Hermanus

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Hermanus by night

Continuing on my recent solo Overberg roadtrip, I spent the last night in Hermanus as a guest of the Quarters Hotel.  Hermanus has become extremely touristy and commercialised and the streets near the ocean are very congested at times but the modernising has been done nicely, you can’t hep but like it. It’s best to park your car and just walk – I’m glad I did that and had some time to wander around alone.

Despite being mid-winter it was as hot as a summer’s day, even at sunset when I arrived. I checked into my hotel at lightning speed and went to catch the last of the sunset, take a few mediocre photos and stroll through the town. A light meal and a glass of wine at a little tapas place, some people watching and eavesdropping on their conversations (nothing interesting on this occasion) and then I went to explore my hotel room. Not bad.  The bathroom is open-plan to the bedroom (but you can pull down a discreet blind and close it off) and I lay in the bath watching tv for a while before I got bored with that. It’s not a cheap hotel and was very comfortable but I found it a bit awkward that the only way to plug in a charger is to unplug the bedside light; and there was no mini-bar – yes, I know, they cost the earth but sometimes you want a nightcap.

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Every town on the whale route has one of these. That’s my hotel in the background, sandwiched between 2 ancient fisherman’s cottages.

Next morning up nice and early, breakfast (I have a guilty pleasure: I love hotel breakfasts!), and time to explore Hermanus. First I explored the little square where the last remaining old fishermen cottages are – it’s such a pity so few have been retained, they’re such a classic sight in this part of the world but sadly Hermanus hasn’t many left. I walked along the cliff top for a distance, further out of town as opposed to the town bits I do with clients – it’s nicer out of town. This cliffwalk is not only lovely but there are no steep bits so I love it! I saw some whales of course, and then drove up to Fernkloof Nature Reserve. That was a treat – I walked through the garden and a little way up the mountainside which was full of stunning proteas. I picked up a tick which I only discovered later – ticks freak me out but there is that thrill of feeling like you’ve done a bit of bundu-bashing to get it. I bought some plants at the nursery, including a special dark orange black-eyed Susan that I can never find in town, and there’s one I haven’t planted yet because I’ve completely forgotten what it is so don’t know where to put it. It’s been sitting on the table outside and has grown so much I suspect it might be a creeper but am not sure what type.

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Fernkloof

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Fernkloof

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Fernkloof

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Fernkloof was really looking very pretty

I went to the Hemel en Aarde Village which has some really lovely little shops  and did a wine tasting at the Hermanuspietersfontein shop – that’s a mouthful of a name but guess what? That was the original name of Hermanus, named after the visionary who saw the potential of this area, but now obviously shortened for convenience. I bought some Kleinboet, a most delectable Bordeaux blend.

The boys came up from town and after lunch we went for dessert to a coffee shop owned by a friend just out of town – that was cool. We were in high spirits, the desserts were divine, the friend was so happy to see us that we were made to down-down a couple of Grappas and then it was time to head on home.

One of the boys raced back to town via the highway and the other one came with me as we returned via the scenic coastal road with a stop at Stoney Point in Betty’s Bay to see the penguins. It was closing just as we arrived but we managed to spot a few ducking in the bushes.

This was the last day of my roadtrip but I’m not blogging in the order of the trip so there’s more to come.

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I wondered how many people throw those ribbons away. I removed it carefully and put it on a shelf, they’d better have used it again.

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Clarence Drive – such a photogenic place

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The old Hermanus harbour at sunset

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Check out those socks.

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Very old wall in Hermanus

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Easily the prettiest hotel in Hermanus from the outside – will check it out inside one of these days.

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Can’t be too many towns in the world where the old harbour is a national monument.

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Middle of winter in Hermanus – the tourists were happy.

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The dassies (hyrax) at Stoney Point are not at all shy.

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Stoney Point African penguin

Roadtrip – one night in the lap of luxury

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Dawn breaking over Walker Bay

I’d been drooling over their website for days and finally I arrived at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, just after Stanford on the road to Gansbaai. I’m glad there weren’t many other guests around because I’m sure I lowered the tone of the place with my presence, although the staff were extremely kind and made me feel like a queen – a flute of champagne on the veranda was the first order of the day, followed by a nibble of salad from the buffet and a discussion with guides about which activities I would like to do.

This has to be the most luxurious and beautiful place I have ever had the privilege of spending a night. The decor is stunningly tasteful, every comfort you could possibly ask for has been provided, the surroundings are magnificent – every suite and every corner of the 2000 hectares has a fabulous view over Walker Bay and/or De Kelders.

I stayed in Forest Lodge which is in a milkwood forest – even the path to the suites is lovely! I had barely had time to inspect my huge bathroom, bedroom with 4 poster mozzie-net covered kingsize bed, dressing room, lounge and kitchenette with an array of delicious goodies, when it was time to dash back to the main reception to be whisked off for a horseback ride through the property. I haven’t been on a horse in so many years I was a tad anxious but it went well. My ride, Knight, was very sweet and we had a wonderful ride through the fynbos for about an hour. After this I was collected by another guide for a drive to De Kelders to watch the whales frolic and the gorgeous sunset.

Back in my suite I treated myself to a bath just as the light was fading – the view from the bathroom is as marvelous as anywhere else, even from the loo! For dinner I was joined by the assistant manageress which was a nice touch, and she told me all about this marvelous property – the staff love it so much there is a very low staff turnover, the owner is highly respected for his attitude and what he gives back in the way of a Foundation and a horticultural school which is free for selected students. Supper was a delicious 6 course meal with perfect service from lovely friendly staff.

Next morning I was awake before dawn and eager to get cracking but I lingered with coffee in bed and a long shower with stunning view. After breakfast of two delicious croissants with Grootbos’s own honey, fruit and coffee from the stunning breakfast buffet (I should have given myself more time to pig out on all the other goodies available!) I was fetched for a site visit of the other accommodation lodge – Garden Lodge – and the Villa. The site visit was, in fact, the purpose of this trip in the first place. The Garden Lodge is as lovely as the Forest Lodge, child-friendly with stables nearby and a play room that will keep kids of all ages happy for hours on end.

And a tour of The Villa – ermergaard … The Villa.. it’s to die for!!!  6 bedrooms each with an en-suite bathroom the size of my lounge, all with fab views. There’s a braai (bbq) on one side of the house as well as an indoor one, a kitchen to cater for an army, several lounges, a playroom, a priceless art collection, a grand piano, a gorgeous pool, and it all comes with your own private chef, butler, guide and vehicle.  It was a battle to tear myself away. After this opulent elegance we went for a long drive through the property in a 4×4 with my lovely field guide who told me all sorts of interesting stuff about fynbos that I didn’t know.

There’s a lot of luxury around and I get to see quite a bit in my work but what impressed me about Grootbos is that they have found the perfect combination where nothing is over the top, nothing is crass, nothing is overdone – it’s all just darn perfect! For a night and a day I lived like a queen and totally loved every minute of it. Now to get my clients to book an Overberg tour so that I can go back!

Now feast your eyes on a whack of photos and add Grootbos to your wish list.

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A flute of champagne on my arrival

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My lounge, all to myself

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Sunset from my balcony

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View from my bed in the morning with my coffee

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Even the kitchen at the Villa has a piece of art

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In case you forget to bring a book to the Villa

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One of the many lounges in the Villa

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The Villa pool

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Musical soirees at the Villa are mandatory

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The memory of this bathroom at the Villa will live on in my mind for ever

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The pink erica is in full bloom at the moment and the mountainside is a carpet of pink. This particular one – erica irregularis – is endemic to this region.

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More art

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The lovely Anecke, my field guide for my entire stay. Her passion for her work and her place of work are infectious.

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Exterior view of the Villa

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Roadtrip – Overberg!

Dunes at Witsands

Sunset at the mouth of the Breede River, Witsand

One day, when I win the lottery, I’m going to leave the city and spend the rest of my life road-tripping – a fabulous vehicle, the open road, funky hotels and luxury guesthouses, beautiful scenery and quirky little towns … ahh man, I could spend my life like that.

In the meantime I’ll happily go on roadtrips with clients  – tiring, less freedom, less time, but better than sitting behind a desk. Next week I’m off to the Overberg – alone, no clients – to check out specific places because I want to develop a new 2 or 3 day tour instead of doing day trips to see whales in Hermanus.  I am madly excited about one of the places where I’ll be spending a night – it’s the most wonderful private reserve in the Overberg – Grootbos. I can’t wait because I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. Their website alone has me mesmerised. You can expect photos and a report.  And tweets if you’re there. Or Facebook.

It’s whale season so it reminds me of a particular trip I took a few years ago looking for whales in the Witsand area which is further up the coast than I’ll be going next week. We spent hours and hours watching them frolic but the photos I took with a no-zoom-happy snappy were so bad – we came to the conclusion that they are the least photogenic creatures on earth.  The sunsets certainly made up for that and we had lots of fun.

Tomorrow I’ll write about road-tripping in the Karoo because that’s where I plan to be based after I win the lottery – it’s the perfect place from which to explore South Africa and it doesn’t rain much.

Arniston cave

High tide so we couldn’t go into the cave, Arniston

me in cave

But I was talked into climbing in and out of a small cave via the tiny hole at the top.

Sunset

Another sunset

Wreck Cape Infanta

I loved Cape Infanta – it’s so isolated that it’s very unspoilt. There are wrecks all over the place, strange sand caves, and these stones were an absolute bitch to walk on.

Gaetan at agulhas

Gaetan was very happy to be at the southern-most tip of Africa.

sunset home

And the trip ended with yet another magnificent sunset as we drove over the pass towards Cape Town. It kept changing from pink to orange and I have about 70 photos of it. But I chose this one.

Wet

Day two.

So we get to Hermanus nice and early and the sun is shining but there’s not a whale in sight. Coffee-shop man says you need to go out on a boat to see them, look over there where all the boats are, that’s where they are, I’ll arrange it for you, you leave at noon.

Noon finds us at the harbour,  eager beavers ready to board. Well, I was less than eager since going out to sea in the middle of winter is not very high on my bucket list. But hey, this is work.

After an interminable time on the high seas the boat shows no sign of slowing down. And we’re way far from the boats we saw from shore. Actually we went right past all of them, they were friendly and waved .. fishermen are like that.

We were almost at Kleinmond when we went very close to shore and there they were, masses of whales doing all the fun stuff that whales do and which gets tourists and photographers very excited. I took a few poor photos then decided to just watch the show. It was my last moment of pleasure for the day. Not counting bath and bed.

We had gone so far out that the skipper was in a rush to get back. He hit that throttle with a vengeance but no warning and we were treated to shower after shower all the way back. Not a single person escaped it, we were drenched, we were sitting in water, we had water trickling into every sleeve and collar, two small children were terrified (their parents took it very well and laughed a lot, the Dutch are strange that way, good sports and all). We huddled in misery.

By the time we got back we were too late for our posh wine and food pairing, we were wet and cold, we had no spare clothes and we were hungry. I was mortified, these are my clients!!!! I marched to the booking office to ask a few questions. Okay, it was more of a squelch than a march, but I got an apology for the crew not letting down the side canvasy things that would have kept us dry, and a partial refund. But we were still hungry and wet and cold.

We trooped into town to buy socks and fleecy tops from hawkers and walked into a sushi restaurant where a waiter by the name of Desire saw to our every need, including placing us near a heater. We ate lunch in sopping wet trousers.  The chairs were mock ostrich, not fabric – we checked before sitting.

We drove home with the heater on full blast and luckily Clarence Drive is so beautiful that it helped us get over the trauma of the wettest whale watching ever.  My guests are now in Botswana on safari, hoping the lions are easier to see.

This is the last photo of the day, the setting sun making pink mountains. No photos of whales, I’m a bit off them now.

Disclaimer

A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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