Just short of 300 meters away, the mother and calf gently bobbed just below the surface of the water, as the line of swells slowly washed overhead. It was a distant, but impressive sighting nonetheless, and as we kayaked back towards the old harbour, we were also met by a wandering penguin and a rookery of playful seals. Unbeknownst to us and the whale spotter on the cliffs overhead, another mother and calf where swimming underneath us, and suddenly surfaced a mere 30 meters away. Adrenaline pumping, our surprise slowly gave way to complete awe and amazement. I can only hope their caution changed to curiosity, as they gently drifted away from the strange orange kayaks unexpectedly in their space.
This was a perfect welcome the seaside town of Hermaus, a 90 minute drive from Cape Town. My image of the town as a sleepy retirement village that I’d merely drive through, has morphed into something more enchanting. Four days spent in this 120 year old fisherman village and I’ve seen it as one should – warmly inviting with an irresistible charm.
Contrary to my usual reading and well-informed research, I’d booked nothing for my stay. My intention was to merely amble about the seaside village and engage with what I found. The perfect breakaway for South Africans, or destination for foreigners wanting to enjoy our natural heritage. Here are some of my highlights.
My Hermanus Top 5
1. Meet the Sharks
In addition to the kayaking trips, the more adventurous can join one of Walker Bay Adventures’ sharkcage diving expeditions and meet the slightly more menacing ocean creatures.
2. Dining at Fusion
Served by possibly the friendliest restaurant staff I’ve encountered in South Africa, the lamb curry is a must, and comes served in a mini-potjie pot with grilled naan. Their burgers are equally mouthwatering, especially followed by the Lindt triple-chocolate desert. Also check out Pear Tree, and Betty Blue Bistro.
3. The Cliff Walk
There is a long path that closely hugs the edge of the cliffs; every turn offering astounding views over the bay. It’s also a safer way to view the whales, and with the World Wildlife Fund having named the town one of the best 12 whale watching spots in the world, make sure to take your camera.
4. Hemeel En Aarde Valley
No Hermanus trip would be complete without a trip to explore some of South Africa’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot winefarms, all set in the mythical Hemeel en Aarde Valley. I could rhapsodize about these farms for hours, but I’ll leave that for another time. Out of the many options, Hamilton Russell, Newton Johnson and Creation are some of my favorites.
5. The Village Bookshop
Every village should have its secondhand book dealer, and I left Quirk & Leopard Bookshop smiling with my new cookbook and novel to be enjoyed somewhere in front of the ocean. Smiling also, as the owners recover most of the books in plastic. I love people who love books.
Perhaps I lied… there was one element of my trip which was booked and I was highly anticipating – I was going to be staying at one of the three hotels in the prestigious Liz Mcgrath Collection: the Marine Hotel. Part of the reason for my visit was I desperately needed break, and a digital detox. The second oldest building in town, the Marine was originally a sanatorium, where guests were able to enjoy the healing benefits of what they called Hermanus’ ‘champagne air. Who wouldn’t be sold at that? I hoped the air (and some of the bubbly for real) would do wonders over my visit.
The Marine achieves the perfect balance between understated luxury, and old-school hospitality, all set in a truly remarkable cliff-edge location. From the comfort of my bed I sat spellbound by the sweeping oceans vistas where panoramic seascapes were visible at every turn. As much as I wanted to explore the town, I quickly realized I would be equally happy for time to simply pass by, and allow me to unwind in my new marine haven.
The tasteful renovations and refurbishments, all done by the late hospitality legend Liz Mcgrath, have ensured the hotel exudes grace and an undeniable sense of being home. Breakfast is served in the elegant circa 1920s black and white dining room, with giant portico windows giving you perfect glimpses of the ocean. As if on que, within two minutes of being seated for breakfast on the first morning, whales made their presence known, happily pitching and rolling only a few hundred meters away from the restaurant.
For those who need some downtime and some soul-restoring, very little needs to be done.
I did however find these three on-site experiences helpful, and very glad I chose them:
Dining at Origins
The Origins restaurant belongs to the family of eateries under chef Peter Templehof’s spell, and is an absolute treat. From the culinary creativity to profiling of local ingredients, and all at remarkable prices.
High Tea with a view
At only R120pp the high tea is a steal, and seated in the chic and spacious lounge with sea views, you won’t want to leave the comfort of your seat, and reach of the cake! Naturally I interpreted the ‘optional extra’ of a bottle of bubbly mandatory, and it only complemented the experience impeccably.
The Carchele Spa adjacent to the pool has an impressive list of treatments, and my break in Hermanus had to include the ‘essentially male spa’ package. The 120 treatment includes a back and scalp massage, a gent’s facial and a soothing foot massage to conclude.
With each breath of the champagne air and minute spent gazing at the open ocean, I felt my soul being restored. Four days later I was very reluctant to leave my marine haven, but restored and ready to face the world again. Visit the Marine online, and the Mcgrath Collection on Instagram.