Garden Route to the Eastern Cape

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The Garden Route extends from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape.  The Kaaiman’s River Pass is one of many passes on the Garden Route on the way to the Wilderness region.  It is the last pass before reaching this famous nature reserve.  At the bottom of the Kaaiman’s River Pass is the black Kaaiman’s River.

 

This is a popular destination for hiking and canoeing.  The nearest towns are George and Knysna.  The self-catering cottages in the photo can be rented.

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View of Wilderness area

The Wilderness National Park is in the heart of the Garden Route and is a collection of rivers, lakes, estuaries and beaches.

We travelled on through the busy town of Sedgefield on our way to the beautiful Buffelsbaai.  To reach the hamlet of Buffelsbaai (or Buffalo Bay) which is between Knysna and Sedgefield, one has to pass through the Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area.    There are some permanent residents, but most of the cottages are owned by people who use them during holiday season or rent them out when not in use.  As it was a few days before Christmas, this small village was buzzing and the beach was full of holiday makers.  During the rest of the year it is peaceful and often rather deserted. There are no hotels and only one restaurant in Bufflesbaai.  The Deck Restaurant has magnificent views and you will enjoy a cold drink or ice cream there.  Do not expect good food, however, as this is purely a fast food restaurant and they have no competition to keep there standards high.

Knysna was the next town on our trip through the Garden Route.  The N2 (main highway) passes right through the centre of the popular town and thus causes it be be very busy and congested, especially in December.  Although Knysna has 51 000 permanent inhabitants, the number of people who are drawn to the popular resort causes the population to explode during the summer holidays.

We travelled through Knysna and into the Eastern Cape.  We stopped at the Paul Sauer bridge to refuel and have some lunch.  This is a concrete arch bridge that spans the Storms River in the Eastern Cape.  The views from the bridge are incredible.  It is worth stopping to explore the paths below the bridge.

Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape is known worldwide for its wonderful surf.  It is considered the no 2 spot in the world for surfing.  We stayed in Funky Town which is four star self-catering accommodation that is an experience in itself.  It is filled with funky surf lore and art and is spotless and well run.

We had a wonderful seafood meal at Kitchen Windows Beach Restaurant overlooking the sea.  The restaurant got its name because two brothers, Andy and Corky Thuysman, used to look out of the kitchen windows of their aunt’s house to see if the surf was ready.  This part of the beach became known as Kitchen Windows.

When in Jeffreys Bay try to avoid the franchise fast food places and explore the quaint local eateries.  We had breakfast at this cute beachfront restaurant called Tasty Table.  The only problem was that the coffee was cold, but besides that they served a lovely breakfast and it is a joy looking around the shop.

Jeffreys Bay was a hippie surf paradise in the 1960’s and 70’s.  If you are a keen surfer or simply want to get away from a busy life, this is the place to spend a holiday.  Jeffreys Bay is a fast growing urban centre today, however, it still has a run down hippie feel about it.

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Cape Town to Mossel Bay

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Houw Hoek Pass on the N2 ends near the small farming village of Botrivier

We left Cape Town on 18 December and began our journey of 1600 km back to Durban via the coastal road and passing through the famous Garden Route.

When travelling between Sir Lowry’s Pass and Houw Hoek Pass, look out for the Houw Hoek Inn which is the oldest country inn in South Africa.  Parts date back to 1779.  In those days the trip from Cape Town to the Overberg region took four days by ox wagon.

The original or ‘Old Houw Hoek’ Pass was built by Andrew Geddes Bain in 1847.  The old pass can still be travelled if you have a 4×4 with good ground clearance.  It is very picturesque and follows the course of the Jakkals River.

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The N2 after leaving Bot River

Our first stop would be the historic town of Swellendam.  We decided that this would be a good spot for lunch.  This town in 220 kms from Cape Town.

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Wheatfields near Swellendam

The area near Swellendam produces wheat, canola and oats.  Farmers also farm with livestock such as sheep and cattle.

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Entering Swellendam from the N2

Swellendam has a population of approximately 18 000.  It is the fourth oldest town in South Africa.  It was declared a magisterial district in 1743 and was named after Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel and his wife Helena Ten Damme.

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We had lunch under the grape vines at the Old Mill Restaurant.

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Rothman Manor is in a restored building circa 1834
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White walls, thatched roofs and Cape Dutch gables are typical of the buildings in Swellendam

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This butchery with its bright blue colours caught my eye.

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Known as ‘die Moederkerk’ or the Mother Church, this magnificent Dutch Reformed Church started being built in November 1910

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The Langeberg Mountains form a backdrop to Swellendam

After a pleasant lunch and some time spent exploring Swellendam we continued on our way.  We passed beautiful fertile valleys with the Langeberg Mountains forming a backdrop in the distance.

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View of Mossel Bay

In 1488 Bartolomeu Diaz became the first European seafarer to stop at Mossel Bay.  Seafarers stopped at Mossel Bay for fresh water and to leave letters in an old Milkwood tree.  These were usually left in a shoe that dangled from the tree.  Try to visit the Bartolomeu Diaz Maritime Museum to see a life size model of the caravel that brought Diaz to this part of the world.

The shores of this bay were covered with mussels and oysters, hence the name Mossel Bay.

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There are some lovely restaurants in Mossel Bay.  We enjoyed seafood at Cafe Gannet, near the harbour.  See Tripadvisor for more options.

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Church Street in Mossel Bay

The next day we left Mossel Bay to continue on our journey through the Garden Route.  Mossel Bay is at the beginning of the Garden Route.  It is also exactly 400 kms from both Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.  This makes it a good halfway stopover for tourists travelling to the Eastern Cape.

 

 

 

Cape Town – Woodstock

The area now known as Woodstock was inhabited by the Khoi San until the arrival of the Dutch in the 1600’s.  By the middle of the 19th century it had become a fashionable seaside resort.  This changed in the 1950’s when the beach was destroyed due to land reclamation to enlarge the foreshore.

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St Mary the Virgin Anglican Church at 1 Station Road, Woodstock.

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Woodstock is a suburb of Cape Town and is about one kilometre from the city centre.  Many of the buildings are being renovated.

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Some are still neglected.

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Street artists are trying to make the area colourful.

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Many older houses are being restored.

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This circa 1903 building is one of many in Albert Road that has been restored.

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Every Saturday morning a market is held in The Old Biscuit Mill in Albert Road where artists and craftsmen display and sell their goods.

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The changing of Woodstock into a ‘trendy’ area has had a negative effect on the local residents who are been forced out by high rentals.

Simonstown and Cape Point

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Our next day trip was from Cape Town to Cape Point, via Simonstown and Miller’s Point.  Simonstown is now the headquarters of the South African Navy and is a town of much naval history, both South African  and British.  We parked next to the Jubilee Square waterfront park above the  Simonstown harbour.  This was known as Market Square  until 1935 when it was renamed Jubilee Square to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George  and Queen Mary. If you visit this historic town make sure to see the bronze statue of Able Seaman Just Nuisance, a dog that famously adopted the British naval seamen  during WWII.

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He was the only dog to ever be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy.  This Great Dane served in the Royal Navy between 1939 and 1944 in Simonstown.

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We enjoyed a lunch of traditional Cape Malay bobotie at Quarters Restaurant overlooking Simonstown harbour.

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After an early lunch, we strolled around the waterfront park where many arts and crafts are on display.

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This is the Queen Victoria Jubilee Fountain in Simonstown’s Jubilee Square in the waterfront park.  This Fountain was imported from England to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.  It was used to provide drinking water in the square.

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This photo shows detail and the date on the Victoria Jubilee Fountain.

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One of South Africa ‘s worst military disasters occurred when the steamship SS  Mendi sank in the English Channel on 21 February 1917.  On 16 January  1917, during WWI,  the SS Mendi sailed from Cape Town en route to Le Havre in France to take part in the war against Germany. The ship was accidentally rammed by the SS Darro.   A total of 616 South Africans died, including 607 black troops serving in the South African Native Labour Contingent.

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We had to leave Simonstown to continue our trip to Cape Point,  but promised ourselves that we would set aside a whole day to explore this historic naval town.  We continued around the beautiful coast to our next stop, Miller’s Point,  well known fishing spot.  This photo shows the outlook back towards False Bay.

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Miller’s Point was a bustling hive of activity.

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Many small fishing boats were lining up at the slipway to come ashore with their catch.

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Fishermen were selling their  catches of snoek to buyers waiting to fill their bakkies  or small trucks. They were receiving around ZAR 60 per snoek.

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The gulls were flying around waiting for scraps of fish.  There was a buzz of excitement in the air.  It was wonderful to see these people  looking so happy with the bounty from the Indian Ocean.   Their families would be fed well for a good while from the proceeds of this day at sea.

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No sooner was one boat pulled up the slipway,  than the next would be cranked ashore. 

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The seagulls were screaming and whirling around the boats, diving down for titbits as the whirling propellers churned up scraps of fish.

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Reluctantly we left the excitement at Miller’s Point and continued on our way to the Nature Reserve at Cape Point.

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If you are a South African citizen in possession of a Wild Card, entrance into the South African reserves is free.

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On the way into the Nature Reserve we passed this small fisherman’s cottage.

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This turnoff led to wonderful views of False Bay.  The reserve is neat and clearly signposted.

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Many of the fynbos plants were flowering.   In the distance is the newer of the two lighthouses at Cape Point.   The older one at the Point is no longer used.

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The view site is at the edge of steep cliffs.  There were divers in the waters at the bottom of the cliffs.

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False Bay got its name about three hundred years ago as sailors confused it with Table Bay to the north.  It is on the warmer Indian Ocean side of Cape Point.

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Some tourists from Malaysia were having their photos taken at the Cape of Good Hope, the most south westerly point of Africa.   Many people think that this is the most southerly point of Africa, however that is incorrect.   Cape Agulhas,  170 km south east of Cape Town holds that record.

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Our next stop was to visit the Cape Point, where the waters of the Indian Ocean mingle with the colder waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

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You can ride up the steep point on a funicular or the more energetic can climb up. 

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Even if you go up with the funicular,  there is still a steep climb to the old historic lighthouse.

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Theoretically the warmer Indian Ocean is to the left of the point and the colder Atlantic Ocean is to the right.  There have been at least 28 shipwrecks near Cape Point.   There is a ‘shipwreck trail’ showing the many wrecks and places where ships were wrecked over the last centuries. These waters are wild and the rocks very dangerous.   The old lighthouse was often covered in mist and could not be seen by the sailors. For this reason it was taken out of service and a new one built lower down,  below the mist belt.

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This sign next to the historic lighthouse is very popular and often  photographed by visiting tourists.

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You can read on the Internet about the many shipwrecks at Cape Point.  If you have time the are 28 shipwreck sites to see around Cape Point.

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During  both World Wars, Cape Point was of great strategic importance to the British.

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The shop next to the funicular station has some lovely maritime momentos.

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Our travels now took us to Kommetjie as we were heading back to Cape Town via the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive.   The windsurfers were making the most of the steady breeze.

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While in Kommetjie we visited the Slangkop lighthouse which is situated inside this part of the Table Mountain Nature Reserve.

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Slangkop (meaning ‘snake head’) lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in the southern hemisphere.   It is 34 metres tall and has been operating since 1919 (some references say since 1914).

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After leaving the village of Kommetjie we travelled towards Camps Bay via the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive. Beautiful cloud formations hung over The Twelve Apostles as these mountains are known.

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The world famous Twelve Apostles Hotel began as a hunting lodge in 1836. It is now an award winning Five Star Hotel over looking the Atlantic Ocean near Camps Bay. 

The West Coast – Yzerfontien and Blaauwberg

Yzerfontien is a small fishing village situated on the west coast, washed by the cold Atlantic Ocean, it is approximately one hour’s drive from Cape Town.

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This village has approximately 10 000 permanent residents.  In holiday season there are are thousands more visitors, drawn by the beautiful beaches and fishing.  Up until 1937 Yzerfontien was still a farm. In 1989 it was given a Local Council and became a town.

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The views of the Atlantic Ocean are breathtaking.

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This small harbour serves the local fishermen as well as tourists .

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We enjoyed a last view of the Yzerfontien coastline and then travelled back towards Blaauwberg for lunch.

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Table Mountain was clearly visible across Table Bay.   This part of the coast near Blaauwberg has been declared a Nature Reserve.

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We strolled along the dunes that formed part of the Nature Reserve.

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Families were enjoying paddling in amongst the rock pools.

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Big Bay is well known amongst locals and visitors.

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We stopped for lunch at Ons Huisie,  a popular restaurant run from a restored fisherman’s cottage.

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Wellington and the Paarl Valley

Monday saw us travelling from Cape Town,  via Durbanville, to Wellington and the beautiful Paarl Valley.

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Durbanville is a busy and bustling centre.

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After leaving Durbanville we passed many vineyards and olive groves.

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Many of the farms in this area dates back to 1692 when freehold land was given to farmers.

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In among the vineyards are fields of wheat.

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Olive groves near Wellington.

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We reached the historic town of Wellington which was founded in 1837.   This town marked the limit of the settler expansion from the Cape and was first called ‘Limiet Vallei’. This area was also known as Val Du Charron or ‘Valley of the Wagonmaker ‘ from the early 17th century when the French Hugenots settled there.  It was later named after the Duke of Wellington.

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The historic buildings have been beautifully preserved. The Huguenot Seminary, the first teachers’ training college, founded by the Rev Andrew Murray, is found in Wellington.

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We left Wellington and travelled into the valley below Bainskloof and Paarl.

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We were on our way to a wine farm called Doolhof.

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We reached our destination.

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Doolhof has wine tasting every day of the week.

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Beautiful cannas greeted us.

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We left the gardens and went into the historic wine cellar.

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Inside we were treated to a selection of their best wines.

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We bought a selection of wine.

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Doolhof has won many awards for their wine.

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We stopped to admire the hydrangeas before leaving the lovely wine farm.

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We briefly stopped at Welvanpas,  the birthplace of Piet Retief,  the famous Voortrekker leader.

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This is where Retief was born.

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The Retief family still owns and works on the farm.

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We admired the detail on this Bridge next to the Retief farm.

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We travelled back towards Wellington to visit another wine estate.

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Clouds were building over the Hottetot Holland Mountains in the distance.

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We reached the wine farm of Under Oaks.

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We were greeted by the local herd.

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Old wine vats on display.

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Unfortunately the cellar and restaurant were closed on Mondays.

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We travelled further into the valley to The Spice Route.

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There we had lunch under the trees and visited the artisan chocolate factory.

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The chocolates are handmade in the small factory.

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There are many different types of chocolate on display.

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The are many flavours of drinking chocolate to choose from.

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We also visited the brewery where they make craft beer.

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Hermanus

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Hermanus is a small village 90 minutes drive from the city of Cape Town.  It was founded by a teacher, Hermanus Pieters,  in 1815.  It was originally a place where farmers used to graze their cattle in summer as well as a fishing spot.

imageDoctors from Harley  Street in London recommended Hermanus for its ‘champagne air’ and this led to people visiting for holidays and to recuperation from illness.

 

Some of the old fishermen’s cottages have been preserved.

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This old cottage now houses an Art Gallery.

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Visitors can wander around the local shops and markets.

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There are plenty of shops and art galleries to explore.

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The shop is a bookworm’s dream.

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Books that are out of print can be found here.

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The main street takes you back to the beach and cliffs.

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Whale watching is a popular pastime from June to December.  Whales come to calve in this sheltered bay.

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Marine Drive has lots of restaurants where one can stop for a meal while enjoying the magnificent views of the sea and mountains.

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On the day we visited there was mist hanging over the mountains behind Hermanus.

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The beaches are sheltered.

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The famous Grotto Beach.

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We reluctantly left Hermanus and travelled back to Cape Town.

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The road to Cape Town goes past olive groves and vineyards and winds along mountain passes.

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After 90 minutes we saw Devil’s Peak which was covered in cloud.  We were back in the Mother City.