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The Whale Route to Hermanus from Somerset West

October 1, 2014

whale tail

During the whale season (June to November) a day trip to Hermanus, driving along the spectacular coast road, Clarence Drive, is an unforgettable experience. This route not only gives you great whale watching opportunities, but takes you through quirky coastal villages set in a beautiful unspoiled landscape. This is one of the most scenic coastal drives in South Africa featuring a dramatic coastline, unspoiled beaches, the unique fynbos biosphere, an African penguin colony, baboons and birding.

Each year, Southern Right and Humpback whales migrate into the Southern Cape coastal waters to calve and nurse their young. To see them just off the coast indulging in classic whale behaviour – breaching, lob tailing, flipper slapping – is a truly awesome sight.

The R44 to the Strand is just along the road from Penny Lane Lodge. As you turn onto Beach Road, Strand’s wonderful long, sandy beach stretches out before you. Make a note for later – there are some great bars and eateries here. The view over False Bay across to Table Mountain is stunning – a wonderful location to enjoy a sundowner before your evening meal. A little further on you leave the coast briefly, but then you rejoin the R44 on the way to Gordon’s Bay, which has another great beach and a pretty harbour. There are more bars and restaurants here too – great for breakfast and brunch.

Continue on the R44 as it winds spectacularly around the coastline. Once you leave Gordon’s Bay the signs will show you that you’re on the Whale Route and sightings are always possible. Baboons also frequent the coastal route. Remember these are dangerous animals and never feed or approach them.

Further along you will see the signpost on your right to Stony Point Penguin Colony (if you reach Betty’s Bay, you have gone too far). A visit to the penguins really is a must – it is one of only three breeding colonies of African penguins in mainland South Africa. There is a wooden boardwalk which runs along the penguins nesting grounds. Bring your camera for some amazing close up shots. You will also find a large colony of rock dassies. A delight for all the family.

penguin etc

Rejoin the main coast road and a little further on you will see the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens on your left. You can have a drink, lunch or bring your own picnic and walk around the beautiful cultivated fynbos gardens. Maybe take a hike on one of the nature trails – really beautiful. You might even spot a leopard up by the waterfall at the top of one of the easier trails.

This is also a great place for the birdwatcher. There are over 96 species recorded at Harold Porter. Some specials include Verreaux’s Eagle, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Victorin’s Scrub-Warbler, Cape Siskin, Blue-mantled Flycatcher, Olive Woodpecker, Cape Rock-Thrush, Ground Woodpecker and the rare Protea Seedeater.

Betty’s Bay has some interesting architecture and is well known for its beautiful, lonely beach, which is backed by flower covered dunes in the spring. The beach is accessible at various points among the low-rise houses.

beach and birds

Further on the Kleinmond area is renowned for whale sightings during the whale season. To reach the view sites, turn right onto 13th Street, and drive down to Beach Road. There are a number of art galleries, gift shops and good seafood restaurants here too.

The picnic area at the lagoon wetland is also pretty. To get there, continue on Beach Road and rejoin the R44, turn right, and the next turn-off to the right is to the wetland park. The site supports over 163 bird species, at least 62 of which are water birds. The wetland regularly supports an average of 25,000 individual birds and on occasion it can hold over 40,000.

After Kleinmond, the R44 will merge with the R43 – turn right towards Hermanus.

You will pass the sign for Onrus, a small town on your right. The beach at Onrus is ideal for the family. Flanked by a lagoon it provides an ideal playground for children. The Onrus beach is also a favorite place for local surfers. The Milkwood Restaurant overlooks the beach and has been cited as the best seafood restaurant in Hermanus.

Originally a fishing village, Hermanus is now a cosmopolitan town and a popular tourist destination. It is known for its “whale crier” who blows his kelp horn when a whale is spotted. Between July and October you can experience great land-based whale watching from the cliff tops, or the old harbour. There’s lots to do here – restaurants, shops, art galleries and a craft market. There is a small whale museum too, but the creatures themselves are definitely the main event!

whale photo

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