July through November is whale watching season in Hermanus so I headed south today to see for myself. The last few days have been extremely WINDY in the Cape and the 1.5 hour drive was an adventure in my light little rental car. Gale force winds are not unusual in the Western Cape but driving over Sir Lowry’s Pass in high wind and unexpected rain was an experience – not for the faint of heart… On the other side of the pass and out of the clouds I hoped there would be sunshine waiting but it was overcast and rainy at Hermanus – still beautiful but no whales in sight.
After a walk along the shoreline I had lunch at a charming restaurant on the rocks below Marina Drive. It was a wonderful scene – lots of windows for watching the Bay, a big fire in the fireplace, great smells from the kitchen, and tables packed with tourists and locals enjoying lunch. I sat at a table next to a family visiting from France and had a nice chat with them.
Hermanus is known as the best land-based whale watching spot in the world. Every year Southern Right whales leave their Antarctic feeding ground and travel to the warm, shallow waters of Walker Bay off the Cape Coast. From the shoreline and cliff paths surrounding Hermanus whale watchers see these giants swimming in sheltered bays and coves where they mate and give birth to their young. Most calves are born in August. They are about 16 to 20 ft at birth. Each day they consume 132 gallons of milk and grow 1.2 inches or more.
Southern Right whales live for 90 to 100 years and an adult weighs about 50 tons! The highest number of whales spotted at Hermanus in ONE day is 172. Hermanus has a famous whale crier who patrols Marina Drive and blows a kelp horn when he spots whales in the bay. Whales were once hunted locally and the Old Harbour Museum has information about the history of whaling in Hermanus.
Seals are abundant in Gransbaai, Hermanus, and nearby Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. Consequently many call the area “shark alley” because so many great whites migrate there to feed on their favorite prey.
Fernkloof Nature Reserve in the Kleinrivier Mountains above Walker Bay forms a background to the town of Hermanus. The reserve is an important part of the Cape Floral Kingdom and there are many wonderful hikes to choose from with fantastic mountain and sea views.
Roridula gorgonias (vlieëbos in Afrikaans), the largest carnivorous plant in the world, is one of many plants growing in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. This is a link to photos of all the exotic flowers that grow there – pure heaven for flower lovers.
Some of the animals at Fernkloof include grey rhebok, Cape grysbok, klipspringer, baboon, and mongoose. The best known birds in the reserve are Cape sugar birds, sunbirds, rock thrush, and rock jumpers and there are many raptors including the jackal buzzard and black eagle.
In addition to its other distinctions, Hermanus is also regarded as the center of the perlemoen (mother-of-pearl) industry.
I arrived back in Cape Town to find various wind-related maladies in process – downed trees and limbs blown into the streets, debris blocking side roads – and the wind still howling away! Inside my flat it feels like the windows might blow in – very dramatic – maybe winter is finally on the way. I will definitely visit the whales, Hermanus, and Fernkloof Nature Reserve again, when the weather is better.