipspringer, baboon,mongoose and dassie are present in small numbers. Others such as porcupine, genet and hare are nocturnal and these mammals are seldom seen.
There is a popular Farmers Market every Saturday morning where a variety of local produce and craft can be purchased. Fernkloof also has a nursery where you can buy indigenous plants and hosts a Wild Flower Show in September each year.
The Historical Whale Watching Town of Hermanus
Each year thousands of domestic and international tourists flock to the shores of the gorgeous coastal town, Hermanus. Internationally renowned for whale watching, Hermanus is an ideal holiday destination. Despite being one of South Africa’s most loved tourist destinations, Hermanus has managed to maintain the quaint and tranquil atmosphere of years gone by.
The Hermanus of Days Gone By
This gorgeous seaside town has a proud history dating back to the early 1800s when a man by the name of Hermanus Pieters followed a path etched into the ground by a herd of elephants. Hermanus Pieters was a traveling teacher and Sheppard who growing tired of his locality, made the decision to pack up and try somewhere new. He wandered south of Caledon along the elephant trail and ended up next to the sea where he discovered a fresh spring. Hermanus Pieters decided to set up camps here because of this spring and the fine grazing the land provided for his livestock. This beautiful setting became known as Hermanuspietersfontein (directly translated as Hermanus Pieters Fountain). Once farmers in neighboring districts begun to hear of his success they too began their journeys to this new and fertile location. Many of the farmers only vacationed in Hermanuspietersfontein during the warmers summers months. They spent their time fishing whilst their wives and children spent many a happy day along the magnificent beachfronts. Once the winter months set in the farmers would return to their homes, the fishermen however stayed. The fish was plentiful and the men had great successes in the ocean that lapped the shores of this small town. By 1886 so many families had moved to Hermanuspietersfontein that a church and school were built. In 1902 after an irate postmaster’s complaint due to the towns’ exceptionally long name, Hermanuspietersfontein became Hermanus. The town was so beautiful and filled with fresh sea air that it was not uncommon for doctors to recommend a trip to the seaside town for their patient’s health.
In the late 1800’s the Harley Street Doctors of London discovered Hermanus as an excellent place for people with consumption (TB) to recuperate. By the 1920’s there were approximately 15 Sanatoria in Hermanus to cater for these well heeled, early (medical) tourists.
Hermanus’s reputation grew and the Sanatoria slowly changed into hotels. Before the 2nd World War there was a well established International Tourist Trade in Hermanus – the well-to-do Englishman who spent three or four months in Hermanus every year to get away from the worst of the English winter. The hotels used to send busses to Cape Town to fetch their guests off the Mail Ships. After the war many of these people settled here, buying and building homes for themselves. The social scene in Hermanus during the 50’s and 60’s was amazing, with hotels providing entertainment and music. During the late 50’s there were 15 or 16 hotels and the town was thriving. It was the place to go for people in the Western Cape.
The Sleepy Village beside the Sea
The residents of Hermanus fought strongly for their home to remain a sleepy, quaint seaside village rather than succumb to the modernization that was creeping up all around them. One of the most significant contributors to this "village feeling" was William Hoy who was a frequent visitor to Hermanus. Hoy was the general manager of the railways and he ensured that the natural beauty of Hermanus would not be marred by the extension of the railway line into the village. Hundreds of years later Hermanus is the only place with a railway station in the country with no trains. Hermanus is historically rich with many tales and interesting facts about the people who were responsible for making the town what it is today: from anti-railway activist William Hoy to the last indigenous beachcomber who lived in a cave in town. These people amongst many other contributed to both the development and the relaxed feel of Hermanus today.
SIR WILLIAM HOY
AND THE TRAIN THAT NEVER REACHED HERMANUS
One of the holiday- makers who will never be forgotten is William Hoy. Like many other great South African settlers, Hoy was borne in Scotland. At the age of 12 he left school and set off to Edinburgh where he found work as a junior clerk on the north British railway, earning 12 shillings per week. Hoy, who had beautiful copperplate handwriting, started learning pitman’s shorthand and soon was earning extra pocket money teaching shorthand at night school. In 1890, a recruiting officer of the cape government railways arrived in Edinburgh. Hoy successfully applied and soon after, arrived in Cape Town. After only two years in the country, he became chief clerk to the traffic manager in Kroonstad and a year later, when he was 27 he was the Transvaal agent for the Railways. During the Anglo- Boer war, Hoy was in charge of military railways, coordinating the movement of troops, supplies, horses, and etcetera. Hoy married Gertrude Price in 1901. They only had one daughter, Maudie. His farther- in- law, Sir Thomas Price, General Manager, appointed him as chief traffic manager, a post he had earned by hard work. Another milestone came when he bought the first type writer in the country and personally typed the first letter which possibly made him the first and only railway manager to have risen from ranks of shorthand typist. In 1910 he became the youngest railway General Manager ever and had control of the second largest Government- owned railway in the world. It was during this time that the Hoys wanted to get away from Cape Town and they discovered Hermanus, where he could enjoy his favourite hobby- fishing. He became the most enthusiastic patron of the village and was enchanted by its natural charm. Local businessmen and residents alike were hopeful that the general manager of the railway would soon help them by building a branch line from Bot River to Hermanus. Their hopes, however, came to nothing, as Hoy wanted Hermanus to remain unspoilt and not run over by masses that could turn up once there was a railway line. When deputation pressed him for the line to Hermanus , he took them to Sir Lowry’s pass station on a new years day and when the train arrived , hundreds of people , laden with picnic baskets , blankets and radios poured from the train , laughing and talking excitedly. Hoy introduced the first road service of South African railways from the railway station at Bot-River to Hermanus in 1912. Lorries to carry freight [particularly fish] and a bus to carry passengers were introduced. William Hoy was knighted in 1916 .He died in 1930 at the early age of 62. His fishermen friends carried his coffin up a newly made pathway for the burial on the Koppie. This is a mountain just behind the station building which was very close to his heart. From that day on it was named Hoy’s Koppie.
Hermanus would never have had a magnetic observatory if there had been railway lines. The scientific contribution to the world is certainly of as great importance as a train- free Hermanus has become for many of its residents.