site zip: AF ZA CPT 0024 | neighborhood: Winelands, Route 62, Garden Route | region: Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape
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Cape Overberg | South Africa: WHALE WATCHING, SHARK DIVING

Honeymoon & safari destinations The Cape Peninsula
Explore wave swept shores, stunning scenic drives, secluded beaches - and the dramatic views from Cape Point.
 

Travel Guide | South Africa's Cape Overberg

Cape Overberg Travel Guide | Hermanus, Whale watching, Shark cage diving

"Over the Mountain" Travel East of Cape Town along the N2 highway to Hermanus and a scenic region of canola fields, gorgeous beaches, mountain ranges, whales and shark adventures.


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Tours to this country
Honeymoon & safari destinations Route 62 and the Klein Karoo - Western Cape
Historic little towns, breath-taking mountain passes, food and wine, limestone caverns and nature trails
Honeymoon & safari destinations Cape Town and Winelands
Breathtaking mountain and coastal scenery, fishing harbors, sandy beaches, winelands and restaurants.
Honeymoon & safari destinations The Garden Route
Mountains, forests, lagoons and
shores provide a region of unrivalled scenic beauty, relaxation and adventure.

Whale Coast, Overberg, South Africa

 

 

 

 

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Spa Resorts
Nature Trails
Nature Trails

Other Special Interest Activities

Highlights of The Cape Overberg

East of Cape Town and over the mountains is a region framed by rugged mountain ranges and exquisite coastal scenery. Rolling fields of canola and wheat provide a seasonal patchwork of yellow and green. A network of roads define country routes to explore, through valleys, vineyards, orchards, country towns - and the fynbos landscapes of the Cape Floral Kingdom.

The Southern Tip of Africa
The rocky headland of Cape Agulhas marks the southern-most tip of the African continent and defines the geographic boundary between the Indian Ocean to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The actual meeting of these great oceans is the boundary where the warm Agulhas current flowing south and west collides with the cold Benguela current flowing north - fluctuating seasonally between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point (Read more: Cape Peninsula).

The Whale Coast of the Western Cape
West of Cape Agulhas, a unique stretch of shoreline (Quoin Point to Rooi Els, just west of Betty's Bay) has earned the reputation for the best shore based whale watching in the world. Whale sightings are seasonal, during the Cape Winter and early Spring months (June to Novembember).

The town of Hermanus is situated in the heart of the Whale Coast. It hosts the annual Two Oceans Whale Festival, popular with visitors from around the world. Hermanus' beaches are also popular with vacationers.

Shark Cage Diving attracts adventurers to the small town of Gansbaai. A few miles offshore, Shark Alley seperates two small islands - Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. Geyser Rock is home to a large colony of Cape Fur Seals, attracting Great White Sharks. This location is one of the best in the world for visitors to experience the adrenaline rush of Shark Cage Diving. Shark sightings can be good throughout the year.

Photo (left): Whale watching from the shore, Whale Coast (Overberg), Western Cape Province.

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Cape Overberg - mountains, scenery, nature

The Overberg is just an hour's drive east of Cape Town, ‘over’ the Hottentots-Holland Mountains. This scenic region is situated between the Breede River in the east, the Hottentots-Holland Mountains to the west and the Riviersonderend Mountains in the north. The N2 highway connects Cape Town with the Overberg via Sir Lowry’s Pass. After exploring the region's country routes, attractions and Nature Reserves, many visitors continue eastbound on the N2 (or Route 62) to the Cape's Garden Route.

Travel Tip: There are other routes too to take from Cape Town to the Overberg. A wonderful coastal route follows Route 44 from Gordon's Bay through Rooi Els, Pringle Bay, Betty's Bay and Kleinmond. After Kleinmond, look out for the turn-off onto R43 to Hawston and Hermanus. This is definitely a very scenic route and will take several hours. Betty's Bay is worth a stop en-route - it has a wide, sandy beach with huge sand dunes. Don't be tempted to explore some of the remote little coves and rocks en route. Some areas are infamous for huge waves that can spring up 'out of nowhere' (depending on prevailing conditions). Look out for and heed the posted signs.

Visitors are drawn to the Overberg by its majestic mountain backdrops, nature reserves, birdlife, rolling farmlands. orchards, rugged shores, beaches, whale watching in winter - and adventure activities. You can relax and enjoy a spa getaway or enjoy the fresh air on a golf course, test your bravery with shark cage diving, tone it down a little on a sunset cruise, go horse riding, wine tasting or just wind down in one of the natural hot springs after a day of whale watching in Hermanus.

For nature lovers and birders, the Overberg has much to offer. Among its nature reserves, Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (near Betty's Bay), recognized and registered with UNESCO, is renowned for a large variety of flowering plants not found in any other area of the fynbos biome.

Southern Africa's vulnerable Blue Crane prefers dry grasslands and uplands to wetland habitats. More than 99% of the population of this small crane occurs in South Africa. The wheat lands of The Overberg are an important breeding ground for this national bird of South Africa.

Overberg - the Cape bread basket

The main towns of The Overberg are Hermanus, Caledon and Swellendam. Each lends its own flavor of attractions to the region.

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Hermanus: whale watching, beaches and attractions

Located in the heart of the Whale Coast, just a 2 hour drive east of Cape Town, Hermanus is one of South Africa’s favorite vacation towns, popular with retirees and visitors of all ages. As early as June through December (winter in the southern hemisphere), Southern Right whales are drawn to their breeding grounds in the shallower waters of Walker Bay. These baleen whales provide an endless source of delight for visitors gathered along the cliffs and shoreline paths as they breach, spy hop and tail-slap in the waves - often approaching within yards of the shore. Hermanus and Walker Bay are in fact considered to offer the best land-based whale watching in the world.

The whales are such a popular attraction that visitors from around the world gather for the Kalfiefees (Calf Festival) in August to welcome the first whales and again during the popular Whale Festival in September. Apart from the whale sightings, entertainment includes street markets, live music and a number of drama productions. An official Whale Crier (akin to a town crier) patrols the cliffs and will blow on his kelp horn to ‘announce’ the location of whale sightings.

The Whale Crier - Hermanus Whale Festival

Even as a relatively small town, Hermanus has a good selection of stores for souvenir hunters and shoppers, restaurants for foodies - and great medical care, just in case you need it. The Old Harbour used to be the center of the village when Hermanus was all about fishing. Today it is a museum.

Things to do in Hermanus

BeachesHermanus is also a popular summer vacation destination. Beaches are swimmable but the water tends to be cold. The main beach is Grotto beach and is one of 27 South African beaches that have been awarded the international Blue Flag status for 2010/11 for excelling in safety, cleanliness, provision of amenities and maintenance of environmental standards. There are a number of other beaches along the coast as well as tidal pools to discover. Other beaches in the area include Onrus Beach and Kammabaai.

Hermanus beach and shore

Wine estates to visitThere are over 60 wine estates around Hermanus. The Hermanus Wine Wander meanders through a valley area called Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) where you can stop at the estates to taste the wines but the estates are not open every day or all day so make sure you find out what time you can visit.

Golf - The Hermanus Golf Club and 5 Star Arabella-Sheraton are excellent courses to choose from if you are looking for round of golf.

Water sports and activities Great surfing spots are found at Onrus beach and Kammabaai. Sea Kayaking is very popular and just about anyone can enjoy it. Two hour trips leave from the Old Harbor to Walker Bay whale sanctuary. Also available in the area: sailing, windsurfing, cruises and paddle skiing.

ParaglidingFavorable weather conditions and surrounding mountains has increased this sport’s popularity.

FishingThere are a number of options for the keen fisherman, from rock angling, chartering a fishing boat or fresh water fishing in the Hemel en Aarde Valley.

Shark Cage DivingVery close to Hermanus is the little town of Gansbaai (Goose Bay) where you can drop into the ocean protected in a cage to view Great White Sharks - or view the adrenaline action from on deck.

Scuba DivingThe main attractions are the shipwrecks and reefs and these are mostly accessed by boat although there are a few select shore entries. Depths range from 9 meters (29 feet) to 40 meters (131 feet) and strict conservation policy prescribes that no plants or animals are to be disturbed on a dive. Table Top is one of the top 15 dive sites in South Africa.

Cycling and Mountain Biking - You can cycle in town and there are areas where cycle tracks have been provided. There are also mountain bike trails in Fernkloof Nature Reserve.

Walking and hiking– The Fernkloof Nature Reserve is a great place for walking trails as are the cliff paths around Hermanus.

Hermanus Cliff Path

The 12 Km (7.5 mile) Cliff Path runs almost the length of Hermanus and provides many vantage points to view the whales. Much of the path is wheelchair friendly and at intervals display boards provide the visitor with more information on the whales, conservation projects and other sea creatures resident here.

Hermanus Cliff Paths and Views

Visitors walking the path will be surprised at how close the whales approach the shore. In areas where the path runs close to the beach, step onto the sand and explore some of the little beach hideaways. The path meanders between shore and fynbos (a local heather, prolific in shrub types and floral plant species). Dassie sightings (rock rabbit) are not uncommon.

Safety tip: The Path is patrolled by Hermanus Public Protection Services officers and is safe during the day, but walking at night or alone is not recommended.

How to get to Hermanus

Hermanus is 115 km (71 miles) from Cape Town and is accessed either from the N2 highway or the more scenic coastal R44 route. You can also reach Hermanus from George or Knysna on the Garden Route. This is a longer drive of roughly 4 hours or 370 km (229 miles), but roads are good. The scenery is breathtaking especially around early Spring when the flowering canola fields provide mile upon mile of undulating carpets of yellow. The vicinity of the Riviersonderend Mountains provides impressive landscapes of canola fields and mountain backdrops.

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Cape Agulhas

Lighthouses have played an important part along the treacherous shores of the Southern Cape, with perilous reefs and razor sharp outcrops. Cape Agulhas lighthouse started operating in 1849, not long after the tragic loss of life with the sinking of the Birkenhead in 1845. The lighthouse now hosts a small museum and restaurant.

Retrace the history of shipwrecks, fishing and whaling along the Overberg coast on the "Oilman's Route". The route takes in five lighthouses, the Bredasdorp shipwreck museum, Geyser and Dyer Islands (home to a large colony of Cape Fur Seals and to Shark Alley) - and includes short and long regional walks and excursions.

Cape Aghulas South Africa

Plaque Inscription: Cape L'Agulhas  You are now at the southern-most tip of the continent of Africa

A Tale of Two Oceans
Mariners navigating the seas off Cape Agulhas face tempestuous winter storms, sustained gales blowing in from the west and even the occurrence of rogue waves that can overcome even larger ships without warning - some 100 feet (30 m) in height. The interplay of ocean currents around this southern tip of Africa is complex, with huge swirling loops of warm Indian Ocean waters breaking off from the powerful flow of the Agulhas current, to be carried away by the cold northward flow of the Atlantic's Benguela current. This interaction of ocean currents, strong winds and shallow waters with steep offshore drop-offs can create these dangerous waves. As a result, the Cape seas have a notorious reputation with sailors and have left shores littered with wrecks.

How to get to Cape Aghulas

Cape Agulhas is located approximately 230 km (140 miles) from Cape Town, via the N2 highway. If travelling from Cape Town, take the Bredasdorp turnoff at Caledon and continue through Bredasdorp to Cape Aghulas. If travelling along the N2 from the East (Garden Route), the turnoff to Bredasdorp (and through to Cape Agulhas) is near Swellendam. The two towns closest to Cape Agulhas are L'Agulhas and Struisbaai (a fishing village).

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Swellendam and Caledon

Swellendam

Swellendam is small and historically rich. It is the third oldest town in South Africa with over 50 National Monuments, mostly buildings from the Cape Dutch era.

When explorers arrived on the Cape coast in the 16th century, they traded with the Khoikhoi people. The Dutch East India Company then established a station in the region to replenish their vessels as they rounded the Cape. Eventually trade extended inland and along the coast. By 1743 Swellendam had become a magisterial district, the third oldest in South Africa and named after Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel. It became a very important town and resting station for those travelling past the eastern frontier. It marked the outer boundary of civilization before heading off into the largely unexplored territory beyond.

Things to do in Swellendam

Swellendam is a wonderful 'off the beaten track' getaway for nature lovers. There are vast areas of fynbos and wildflowers and the wonderful Grootvadersbosch (Big Father Forest/Bush) - a region of indigenous forest similar to the forests around Knysna on the Garden Route. There are notable nature reserves and a National Park in the Swellendam area. Marloth Nature Reserve and Bontebok National Park are two worth visiting.

Walking trails Swellendam is located at the foot of Langeberg (Long Mountain) where walks from a few hours to hikes of up to 7 days are available.

Overberg and Swellendam

Wildlife areas near Swellendam - A number of interesting inhabitants make up the wildlife population in these parks, namely the endangered Bontebok, Cape Mountain Zebra, Bushbuck, Klipspringer, Grey Rhebuck, Cape Grysbok, a few leopard and smaller creatures such as Baboon, Mongoose, Genet and even smaller critters such as the Forest Empire Butterfly and Ghost Frog. Over 200 different bird species have been recorded here including the Paradise Flycatcher and Knysna Woodpecker.

How to get to Swellendam

Swellendam lies 220kms (136 miles) from both Cape Town (West) and George (East) on the Garden Route. So if you are driving on the N2 highway east or west you will pass this old town.

Caledon

The town is mainly known as an agricultural center for wheat and stock farming but if travelling through the area in spring you must stop to look over the rolling hills of yellow canola flowers. It is quite a picture.

Things to do in Caledon
Caledon is not your typical vacation destination but the Caledon Casino and Spa draw the locals for a bit of 'R and R'.

How to get to Caledon

Drive east on the N2 highway for 113 km (70 miles) from the center of Cape Town. Caledon is located where the N2 intersects with the R 316 from Aniston and Bredasdorp and the R 320 from Hermanus

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Whale Watching

Whale Watching at Walker Bay (Hermanus) has been dubbed the best land based whale watching spot in the world. Watch whales from the cliffs and along the Cliff Path along the shoreline of the Bay. Restaurants situated right on the beach and cliffs have large windows to allow patrons to watch the whales over lunch and a glass of wine.

The whales come incredibly close to the shore. They arrive at the start of the Cape winter (around June or July) to mate, give birth and play. The most common sightings are the Southern Right Whales, but Humpbacks and Brydes are seen too.

In addition to land based whale watching, various registered companies operate boat trips to get even closer to the whales. Strict rules are in place and a safe distance of 50 meters (164 feet) must be kept for the whales safety. Visitors can also take scenic flights to view the whales from above and provide yet another unforgettable view of the whales.

Hermanus - Whale Watching - Walker Bay

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Shark Cage Diving

Dyer Island, Geyser Rock and Shark Alley

A few miles offshore from Gansbaai are two small islands separated by a channel of water enticingly referred to as Shark Alley. This location is one of the best in the world for visitors to experience the adrenaline rush of Shark Cage Diving. Shark sightings can be good throughout the year at this location.

Dyer Island is the largest island and is home to thousands of African Penguins, Cormorants and Gannets. Geyser Rock is a smaller island nearby and is home to a large colony of around 60,000 Cape Fur Seals.

Dyer Island is a nature reserve. Visitors cannot access the island, but boat tours out of Kleinbaai on Danger Point peninsula provide whale watching trips, trips around Dyer Island - and some provide Shark Cage Diving.

White Shark Cage Diving

Acknowledgements: Images by White Shark Projects, Gansbaai - South Africa

Visitors can watch the action from the deck of the boats - or slip on wetsuits and goggles to experience the sharks from the underwater safety of the cage. The sharks are enticed to approach the boat and cage, often bumping against the bars.

No diving experience is necessary and air is provided from tanks on the boat.

Adventure Tip: To get the most from your experience, don't forget suntan cream, sunglasses, a warm windbreaker, an underwater camera - and motion sickness pills, in case needed!

Great White Shark - Gansbaai, Cape, South Africa

Acknowledgements: Images by White Shark Projects, Gansbaai - South Africa

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Cape Overberg Nature Reserves

Fernkloof Nature Reserve (near Hermanus)

Nature and adventure lovers must take a trip up to Fernkloof Nature Reserve, a small 15 square km (9 square mile) reserve and home to over 1600 different plant species. The reserve is located in the Kleinrivier (Small River) Mountains above Hermanus and can hold its own as one of the six recognized floral kingdoms of the world.  This is definitely a treat for nature lovers. If you are visiting on a Saturday morning make sure to go early to shop at the local Saturday morning market.

If you're visiting Hermanus for the Whale festival in September, then visit the Wildflower festival held in the reserve as well. There are over 50 km (30 miles) of hiking trails and a mountain bike trail. Visitors can spend an entire day here, hiking and biking, enjoying all the beautiful fynbos and looking out for whales in Walker Bay from the paths. Paths are very well maintained and you may also see baboons, small antelope, many fantastic bird sightings, mongoose, rock rabbits and klipspringers (small antelope).

Fernkloof trails cater to all fitness levels and are wheelchair friendly.

Fynbos – translated means ‘fine bush’ and is natural shrub land that grows in a small area in Western Cape, South Africa. It is found mainly in winter rainfall areas along the coast and mountains. It's a general reference to many evergreen shrub like plants.

Marloth Nature Reserve (near Swellendam)

The reserve has a long history of conservation, spear headed by local communities and is an excellent example of how we can protect nature. In 1928 the botanist after whom the reserve is named and a number of Swellendam residents put forward a request to the Minister of Lands and Forestry to preserve a portion of the mountain as a nature reserve. In 1981 the reserve was enlarged and now includes more of the State Forest Land - and the Swellendam Hiking Trail was opened.

Marloth is a great place to see mountain fynbos, montane forest and several species of South Africa’s national flower, the Protea. There are over 25 species of Erica that flower in November.

Don’t expect to see too much in way of large wildlife although many smaller antelope and critters call Marloth home. With beautiful vegetation and over 114 species of bird life, it is a destination better suited to hikers and bird lovers. A word of caution about snakes: there are Puff Adders, Cape Cobras and Mountain Adders in the reserve so hikers need to be aware of where they step.

Bontebok National Park (near Swellendam)

Bontebok is the smallest national park in South Africa and lies at the foot of the beautiful Langeberg Mountains. It is a part of the Cape Floral Kingdom and a world heritage site. The Reserve is home to the endangered Bontebok antelope. Not too long ago, population numbers were as low as 17 but with much care and conservation efforts, numbers are now up to around 3,000. Conservation steps to save the Bontebok were initiated when the Park was proclaimed in 1931 when there were only 30 left in the wild.

Single day visits or overnights are possible, with many fun activities available. The Breede River forms the western border of the park and provides great swimming spots. Hiking and biking trails offer great opportunities to see the fynbos, over 200 bird species and other smaller creatures in the park. It may be a small park but its importance lies in the fact that it has a dense variety of rare and endangered birdlife, fynbos species and of course the Bontebok. There is the opportunity to learn more about the Khoisan people, about their cultures and traditions and how they have adapted with change.

A rest camp in the Park called Elsie’s Kraal is named after the chieftainess Hessekwa’ khoi-khoi who was often called ‘Lang Elsie’. She traded with some of the first Dutch settlers who came to the Cape in 1652.

Overburg Nature Reserves

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10 More Things To Do
in the Western Cape Overberg

 1 View the whales from the deck of a boat
 2 Join a Rock Lobster fishing tour in Hermanus (in season)
 3 Explore local arts and crafts studios and galleries
 4 Look out for Roridula gorgonias, the largest carnivorous plant in the world (Fernkloof Nature Reserve)
 5 Enjoy birding in mountain, coastal, river and estuarine habitats
 6 Purchase fresh seafood and watch the fishing trawlers unloading their catches at the New Harbour, Hermanus
 7 Follow the Hermanus Wine Route to the beautiful Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
 8 Hermanus attracts fishermen from around the country. Catch a wide variety of local species - ocean and lagoon fishing.
 9 Hand pick youngberries, blackberries and blueberries in Swellendam (in season)
10 Enjoy tranquility and bird life on a river cruise near Stanford


Cape Overberg
Tours and Transfers

 

 
 
 
 


Overberg & Whale Coast
Hotel Accommodation

Hermanus | Whale Coast Hotels: Hermanus Tourism listing

Whale Route Hotels: South African Hotels.com

 
 
 


Hermanus | Whale Coast | Walker Bay Accommodation
[Guest Houses, B&Bs, Self
Catering, Backpacker]

Guesthouses: Hermanus Tourism

Bed and Breakfast (B&Bs) Accommodation: Hermanus Tourism
Self Catering: Hermanus Tourism
Apartments: Hermanus Tourism
Backpackers: Hermanus Tourism


Accommodation
Other Overberg Regions

Accommodation Other Whalecoast Towns: Hermanus Tourism

 
 
 
 


Overberg Farm Stays
Accommodation

Hemel-en-Aarde Valley: Hermanus Tourism

 
 
 
 


Activities

 

 
 
 
 


Overberg Car Rental

Explore Africa Car Travel Explore Africa Travel - Car Rental
Explore Africa Travel: Your Personal Car Rental Team offers you top vehicles & special rates from the best car hire merchants in the country. Friendly and efficient service guaranteed.

 


Markets, Arts and Crafts

 

 
 
 
 


Wilderness, Trails
Parks and Wildlife

Aghulas National Park SANParks - Africa's Premier Wildlife Tourism Destinations

 
 
 
 


Overberg Cuisine

Hermanus Restaurants
Directory of Restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, bars, conference centres, wine farms and more registered with the official Hermanus Tourism Bureau.
 
 
 
 

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