The Hemel And Aarde Valley is reached by turning off the R43 at the Sandbaai intersection at 34°24’44.5″S 19°12’03.9″E. This spectacular scenic drive takes one via Shaw’s Pass (34°18’40.85”S 19°24’52.57”E) to Caledon and the beautiful Theewaterskloof region. The valley offers excellent birding due a variety of habitat types. The road is unfortunately very narrow with very few safe places to turn off the the R320 to watch birds. The valley is however best known for its many wine estates and award-winning restaurants. Several of these wine estates produce wonderful bird-watching experiences, while one samples some of the region’s award-winning wines.
Some of these wine estates feature well-wooded gardens where species such as the Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis, Bokmakierie, Southern Boubou, African Dusky Flycatcher, Sombre Greenbul, Malachite Sunbird, Olive Thrush, Swee Waxbill, Cape Weaver and Cape White-eye often feature prominently. Other estates feature Fynbos habitats where the Cape Bulbul, Blue Crane, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Grassbird, Cape Spurfowl, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Southern Double-collared Sunbird are often on view. The Cape and Sentinel Rock Thrushes can also be present in rocky, mountainous habitats. The Forest Buzzard is often present at stands of exotic plantations and listen carefully for the distinctive calls of the Greater and Lesser Honeyguides in these areas. Expect to find the Common Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kite, Diderick and Red-chested Cuckoos, African Paradise Flycatcher, Black Sawwing and Barn, Greater Striped and White-throated Swallows during summer months.
Visitors might want to consider taking a detour by turning off the R320 at the De Bos Dam at 34°22’18.06”S 19°14’41.07”E and traveling to the Karwyderskraal Landfill Site at 34°19’51.05”S 19°09’35.61”E. This gravel road meanders through mixed farmland and features a diversity of habitat types, as well as several dams that are often very productive. Birding along this road can be excellent and the Karwyderskraal and Swart River roads can be explored once the landfill site is reached
The Hemel and Aarde Valley can further be viewed from Rotary Drive, that is clearly signposted along the R43 at 34°25’01.67”S 19°12’58.14”E. This scenic drive runs through mature Fynbos where most of the special bird species normally associated with this habitat type can be found. Look for species such as the Bokmakierie, Cape Bulbul, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Grassbird, Cape Spurfowl, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Southern Double-collared Sunbird. Birds of prey can include the Jackal Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Rock Kestrel and occasionally the Verreaux’s Eagle and even African Fish Eagle. Strangely enough the Denham’s Bustard has also been recorded in the mature Fynbos up here.
There are several spots along the tarred section of the road from where spectacular vistas of Walker Bay and surrounds are available. The western areas of Hermanus, such as Sandbaai, Zwelihle, Onrus and Vermont can be viewed from the radio station. (Turn-off at 34°24’45.69”S 19°13’21.44”E). Further on along the road and to the left the Hemel en Aarde Valley is on view. The tarred road ends at a viewing point (34°24’27.96”S 19°14’05.07”E) overlooking the New and Old Harbours and Gearing’s Point to the right and the Klein River Valley, Stanford, the Klein River estuary and the Gansbaai area to the left. These magnificent views simply have to be experienced.
A gravel road continues from here, eventually reaching the point where hang gliders launch out above Hermanus. Beyond this a gate to the Hamilton Russel Winery property is reached. A couple of benches are reached about 100 meters beyond the gate – further stunning views of the town and Walker Bay can be enjoyed from here. From a bird-watching perspective however the rocky habitat along this gravel road should be scrutinised carefully for the elusive, but highly sought-after Cape Rockjumper and Ground Woodpecker. Also study the mature and rank stands of Proteas for another Fynbos special, the Protea Canary. A slow and patient drive along Rotary Drive comes highly recommended.