From Stellenbosch we headed to a town dubbed “The best place in the world for land based whale watching”, Hermanus. The entire drive there was on the windy route 44 coastal road and every time Dariece or I saw the slightest movement in the water I slammed on the breaks, veered off the highway and we jumped out of the car in search of whales. But every time it turned out to just be a rock or boat or something nowhere near resembling a whale.
When we finally arrived in Hermanus the sun was setting and we just went for a walk along the path that follows the rocky coast on the edge of town. We checked into our Backpackers named Zoete Inval Traveller’s Lodge and settled in for the night. Some of the Backpackers in South Africa are basically just a house converted into a hotel. It is the most communal, friendly atmosphere we’ve ever stayed in and they are found all over South Africa.
It’s like someone has invited us to stay with them in their home in every city as we travel through the country. There’s always a kitchen that the guests can use, and a communal living room with TV and usually a fire pit outside. This backpackers even had a jacuzzi, but unfortunately it was out of commission at the time of our visit. That first night in Hermanus we just sat in the living room with some other travellers and watched the travel channel on satellite TV until about 10 pm when we went to sleep.
The next morning we got up at around 7:30, ready to see some whales. We quickly made breakfast and said goodbye to the other travellers and headed out to the rocky coastal paths to spot the majestic creatures. We timed our visit to South Africa with the annual whale migration where hundreds of Southern Right Whales and Humpbacks make the longest journey of any mammal on Earth to calve in the warmer shallow waters off the coast of South Africa. Our plan was to walk up and down the 16 km whale watching path and spot them on the way, but once we found the perfect vantage point we just sat there, perched on a huge boulder overlooking the 2 massive bays in front of Hermanus harbour.
Our first sighting was way off in the distance and came about a half hour after sitting down. A big Southern Right Whale was splashing its tail around for about a minute straight. Luckily our new camera has a 30X zoom on it so we were able to zoom way in and actually see what was happening. It was really amazing to see my first whale sighting but we knew that they should get a lot closer than that given the reputation Hermanus has for whale watching. We kept watching and every half hour or so there would be another whale – but way off in the distance. Even when they were so far away, the sight of such enormous and graceful creatures was so interesting we couldn’t peal ourselves away from our little rock perch. In fact, after about 2 hours I knew we weren’t going to move for awhile so I went and got some wine to keep us entertained while the whales were underwater.
Finally at about 2:00 pm they started moving in closer, and closer… and closer until finally they were within 50 feet of the shore, breaching and splashing their massive tails! It was incredible. Every 10 seconds another whale would surface and they were so close that we could see all of the barnacles on their noses and every scratch on their skin and there was even a pod of 100 or so dolphins off in the distance. Hermanus is also home to the world’s only whale spotting guy, he walks up and down the boardwalk blowing a massive horn every time he sees a whale so whenever we heard the loud call of his annoying instrument, we knew to look to the ocean for activity. We ended up getting quite a few good pics and even some videos, although when they were at their most active our camera died from zooming in and out for 6 hours straight, so I missed a few good opportunities but the pics are good anyway.
We could have stayed in Hermanus for another couple of days just watching the whales but we had to move on to try to cover some ground. Every country has some cool sights but it seems that South Africa has so many that literally every hour or so there’s a reason to stop and spend a couple of nights. There’s so many natural wonders and cultural or historical centers that no mater what you’re interested in, a person could spend months travelling this country. On our way to the next town, we decided to head South to the very tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas, the point in which the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet. We just stopped there for a picture and to look at the beautiful view before continuing on.
We headed up to a town called Robertson at the starting point on the longest wine route in the world, South Africa’s Route 62. There are 49 wineries all around the town of Robertson and all of them offer free tastings!! So we checked into our backpackers, Robertson Backpackers, another cosy place that makes you feel like home, and we drove out to the town of Montagu where there is a natural hot spring. We watched the sun go down while soaking in the springs before driving home.
Kevin and Linda, the owners, built the home into a backpackers with 6 lovely rooms and a dorm. They also decorated the “Moroccan room” with a cool Middle Eastern feel and made it a hangout spot where all the travellers can chill and drink beer or have the cheap drinks from their bar. It was such a cool vibe with a warm fire and nice music that Dariece and I couldn’t help it, we had some beers and joined the party, talking about everything from travelling, to God and the creation of the planet (literally) with the locals that were staying in the hotel. South Africans are so easy going we find them to become instant friends everywhere we meet them and because they all speak English, there is no language barrier. We ended up staying up as late as we had the whole trip, about 2 am! Way past our bed time.
The next day we got up and went on our wine tour to 4 wineries in the area but we started off at a local cheese factory where we tasted and purchased a whole array of cheeses to add to our picnic lunch for the day.
The first winery we visited had our favorite wine and also the most beautiful setting right on a river. From Kevin and Linda’s recommendation, we did the tasting and then sat on the lawn just outside the winery and had our picnic with the river flowing in front of us and the vast rows of vines sprawling out behind us. It was a stunning place to picnic and when we were done we just packed up and headed to our next winery.
The second and third wineries we visited were nothing too special compared to what we’ve seen now but the fourth one was also stunning. Set on a small pond the old Dutch style house was converted into a wine estate and it was covered in vines and moss. As we entered the main room where the tastings are held, one wall was full of stacked bottles and the other with stacked barrels and outside the massive windows was a view of the pond and vineyard. We sat and tasted some more delicious red wine and chatted with the lady who does the tastings there before heading out.
After our last winery we went for a little drive. (don’t worry, I maybe had a glass total all day). We just chose one of the many little roads that leave town and took it for about an hour through valleys of flowers and vineyards and through the grassy hills and rocky mountains. I’m sure we could have taken any road in this area and it would have been stunning but this road was exceptional so we just stayed on it until it ended in some farm gravel road before turning around and heading back home.