Sunday, May 15, 2011

Please don't feed the whales

Hermanus is the armpit of the Western Cape, isn't it. What a way to destroy a coastline. We scream and shout about coastal mining or other issues, but I haven't heard an outcry about Hermanus. Hermanus is what fracking looks like. That coastal walk isn't enough to save it. And nor are the whales. Like the UAE, Hermanus needs to consider what it becomes when the whales (or oil) have gone. Just a coastline, endless bad food and tacky B&Bs with lots of dos and don'ts.

And it's not just Hermanus, it's that whole strip from just after Hawston - Onrus right through to Hermanus is just an industrial wasteland of malls and warehouses and Tuscan retirement Villas on the N2. Graceless and creedless.

(Do a quick search in your favourite search engine for Hermanus. You will find nothing that shows town centre, it's all sea and coast and hotels, and just about nothing featuring people, except for some archive portraits, click for BING and GOOGLE results

But that coastline is beautiful. It was wild and cold on the day I was there, and magnificent.

I was staying around the corner in Elgin, at the Old Mac Daddy. I think it's one of the country's best little escapes. Much much better than the Grand Daddy version on top of the Grand Daddy hotel. The combination of whim and nature is a killer. I rolled out of the Mills and Boone airstream, onto a deck that opened into a sky of apple orchards. I want to come back in summer.

Elgin is getting sharp with packaging and presenting itself. I didn't realise there were so many wine estates here. The Ross Glower Cab Sav is a fine glass of wine, at R40 per glass at the Old Mac Daddy's restaurant, Brinny Breez. The estate is one door down from the Mac, so to speak. Everything is nicely signposted in a unified attempt to present the area. The Orchards farmstall has gone to hell, but Peregrines, which I remember years ago as being the dogs ass of the area, is now the bees knees. And they were busy busy busy. And serving good coffee, they're proudly, almost smugly, using Origin Coffee, and I couldn't help wondering how much of an impact the hipsters draw to the Old Mac Daddy have made on the region's tourism decisions.

(check out the Old Mac Daddy at, book as soon as you can)

Hermanus, by contrast, is still on its National Party 99 year lease scheme, and stinks of arrogance and short termism and ex pat paternalism. There's nothing hip about it except the book shop on a strip of sly 4 star hotels. Back at Coffeebeans HQ a while back we did some research on non-whale related tourism activities in Hermanus, and apart from a beer tour and some wine tastings at estates in the region, and don't forget the boat trips to get closeup to the whales, there was nothing worth mentioning.

Which doesn't mean that it isn't getting the visitors. In spite of the horror that is itself, its pumping with tourists. But they're not coming for Hermanus stories. It is presently impossible to hear any above the din of a town becoming a concrete slum. Hermanus is eating itself from the inside out.

Is there a plan to change the course of Hermanus?
So what is being put in place to provide alternatives?

Cape Town Tourism has signed an agreement with the Overberg region to work together to develop and refine tourism opportunities beyond the whales, but what is local government doing to develop innovation and change beyond the status quo of circa 1989 mentality and tuscan architecture?

Pretty soon there'll be signs saying don't feed the whales...


  1. Hermanus has been one of my favourite spots for many years. It used to be the one of the lesser commercialised coastline areas with in the Western Cape, but has certainly changed rather drastically over the last 6 years, with the warm inviting vibe of the place becoming lost in all the mayhem. However,there is still so many gems that can be explored. There are 2 harbours in the Hermanus area: Old Harbour and New Harbour. The former, often over-looked thanks to all the markets and bars, has some interesting history attached to it as this was the hot spot for whaling back in the day. I think a story-telling route could be created here, I am sure there's some interesting tales to be told. There is also a camping group that have been frequenting Hermanus since 1908. Originally started by a scout group, these guys would travel from Cape Town city to Kenilworth by steam train, then a 2 day ox-wagon trip to the camp site in Hermanus. Now run by St Johns Parish, this camp is still held annually, and the entire history, along with images, can be found in the camps' collection of "Dooms Day Books". Hermanus also boasts some of the nicest hiking trails, with gorgeous rock pools, lush untouched vegetation and all 4 seasons in a single day. What about that vlei? If you venture out away from the motorboats, skiing and hi-tech fishing, you will find a tranquil river route that you can sail up to Stanford, a lovely little spot with a pub that sells some of the best calamari and steak dishes around. There is more to Hermanus than meets the eye, but like all precious gems, you have to dig a little deeper to find them...

  2. You think thats bad check out the new developments around Mossel Gem in Hermanus is Funky Vibes music shop in the shopping centre that looks out over the sea-amazing hand selected world music collection-i always wonder who shops there??its a bit like jeffreys bay-blessed by the sea that creates a pumping industry-and cursed by the short sighted greed that follows-on the other hand while sounding very cool the mac in elgin sounds like an elitest fantasy in itsself?


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I have a curious mind. I created Coffeebeans Routes, a travel company that creates experiences around urban stories, creativity and culture. I think in moving pictures.