What began as a meander along the Atlantic Ocean, turned into an educational mini adventure. Having been in Hermanus for nearly two months, I’m feeling comfortable and relaxed and becoming slightly complacent. I don’t always plan the day, and on a spur of the moment whim, decided to hike the Cliff Path but extend it by a few miles and begin in Sandbaai instead of New Harbour. I didn’t know there were reasons why people didn’t walk portions of the coastline.
The weather was perfection – high 60s with crisp, clear blue skies. It’s easy to become mesmerized by the beauty of a hypnotic South African seascape – the powerful surf, white sand, sky, wildflowers, fynbos, and sweet sound of birds and frogs. As I walked, it was clear there was no well-defined hiking trail. I thought the rugged coastline would eventually connect with the more civilized Cliff Path. The small rocky coves and beaches were gorgeous with dramatic surf along some of the points.
It’s early Spring, and wildflowers are beginning to bloom. I walked along relishing in thick luxurious fynbos on one side and coves, beaches, and ocean on the other. Continuing for about an hour I passed beaches strewn with the remnants of a high tide – large intact trees uprooted from their base, a car carcass, and tons of oyster and mussel shells. I passed a small homeless encampment near the dunes and saw the red roofs of houses in the distance.
After reaching the houses, I discovered impenetrable security walls surrounding them, so I kept walking until I found a paved road and a guarded gate. The gatekeeper advised it was a private community and only invited guests could enter. He said to continue down the road, and in about a mile I would reach New Harbour and could connect with the Cliff Path there – my goal from the beginning! While walking, I passed an industrial area with businesses and warehouses. Laborers in blue jumpsuits were walking the grounds speaking Xhosa.
I didn’t feel threatened, but it was strange. I tried to take a shortcut and turned off before the mile point only to realize the entire coastal area was cordoned off by large, guarded industrial complexes. There was no way to get through except jumping into the ocean and swimming or backtracking and following the security guard’s recommended route.
The businesses I passed were part of Hermanus Marine Aquaculture, a developing industry in South Africa, especially along the Atlantic Ocean coast. The focus is on mussels, oysters, abalone, seaweeds, and prawns. Some of the businesses included:
The Abagold complex – logo shown in English and Chinese – took up several blocks. Abagold “cultivates abalone in close harmony with nature, at the southernmost tip of Africa”. The plant’s location on the cold Atlantic provides the “necessary nutrients and environment for producing the highest quality Abalone”.
Aqunion Whale Rock Farm is described as an “aquaculture value chain”. In addition to abalone farming, they process, market, and export South African abalone”.
“South African abalone is cherished around the world for its excellent quality, taste, shape, and texture. The Haliotis Midae species is unique and enhanced by the pristine waters of the Atlantic Ocean.”
Friday is a happy, festive day in South Africa – people are ready for a weekend break and the atmosphere is light and fun. Africans I met along the way were singing, laughing, and clearly enjoying themselves. I noticed small, close-set makeshift housing in the surrounding area and realized the beach I had walked was bordered by a township – Zwelihe. The name means “beautiful place”.
Finally in bustling New Harbour, I took a break at a small, popular restaurant – Quayside Cabin – next to whale watching, deep-sea diving, and shark cage adventure businesses. The area was hectic with an eclectic crowd of locals and tourists going on or returning from boat-based whale watching trips. The restaurant was busy, but they found a place for me near a table of rowdy locals. Everyone seemed to know each other and they were speaking Afrikaans.
South Africa is an ambiguous country with many faces – at times it seems like it could be part of the US or Europe – but that’s an illusion. South Africa is a unique country with many levels of complexity.
Rather than finding my way back to the parked car, I called Uber. A Zimbabwean driver picked me up and drove me back to the car. His Shona name – Munashe – means “with God”. Munashe seemed surprised at where my car was parked and the area I had hiked. He advised it wasn’t a safe area for a woman walking alone – ha. How many times during my travels have I heard that?!
Munashe’s English was excellent and we talked about Zimbabwe which I’ve visited several times. Like many Zimbabweans, Munashe and his wife and two children moved to South Africa to find employment. If things improve politically and economically, they will return to Zimbabwe. Munashe wasn’t overly optimistic about returning to his home country, but he seems happy in South Africa.
What an interesting and educational day in Hermanus! Can’t believe I didn’t understand the importance of abalone farming in the area.