From Cape Town, start the coastal route by turning off the N2 to Gordons Bay and the R44. Follow the scenic Clarence Drive along the mountainside overlooking False Bay to Cape Hangklip (originally called Cape Falso by early mariners because, if they mistook this landmark for Cape Point and set a course due north, they landed up in False Bay [hence the name] instead of sailing up the west coast of Africa).
The villages of Rooi Els, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond share a common history, from the ancient heritage of the early Bushmen and Hottentots, to a safe haven for smugglers in the 1800s, whalers in the early part of the 1900s, and then stock grazing before developing as holiday and retirement villages. The area is part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, an internationally acclaimed conservancy because of the incredible variety of plants found here: an estimated 1650 species, mainly fynbos. The Harold Porter National Botanical Garden in Betty’s Bay offers a showcase of this diversity, and the African penguins at Stony Point are also a great drawcard.
Kleinmond lies at the mouth of the Bot River Vlei, an important wetland which is also home to a herd of feral horses that have adapted to life in the marshy conditions. The horses may occasionally be spotted by visitors on walks or canoe trips in the estuary.
Past the Arabella golf estate the road connects to the R43, which takes one to Fisherhaven, the private resort of Meerensee and the fishing village of Hawston, long the home of abalone fishermen. Continue to Vermont, Onrus, Sandbaai and Hermanus, famous for whales and “champagne air”.
At the Sandbaai turnoff to the right, the road to the left leads to the Hemel-en-Aarde (“heaven-and-earth) Valley, originally home to a leper colony, but now renowned for quality wines produced in the cool climate.
Hermanus was originally named Hermanuspietersfontein, after an itinerant teacher from the 1830s who grazed his sheep near a freshwater spring in what is now Westcliff. Fishermen from Hawston started to settle here more than 150 years ago, but the town gradually became known as a holiday resort and grew into the main coastal centre of the Overberg. It now has a vibrant tourism industry, boasts a large number of art galleries and restaurants, and is, amongst others, home to an annual Whale Festival in September. From about June to November, especially the area around the Old Harbour and Gearing’s Point offers excellent opportunities for watching whales, which often come to within metres of the rocks. The Cliff Path, which stretches for more than 10 km from the New Harbour to the mouth of the Klein River, affords another way of watching whales, as well as enjoying the fynbos, rocky cliffs and white beaches along the way. For nature lovers there is also Fernkloof Nature Reserve, where 1474 plant species have been identified. Hermanus boasts a 27-hole golf course, and the yacht club is based on the Klein River Vlei, on the road to Stanford.
The Hermanus tourism office is housed in the old railway station building, but... Hermanus never had a railway. There were plans to run a line from Bot River, and the bridge over the river was built, but a bus service took the place of a railway. Because of the absence of high-voltage power lines and vibrations caused by trains, the town did become home to the Magnetic Observatory (HMO) in 1941.