06 September 2012

Hermanus - Champagne Air!

Hermanus  air reminds  one of champagne - bubbly, crisp, and so enjoyable!  Breathe
it in whilst wandering along the world-famous cliff paths. You won't be sorry and a week-end may just not be enough.

We started going to Hermanus on day trips. When my son decided he wanted to study to be a chef at Warwicks Chef's School, it was time to buy a small flat. We spent so many wonderful week-ends in Hermanus, walking the cliff paths, wandering around the many little lanes, full of interesting shops. The week-end markets always attracted many folk with the original arts and crafts on show. It was a great time - whale watching from August to October, long walks in Fernkloof Nature Reserve, walks up to Hoy's Koppie, the Grotto beach walk plus the cliff paths which stretch for  miles and give one time to contemplate and be at one with nature. The swimming is great in summer and there are a number of surfing spots.

Warwicks Chef School was a good choice and my son came top of the class. His reward was a stint with Roger Verge in France. However, this did not go quite as well as planned - having been dropped at the restaurant he then had to find his way to his lodging in the dark and not speaking a word of French. The cops eventually found him wandering, stressed and very alone in the early hours of the morning. By doing some back-tracking, they eventually found where he was staying! Not a good start to his career. He did decide to pack up cheffing after reaching the position of Head Chef at the very prestigious Singita Lebombo so all ended well. But I digress.....

After starting my B&B in Cape Town in 2004, those wonderful free week-ends came to a grinding halt - sadly. We recently spent a week-end back in the town and saw many, many changes. Hermanus has now become another "mall" town with a new shopping centre plus another in the process of being built, right next door. So the malls have reached Hermanus which may be great for the locals but, to my mind, this detracts from the cute shopping of previous years. A mall is a mall, is a mall and you can shop at the same stores all over South Africa. Once inside who knows where you are - Rustenburg or Canal Walk or Hermanus? It's called progress. The little villages in the country are getting harder to find and I suppose progress is natural and welcomed by most. It is still a town with the best whale-watching, the best air, gorgeous beaches, an exciting vibe during summer, pleasant winter walks and good, if perhaps now boring, shopping!

The Craft Market on the square is currently more formalised with permanent structures so goods stay dry, restaurants are numerous, some better than others, the whale crier can be found blowing his kelp horn when he spots a whale and people are friendly. Hermanus is known to be one of the best land-based whale watching sites in the world and the hundreds of people that line the cliff paths during whale season, with their binoculars and cameras, are a sight to see and a pleasant "people-watching" experience. The oohs and aahs echo far and wide as a whale is spotted. Seeing a whale breach is an exceptional experience and well worth the wait.

Our host for the week-end was the very first Curator of the Old Harbour Museum which opened in 1972. Guy Clark was appointed in 1973 and spent many years working on his passion. The harbour buildings have been restored, old fishing boats are lined up, bokkom stands still exist and it's a slice of history that has been well-preserved. Now it's Provincial Heritage site label is well deserved. The Easter Passion Play is held annually in the Old Harbour and attracts thousands of visitors.

Rotary Way is reached by turning left as you enter Hermanus and this drive offers the most wonderful views of Hermanus. An icy wind is often blowing up here so dress warmly and venture out of your car to survey the layout of the town and see the beach at Grotto stretching for many miles.

Another view-point, albeit slightly lower and smaller, is Hoy's Koppie which is now smack-bang in the middle of town (courtesy of the mall!) The path up is quite steep but allows for good exercise and offers great views over the town. The grave of Sir William Hoy and his wife have possibly one of the best grave view sites in South Africa and one can only wonder at their final resting place in such a scenic location.

Fernkloof Nature Reserve is a hikers paradise with many paths for various fitness levels.

Again gorgeous views over Hermanus, beautiful flora and exercise!!! Who could ask for more?

The Hermanus Municipality is not very kind to property owners who are heavily penalised if they dare to let out even one week of their holiday cottage. Business rates apply if one's property is let for just one week of the 52 week year whereas property owners who let their units out for 12 months of the year to locals, are not subject to business rates. Discrimination?  Very much so and rather off-putting for investors looking to save for a retirement option.

During the peak of summer, Hermanus town centre is sometimes a best forgotten place unless you want to jostle for parking, which is mostly paid. However, with the new road system, you can by-pass this congestion and head out towards the beaches via another road.

Despite the town's rapid progress from a small fishing village, it is still "must-do" place, especially in whale season.  Active folk will not get bored with so many activities on their doorstep, and the town appeals to a broad spectrum of people from all walks of live. Be as busy or as lazy as the mood takes but breathe in deeply - you won't find this brand of air anywhere else!!!!

I met an interesting and versatile artist packing up his incredible shop - things perhaps to slow for artists in this town now? They have a mall, after all!! The artist was heading off to India to "find himself" and what better place to do so? I wish him the very best of luck and hope that his artistic talents find a lucrative and self-satisfying outlet.

Hermanus history goes back to the early 1800's when farmers from Caledon trekked by ox-wagon to spend the summer at the seaside. Good fishing and the famous "champagne air"  meant that even Harley Street doctors prescibed a visit to Hermanus as a great place for patients to convalesce.

Hermanuspietersfontein became too cumbersome and the name was changed to Hermanus in the early 1900's. The Marine Hotel was buit in 1902 and was well patronised by the English gentry of that time. The hotel has seen many changes but is still a landmark today. The Windsor Hotel was originally a sanatorium for wealthy overseas convalescents. William Hoy decided that he did not want the railway to extend to Hermanus from Bot River so he managed to block progress on that front. The Hermanus Station was therefore "trainless" and now forms part of the new shopping precinct.

Trust me, the champagne air is world-renowed and you will feel much refreshed after some time spent in this lively town.

Hermanus has progressed from the early 1800's but still retains the beauty in the surrounding mountains, the lovely beaches and the charm is still evident in this "must visit" seaside town.

© Judelle Drake

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