Heart of the Whale Route | 310km

Whale Route of South Africa.

Hermanus

...is the heart of the popular South African Whale Route, and the town's 12-km-long Cliff Path offers one of the best shore-based whale-watching spots in the world. This spectacular destination is the first stop on your South African holiday. The southern right whales arrive in Walker Bay in June/July to calve and remain until November. Visitors are kept up to date about the latest whale sightings by the town's Whale Crier, the only one of his kind in the world. The coastline around Hermanus is characterised by numerous sheltered coves and bays, which are ideal for swimming and sunbathing.

Grotto Beach, at the town's eastern end, features a magnificent sandy beach. On the hills above the town, visitors can enjoy walking among the fynbos flora in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, which has 40 km of hiking trails. Not to be missed is a visit to the craftmarketand the old stone harbour with its interesting museum, where you can listen to whale sounds transmitted from a sonar buoy offshore.

Stanford

Built along the banks of the Klein River, Stanford's Victorian buildings, smallholdings and water furrows lend the village a charming, rural air. Facing the central market square is a cluster of Edwardian houses built in 1920-23. Also of interest are the thatched Anglican chapel, the first school built from local stone around 1890 and the original farmhouse of Captain (later Sir) Robert Stanford.

After retiring from the British Army in 1838, Stanford bought the farm Kleinrivier and exported his produce by boat from Stanford's Cove, 2 km north of Gansbaai. When the village was laid out in 1857, it was named after Stanford.

Walker Bay Nature Reserve

The main section of the Walker Bay Nature Reserve covers 1 000 ha of lowland coastal fynbos and dunes between the Klein River estuary and Die Kelders. It is bounded in the west by Walker Bay and incorporates 17 km of white sandy beaches and rocky limestone outcrops. Excavations at Klipgat Cave, near the southern boundary of the reserve, have provided important archaeological records of Middle Stone Age occupation (between 85 000 and 65 000 years ago), as well as occupation by Later Stone Age people some 20 000 years ago. Recreational activities on your South African holiday include day walks, angling and picnicking.

De Kelders

This small resort town owes its name to the nearby limestone caves, one of which has a series of natural freshwater pools fed by seepage from a spring. Among its early visitors was Lady Anne Barnard, who bathed in the pools during a visit in 1798. The rocky coastline provides ideal vantage points for whale-watching, and is also popular with anglers.

Gansbaai

Situated in a protected cove on the eastern side of Walker Bay, Gansbaai is a busy fishing village with two harbours, a cannery and a fishmeal factory. It is also popular with angling, diving and boating enthusiasts, while the 7-km Duiwelsgat Hiking Trail offers magnificent views over Walker Bay. The narrow channel between Dyer Island and Geyser Island, 7,5 km off the Gansbaai coast, has one of the largest concentrations of great white sharks in the world.

Gansbaai is the centre of several shark-viewing and cage-diving operations; the months between April and October are generally the best for shark-viewing.

Salmonsdam Nature Reserve

This small reserve lies in a basin at the foot of the Paardenberg mountains and covers 834 ha of unspoilt mountain fynbos. South African holiday visitors can explore the forested ravines, caves, waterfalls and interesting rock formations along three-day walks from one to two hours' duration or take the Mountain Drive to the viewpoint at Ravenshill. Among the mammals occurring here are bontebok, grey rhebok, klipspringer and common duiker, while more than 120 bird species have been recorded.

The area and the reserve were named after Captain Robert Salmond, the commander of HMS Birkenhead, which ran aground off Danger Point in the early hours of 26 February 1852. There is, however, no large dam as the name might suggest, only a small one made of earth.

Riviersonderend

...is the centre for the surrounding wheat farming region, an area well known for its colonies of blue cranes, South Africa's national bird. The town owes its name to what was known as the Rivier Zonder End ('river without end'), a tributary of the Breede River. The river's name refers to the difficulties encountered by early explorers in tracing it to its source.

Greyton

Established in a fertile valley at the foot of the Riviersonderend mountains in 1854, Greyton has retained much of its rural charm: thatched cottages amid beautiful gardens, oak-lined streets and 'leiwater' canals. Among its many fine buildings are the Moravian Church, Greyton Lodge (the original buildings date back to 1876) and the Post House, which formed part of the original homestead on Weltevreden, the farm on which the village was laid out. In the 1890s, the building housed Greyton's first post office, hence the name.

An area of 2 200 ha to the northeast of the town has been set aside as a municipal nature reserve, and can be explored along a network of walks and trails ranging in duration from 30 minutes to three hours. The 14-km-long Boesmanskloof Hiking Trail between Greyton and McGregor is a popular day trail.

Genadendal

...was founded by missionary George Schmidt in 1738 to minister to the Khoi people. Originally known as Baviaanskloof, the name was changed to Genadendal (Valley of Grace) in 1806. The first Moravian mission station in South Africa, the village is centred around the historic Church Square, dominated by the mission church built in 1891.

All the buildings around the square were declared national monuments in 1980, and among these are the first church (1795), old mill (1796), church bell (1798) and several school buildings. The history of the mission station is depicted in the Mission Museum, housed in a building (built in 1838) which served as the first teachers' training college in South Africa. Just south of the town is the Beinbrecht Bridge, completed in 1820 under the guidance of the Moravian missionary JD Beinbrecht.

The original bridge was supported by five massive stone pillars, three to four metres in height and measuring 3,6 m in diameter at the base. After a flood in 1822, the height of the pillars was increased by two metres. The 25,3-km-long Genadendal Hiking Trail winds through the Riviersonderend Mountains, and takes two days to complete.

Caledon

...is the centre of an agricultural area noted for its production of wheat, onions, wool and barley, the latter processed into malt for the beer industry. The town is home to the largest malt producer in the country, with an annual output of around 140 000 tonnes. Caledon originally developed around a hot spring (38 C at source) that has attracted visitors since the 17th century and now forms part of a major casino development.

The Caledon Museum, housed in a Victorian building, takes as its the theme the Victorian era (1837-1901). Among the town's historic buildings are the Anglican Church (1855) and the beautiful Victorian houses along Mill Street. The Caledon Wildflower Garden and Reserve covers 56 ha of landscaped indigenous gardens, water features and lawns, as well as 158 ha of natural fynbos vegetation on the slopes of the Swartberg.

Caledon is famous for its wild flower show, held in September each year. First staged in 1892, the event is the largest of its kind in South Africa, with over 600 fynbos species on display.

Hemel-En-Aarde-Valley

Bounded by the Onrus Mountains and the western outlier of the Kleinsrivier Mountains, you will find this beautiful valley on your South African holiday in the folds of the course carved by the Onrus River. It was in this valley, with its cool maritime climate, that Timothy Hamilton Russell established Africa's southernmost vineyard in 1976. Since then, Bouchard Finlayson, Whalehaven and Cape Bay Wines have also established themselves in the valley.

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