Phillipskop Mountain Reserve is an ideal base from which to explore the Overberg, Hermanus area and Cape Whale Coast. Here are some of the key local attractions around Stanford and in the wider area:
Grotto Beach is Hermanus’s premier bathing beach with clean sand and clear water. The beach has received Blue Flag status and lifeguards are on hand during peak hours. It is close to Klein River Lagoon mouth and so children can play in the safer calmer water of the lagoon as well as in the sea. Grotto Beach is at the Stanford end of town, so one does not have to negotiate the traffic of Hermanus to get there. There are also several tidal pools in Hermanus, which provide safe swimming.
Other beaches can be found all along the coast from Walker Bay Nature Reserve round to Pearly Beach. Our children’s favourite beach is Die Plaat near De Kelders – this is not a swimming beach as the sea is dangerous here, but our boys love the fabulous caves and all the sand dunes. Stanford’s Cove also at De Kelders is a better option for swimming. Further around the coast Franskraal (where there are some good rock pools) and Pearly Beach are also worth exploring.
There are many birds to see at Phillipskop itself, but it is also an excellent base from which to explore the Overberg. Popular birdwatching spots include the Klein River Lagoon, the wheatbelt between Caledon and Bredasdorp, and the seasonal pans towards Agulhas. Suggestions for several popular birding routes can be found on the Overberg Birding Route website.
Two different boats take to the water at Stanford. The African Queen is the larger of the two and requires a minimum of 10 people to operate but will combine smaller groups. It leaves Stanford three times a day from September to May for a trip down the Klein River towards the lagoon. For a more informal trip, try Ernie’s River Rat, which can take small groups or even a couple if willing to pay the surcharge. Trips on both boats last about 2 to 3 hours, and there are opportunities for swimming and having a braai. Ernie also hires out canoes and kayaks. Alternatively, for a more adventurous trip try sea-kayaking with whales or on the Klein River Lagoon with Walker Bay Adventures.
Phillipskop is a great base if you want to visit the most southerly point of Africa, Cape Agulhas. The Cape Agulhas National Park is just a one and a half hour’s drive from Phillipskop. Proclaimed in 1999, it is one of the most recent National Parks in South Africa and still developing. The coastline is wild and you can see a number of shipwrecks near the shore-line, as well as visit the lighthouse. There are wonderful rockpools near the board walk to the southern-most tip, and you have a chance of seeing whales, as well as coastal birds, Cape fur seals and dolphins.
On a cool day, the hot springs at Caledon Hotel and Spa, just 45 minutes’ drive from Phillipskop, are an appealing option. Day visitors can enjoy all the facilities in the Spa, including the historic Victorian bathhouse, cascading pools ranging in temperature from pleasantly warm to very hot, Jacuzzi, sauna and Fitness Centre. It is best to phone in advance to avoid disappointment, and you may be able to get a mid-week deal including lunch as well as entry to the Spa.
Klein River Cheese Farmstead
Situated in the valley below Phillipskop, the Klein River Cheese Farmstead is well worth a visit, and is close enough to consider walking or cycling to. A variety of delicious cheeses are made on-site, and you can catch a glimpse of the cheese making process if you are there at the right time of day. Apart from tasting (and buying) some fantastic cheeses, there is a children’s play area and gourmet picnics are available to purchase from October to March (they are open Mon-Sat, 9:00-4:00). This has become a very popular day outing during the summer months so booking is advisable especially during holidays and on Saturdays.
The southern African coastline is well-known as a perilous region for shipping, particulary between Danger Point at Gansbaai and Cape Agulhas. The lighthouses at Danger Point and Cape Agulhas, built to provide warnings to vessels, are now open to the public and tell fascinating stories of the past and the many unfortunate wrecks that litter this coastline. Danger Point Lighthouse is open Mon-Fri, 10:00-3:00 (reservations only during winter); Cape Agulhas Lighthouse is open daily, 9:00-5:00. A further lighthouse is found at Quoin Point, between the above 2 lighthouses. This unusual steel lattice tower lighthouse can only be reached by a 4x4 vehicle.
There are numerous markets to enjoy in the local area. In Stanford, the Saturday morning market is popular, and on the last Friday evening of each month the sunset market is well worth a visit, offering food, craft stalls, musical entertainment, and a great atmosphere. Check out the events page at Stanford Info for the current dates and times. The craft market on the sea-front in Hermanus is lovely place to browse and buy African crafts, and the Hermanus Country Market, next to the cricket grounds, is open every Saturday morning, offering a good variety of produce, furnishings and trinkets.
Phillipskop is a great base for mountain biking. For the kids, cycle rides to Klein River Cheese or Stanford Hills are lovely outings from Phillipskop. You can also cycle further afield from Phillipskop – try the loop into Stanford, or cross the R326 and take the dirt road towards Elim. There are several mountain bike trails at Beloftebos, just 20 minutes from here, and in the Hemel and Aarde Valley in Hermanus. The 2017 Cape Epic route traverses our upper boundary on the ridge, and comes down the hillside on neighbouring land.
A variety of museums are on offer in the surrounding area. In Hermanus you can learn more about the heritage of the area at the Old Harbour Museum on the seafront; in Caledon you can step into the past and learn about life in the Victorian era in this region at the Caledon Museum; and in Bredasdorp a visit the Shipwreck Museum is a must if you are interested in maritime history and the many shipwrecks along this dangerous stretch of the southern coast of Africa. The historic village of Genadendal is well worth a visit. The site of the oldest mission station in South Africa, much of the village of Genadendal is now a museum, and there is plenty to see. The pretty village of Elim was also a Moravian Mission Station, and you can learn more about the community’s history at the Heritage Centre in the Old Mill Tearooms.
There are several nature reserves in the area that are worth exploring. One of the amazing features of fynbos is that a completely different range of plants can be found within only a few kilometres, so each nature reserve in the area will have its own unique set of plants to be discovered.
Panthera Africa – big cat sanctuary
On a still evening, the sound of lions roaring can sometimes be heard at Phillipskop. These lions live just across the valley from us, at Panthera Africa, which is an environmentally friendly educational sanctuary for big cats. Visitors to Panthera not only get to see and enjoy the range of big cats living on site, but also benefit from knowledgeable staff sharing facts about the animals, and their welfare and conservation. Advanced booking is essential.
There is a large resident penguin colony at Stony Point, Betty’s Bay, just an hour and a half’s drive from Phillipskop. Boardwalks through the Stony Point Nature Reserve give visitors fantastic views of scores of these adorable birds throughout the year. There are also plenty of coastal birds to enjoy and you have a good chance of seeing dassies (rock hyrax) during your visit.
You can also visit the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary at Gansbaai. Set up by the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, the sanctuary has been established to assist with the conservation and rehabilitation of marine birds on and around Dyer Island. Visitors may be able to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the Animal Hospital and Laboratory, and feeding time is daily at 3pm. There is also a café and gift shop on site.
Africa’s southernmost forest can be found at Platbos, half an hour from Phillipskop. This indigenous forest has survived the frequent fires that are an integral part of the local ecosystems. An undemanding walk through this forest has been created for visitors to enjoy the indigenous trees, including a 1,000 year old milkwood. The shell labyrinth is popular with children, and there is an indigenous tree nursery on site.
Shark cage diving
Gansbaai has become the centre for anyone wanting to see the awesome power of great white sharks. With the coast in this region being home to the highest concentration of these incredible animals, there are almost guaranteed sightings from the boat or if you are brave enough, in the water itself. A number of operators can be booked from Gansbaai: e.g. Marine Dynamics, Great White Shark Tours, Shark Diving Unlimited, White Shark Projects
Stanford is a historic Victorian village that retains much of its original charm. Spend a pleasant morning wandering along the streets admiring the architecture and how well it has been preserved – you can pick up a copy of the “Historic Stanford on Foot” leaflet, available at the tourism office for R10, to enhance your visit. There is also a footpath along the river, which is pleasant for a short walk, giving you a good chance of seeing some birdlife, and you can swim in the river. Stanford offers plenty of cafés and restaurants, giving you numerous options if you are looking for somewhere for a drink or a lunch.
Vineyards and Breweries
There are several vineyards in the area. The valley now has its own Stanford Wine Route. Further afield one can explore the Hemel-en-Aarde valley near Hermanus or head to the most southerly vineyards on the continent. Our closest vineyards include the Walker Bay Estate (home to the Birkenhead Brewery if beer is more to your taste than wine), Raka Wines just up the road from Phillipskop through the Akkedisberg Pass, Stanford Hills which has a children’s play area, and Sir Robert Stanford with its distillery.
Whale-watching is probably the most important attraction in the area. Hermanus has become renowned internationally as one of the best places to watch whales. Amazingly, you can enjoy whale watching in season without venturing out to sea, and it doesn’t cost a cent. The main season is September to November when Southern Right Whales come in close to shore to mate and calve, but sightings can be as early as July. The best place to see them is to walk along the cliff path that runs all along the front of Hermanus from the New Harbour to Grotto Beach. If you want the opportunity to learn a bit more or have a better chance of getting closer to these magnificent animals, then you could also book a boat tour.
Wild Flower Gardens
There are a number of gardens to visit in the area that showcase the wildflowers of South Africa, particularly the Cape. The premier of these is Harold Porter National Botanic Garden at Betty’s Bay. Here the formal and well-labelled beds gradually blend into the natural fynbos and forests of the Kogelberg. A popular tea shop makes it a lovely place to spend an afternoon. Hermanus has its own wildflower garden at Fernkloof Nature Reserve and although not big in size it has shady lawns and tables perfect for a picnic. Two other nearby towns also have wildflower gardens. The Caledon Wildflower Garden has a delightful network of paths that are fun for children to explore, and the Bredasdorp Heuningberg Nature Reserve has a more formal garden area on the lower slopes of the mountain.