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Published: October 5th 2018
While the big city offers many wonderful distractions and learnings, the more subtle countryside and smaller towns along the coast have a charm all their own….especially when your interests are being on the lookout out for those magnificent sea creatures, the whale. They are an amazing to behold on the Western Cape, as the Southern Right Whales return each year to the bays south of Cape Town to the delight of many. The females are spotted with their young calves and you easily become captivated by their presence.
The town of Hermanus, located some two hours south of Cape Town afforded us the opportunity to see some of the best land-based whale watching possible…..from our balcony no less! Our room overlooked Walker Bay and it was immediately apparent why this area has its reputation. No sooner had we stepped out on the balcony, we immediately spotted some whales……cool! It was almost surreal as we had been in search of whales more than a couple of times in other places, where you got on a boat and motored for quite a while in the hope of spotting these behemoths of the deep. You sit and scan the waters, hoping to get
We ordered Cajun Argentinian prawns!
lucky to see one or two and maybe capture a photo. Here, they are quite easy to spot…..you just look out your window……and there they are. Southern Right Whales
A little after six one morning, we were picked up and transported some 40 minutes to Gansbaai, where we were briefed on the morning’s activities, given a life jacket, a raincoat and hopped on a boat for our whaling adventure. The weather was so calm that the raincoats were not necessary. We were only a few minutes out when we spotted the first whale and her calf. This was the first of many sightings and we found ourselves only about 20 yards from them most of the time. The whale calf caught our attention as it kept slapping the surface of the water with its tail. It was really performing for us. Magnificent!
Our excursion also included floating near Dyer Island, where birds and sea lions were seemingly in the thousands. We watched the seal pups play in the water and the older adults on shore busy barking and sunning themselves. We also saw more penguins as well. A stunning display of nature’s sea life to be sure.
We learned that Hermanus is the breeding ground for the Southern Right Whales and that several months a year they are frequently seen in the waters off this town. That proved to be true while we were there. The bay in Hermanus had no fewer than 4 whales most of the time and at some time during the day 6 or 7. From the balcony of our room… yes, our room! We could sit in the chairs sipping wine and watch the whales surface, blow a bit and on occasion slap their tales at us! We were in awe. I doubt we will ever have a room with this kind of whale viewing ever again. Shark Diving
Ok we are going to leave a bit of snark here. We are scuba divers and love all sea creatures… even sharks. With that said we are recreational divers and don’t need to go past 80 or 90 feet when diving. We have in the past … but honestly there isn’t much bottom time and generally not as much to see down there. We’ve never had the desire to do, “The Great White Shark dives” as seen on TV where
the cage is lowered into the water as the shark circles the cage. We are certain you are perfectly safe in those cages but it just doesn’t interest us. Dave suspects that most people do it so they can brag to their friends…..whatever.
On our whale watching trip we were told we would drive out and observe the shark diving boats. This peaked our curiosity. From what we observed it seemed disappointing. The cage was tacked to the side of the boat—not one of those cages you see on TV that gets lowered into the water. The cage is ¾ submerged into the water. They flip open the lid and 8 people in wet suits and mask climb down into the cold waters. They chum for the sharks, meaning they toss a rope with bloody bait into the water hoping to attract the sharks. Spotters are on top of the boat letting them know if they see a big fish or shark nearby. The divers lower themselves further in the cage when they think a creature is nearby. It looked like there were 30 eager future shark divers on each of four boats. Hopefully, most of them got to
see a shark (who knows what kind) and were happy with their trip. The spotter on our boat did see a shark in the waters in front of our boat but I’m not sure the people in the cage saw it as it was too far away. The shark divers did see a manta ray. All is all it didn’t seem like the excitement they were hoping for……at least from our perspective. Wine Tasting
With an open mind and curious palates, we came in search of wine tastings. We have lived in the Sonoma Valley region of California and tasted many wines from that region as well as Napa Valley, Paso Robles and the Russian River Valley. Wine snobs we are not. An educated palate we do not have… but we do know what we enjoy. In addition, we are familiar with many wonderful wines from the state of Washington. In a way, the more wine you’ve tasted makes your curiosity for wines even greater.
We’ve never had many South African wines but wanted to give them a fair taste. We’ve been pleased with what we have found. We came with an impression that the South Africans
View from our room
made more white wines than reds but that does not seem to be the case and they seem to spend equal time on reds and whites. Our friend Linda, who is originally from South Africa, instructed us to give the Pinotage wines a try. Thanks Linda… a great recommendation! These turned out to be some of our favorite wines.
Our tour included visits to vineyards in the regions of Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The wineries we sampled the grape included: The Kanonkop Estate, Neethlingshof, Moreson’s and we went to the Fairview winery for a wine and cheese pairing. As it turns out wines followed us back to our lodging from most of the vineyards and we especially enjoyed the wine and cheese tasting at The Fairview winery. We sampled 8 wines and 8 cheeses and were in taste bud heaven! At Kanonkop, we bought a Cabernet, at Neethlingshof and Fairview a Pinotage. Fairview also has a Rose Quartz that we really enjoyed if you are looking for a lighter wine. We took a couple of bottles to diner at the local restaurants, who have no issue with you bringing your own wine for a very small corkage fee.
Southern Right Whale
Many of you may know we are cheese hounds (ok, MJ is) and she wanted to buy all of the cheese to take home. We decided we should have a picnic that night at our hotel so be bought some biltong (South African beef jerky, only better), ciabatta bread and settled for small packages of Fairview’s cream cheese sweet chili cheese (our favorite), the cambazola and the cheddar with garlic and rosemary. What a treat that was relaxing in our lovely guest house with magnificent wines and cheeses. Life really does not get any better.
When we get home, we will be on the lookout for Fairview’s Primo’s Pinotage 2016. Although we were warned we had to buy it at the vineyard and have it shipped. It is our understanding we should be able to purchase the Kanonkop wines from firstname.lastname@example.org
. Hopefully, we can find the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2014 Paul Sauer. The Needthlingshof had a Shiraz, Pinotage and a Chenin Blanc that we enjoyed. Chocolate Tasting
Conveniently placed next door to the wineries was De Villers chocolates where we were forced into trying 8 different chocolates. We really wished our friend Michael was with
Southern Right Whale!
This guy was having fun slapping his tail.
us for this tasting. He now lives in Paris most of the year and leads amazing chocolate tours so if you are in Paris google “The Paris Chocolate Guru” and take the tour! Beer, Beer and Beer
While in Cape Town and now in wine country we managed to squeeze in a couple of beer tastings. We do not want to be harsh or hurt anyone’s feelings but there is a reason you don’t hear much about south African beers. They are just average. They are doing their best to learn beer brewing. Mostly they serve lagers and pilsners. Credit is given because they are trying hard to brew some fine hops and grains. Guest Houses
We generally list the places we stay but don’t take the time to comment. We stayed in two very amazing places and recommend you stay there if you are in the area.
Ocean’s Eleven Guest House in Hermanus was right on the water and provided us amazing views of the bay from our bed, seating area and balcony. They offered nice short trails with bench seating that allowed you to sit on the cliff edge and be even closer
to the whale activity. Very well run and an excellent breakfast. Watching whales from bed… amazing.
Akademie Guest House in Fanschhoek has lovely dark woods and charmingly decorated. A nice library and several outdoor seating areas, pool, hot tub and flowered grounds make this place very inviting. Breakfast is amazing and it is served in what seems to be a greenhouse room with twenty-foot ceilings and glass wall and ceiling. The space is inviting and the people who run this place are amazing. These two properties were extra special and we loved every minute of our time in them.
Could our voyage get any better? We feel confident because now we’re off to see animals in the wild….stay tuned. Restaurants we recommend in Hermanus:
Lemon Butta Where we stayed: Ocean’s Eleven Guest House, Hermanus Akademie Guest House, Franschhoek
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