The Origin of the Famous Cliff Paths

    Amidst the Second World War, Hermanus became a favoured destination among army men and women who stopped over in Cape Town. They were given time off while ships were serviced and restocked before venturing to North Africa or the Far East.

    Troops were to remain within 160 km of Cape Town, in the event that they had to be recalled. Hermanus was 145 km from Cape Town and became a popular breakaway. Troops flocked here to the extent that hotels accommodated them without beds to spare. The Marine Hotel hosted people on top of and under their billiard tables.

    Many were lured back by the charm of the town, including a gentleman by the name of Eric Jones. A visit became residence, and towards the end of the 1950s, he married a woman from Hermanus and managed the Westcott Mineral Water Factory in the suburb of Eastcliff. Next to the factory, was a nursery that sold indigenous plants, which sparked an interest in the regional fynbos.

    Eric and his wife were fond of strolling along the cliffs of Eastcliff and wandering through paths that fishermen made to get to their favourite fishing points. These paths were disconnected, which sparked the idea Eric had to join them into a continuous path; a scenic path could be built to span along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. This would afford many more the pleasure of strolling a long distance along the coast with these breathtaking views.

    Eric Jones proposed his idea to the newly revived Hermanus Botanical Society. Mr Jones inspired the renaming and reviving of the society, which was previously known as the Horticultural and Wild Flower Society. The Fernkloof Reserve was controlled by the municipality, so the society’s members were looking elsewhere for a project to beautify the town. Thus, the Cliff Paths were set into motion.

    A path was constructed from the New Harbour to Grotto Beach, which still had paths veering off to fishermen’s favourite spots – but these were now linked by a continuous path that meandered roughly east to west. Dr Ion Williams led the venture with one labourer, and fellow members sourced the funding to build the path and clear invader plants to promote the local fynbos to thrive. The famous Hermanus Cliff Path was born and went on to become the second top feature of the town for tourism, promoting our top attraction, the whales. We are now known as one of the top destinations in the world for land-based whale watching.

    Some of the best spots to view these magnificent marine mammals are either from or veer off from these paths. In Hermanus CBD, the Cliff Path offers blissful views of the Old Harbour and meanders to Gearing’s Point. This stretch is frequented by whales which is why Hermanus boasts an annual Whale Festival within the centre of town. 

    The coastal cliff paths have since expanded to stretch along all our coastal suburbs, including the outlying villages of Sandbaai, Onrus and Vermont. Though our whales are mostly spotted in town, there are some viewings from all these suburbs too. 

    In the words of our favourite local historian, Robin Lee:

    “No war, no troops on leave, no Eric Jones, no Cliff Path, no easily-accessed land-based whale watching, fewer attractions for tourists, fewer tourists, less economic activity in Hermanus and less income to the Municipality. Without the Cliff Path, we would all be the poorer. As well as providing pleasure for hundreds of thousands over the years, the Cliff Path has had real economic consequences for the town and everyone living here. We can only understand why things are as they are in the present by linking different events from the past into a coherent history.”

    In collaboration with and support of Hermanus Tourism, Seeff Hermanus provides online information about the area to highlight how remarkable this town is.

    Author: Ruché Ten Have @ The Marketing Desk (On behalf of Seeff Hermanus)
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