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Known as the whale-watching capital of South Africa, Hermanus is perfectly positioned on the windswept coast of Walker Bay for seeing migratory southern right whales. They travel to these sheltered waters from Antarctica to breed and calve, and you have every chance of a close encounter with them between June and November.

The town is a 90-minute drive southeast of Cape Town and easily slots into a self-drive trip along the Garden Route. Treading its streets, you pass galleries, shops and waterfront cafes. In the evening, you can dine in one of the seafood restaurants while watching the sun set over the ocean. Farther afield, go wine tasting in the Hemel en Aarde Valley (a worthy alternative to the Winelands).

Southern Right Whale
Hermanus is a town that has fully embraced its status as South Africa’s chief whale-watching destination. Every year, the season is celebrated with the Hermanus Whale Festival, where live music, sizzling food trucks and art and craft stalls are accompanied by educational exhibits on marine life and conservation. There’s even a town Whale Crier, who stands watch on the waterfront and blows into a dry kelp horn whenever a whale surfaces.

Joining a boat trip is the best way to get close to the whales — both southern right and resident Bryde’s whales frequent the bay, fluking and spouting right before your eyes. You might also glimpse humpbacks, which sometimes pass by on their way to the east coast, as well as dolphins, sea lions and Cape fur seals.

You don’t have to be waterborne to see them, though. Between Hermanus’s New Harbour in the west and Piet-se-Bos in the east, you can follow a 12 km (7.5 mile) coastal path along the clifftops. From this lofty position, you have undisturbed views over the ocean and of any marine life that’s in passing. Viewing benches are spaced strategically along the coast, and you often don’t need binoculars for a clear sighting.

Your stay in Hermanus needn’t have a single focus. You can also join a ‘wine safari’ to the nearby Hemel en Aarde (Heaven on Earth) Valley. Here, the clay-rich soil and high altitude ensures vines thrive, producing wines to rival any of the more prominent Winelands’ exponents, particularly pinot noirs.

You travel in an open-sided safari vehicle through mountainous terrain, hopping on and off at different wineries to spend as long as you like sampling (and, perhaps, purchasing) their finest tipples. The area is also winning renown for its food, and you might like to lunch in one of the restaurants that have opened up within the wine estates.

Hermanus is backed by Fernkloof Nature Reserve, which spreads across the Kleinrivier Mountains. Here, you can walk among rare heather-like fynbos vegetation, following some of the 60 km (37 miles) of trails. As you wander, look out for wildlife such as rock hyraxes (known locally as dassies), mongooses, baboons and Cape grysbok.

Best time to visit Hermanus

While you can see marine life year-round from Hermanus, the main whale-watching season lasts from June to November. Predictably, the town does get busy during this time, so it’s best to plan well ahead if you’d like to visit during these months.

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    Our expert guides to exploring Hermanus

    Written by our specialists from their own experiences of visiting Hermanus, these guides will help you make the most of your time there. We share both our practical recommendations and the best ways to appreciate Hermanus at its best.

    • a Humpback whale, Hermanus

      Whale watching in South Africa

      The annual migration of southern right whales to South Africa’s coast creates a flurry of excitement around Walker Bay, where the whales come to have their young. From boat trips to coastal walks and whale festivals, South Africa specialist Jaanki shares her whale-watching tips.

    Accommodation choices for Hermanus

    We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Hermanus. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    • La Fontaine, Hermanus

      La Fontaine

      Medium

      This intimate guesthouse is positioned perfectly for spotting whales offshore, offering unobstructed views of the South Atlantic Ocean. Just a stroll from the pretty town of Hermanus, there are lots of activities to keep you busy in the surrounding area.

    • Ocean Eleven Guest House, pool area

      Ocean Eleven Guest House

      Medium

      This elegant clifftop guesthouse offers beautiful ocean vistas and spacious, well-appointed accommodation. You can take a scenic stroll along the cliff path to the town center, which has a good selection of restaurants, or simply relax while taking in the views from the pool area.

    • The pool at Harbour House

      Harbour House

      Medium

      This is a good value, smart hotel with contemporary décor and all rooms have air conditioning, satellite television, basic kitchen facilities and balconies to breathe in the fresh sea air.

    • The Marine Hermanus

      The Marine

      First Class

      The Marine is, without doubt, the most refined and elegant hotel in Hermanus and it is well worth upgrading to have the fantastic ocean views during the whale season. It offers excellent service and has a colonial style and atmosphere.

    • Mosselberg on Grotto Beach, Hermanus

      Mosselberg on Grotto Beach

      Medium

      Mosselberg is a small boutique guesthouse on the edge of Hermanus with large open spaces and uninterrupted sea views.

    • Abalone Guest Lodge, Hermanus

      Abalone Guest Lodge

      Medium

      Situated on Sievers Point, midway between Hermanus town center and its wide stretches of white beaches, Abalone Guest Lodge provides comfortable accommodation with a stylish seaside atmosphere.