Consider leisurely strolls along the Hermanus Cliff Path that can be accessed at several places in the village. It allows whale and dolphin watching at its best combined with really good opportunities to watch coastal, fynbos, forest and garden birds. Southern Tchagra and a variety of fynbos specials are often encountered – watch out for interesting gulls and terns however and always check for pelagic species out to sea during stormy weather. Keep in mind that various safe parking areas are available from Main Road and that shorter walks allowing casual bird-watching can be considered.
The Cliff Path was originally constructed by the Hermanus Botanical Society, and is now maintained by the Cliff Path Management Group (CPMG). The CPMG was responsible for the resurfacing of the entire path through contributions from the Overstrand Municipality and private donations. Certain sections of the cliff path as well as sections of the Klein River estuary form part of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, managed by the Overstrand Municipality.
The Hermanus Cliff Path follows the rugged and coastline from the New Harbour in the west to the Klein River estuary in the east. The Westcliff and village seafront sections from the New Harbour to Protea Road and from Kraal Rock to Kwaaiwater are mostly wheelchair and pushchair-friendly. Of the best land-based whale watching in the world is available along the cliff path from June to November, and this, together with excellent birding opportunities make hiking along the cliff path a must when visiting the region.
The diversity of vegetation and habitat types hosts an array of wonderful bird species. The coastal Fynbos along the entire length of the cliff path offer endemic species such as the Cape Grassbird, Cape Spurfowl, Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird, a well as the much sought-after Southern Tchagra. Other endemic or near-endemic birds that occur abundantly are the Cape Bulbul, Fiscal Flycatcher, Karoo Prinia, Cape Sparrow, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Weaver and Cape White-eye. Other common species include the Bokmakierie, Cape Canary, Cape Robin-Chat, Streaky-headed Seedeater and Olive Thrush.
Large tern day roosts may be found at several spots along the cliff path during summer months. These roosts are usually dominated by vast numbers of Common, Sandwich and Swift Terns, although Arctic and Roseate Terns may sometimes be located. The most accessible site to view this spectacle is the area between the Windsor Hotel and Gearing’s Point. This spot caused a sensation in birding circles in February 2016 when an extremely rare and vagrant Elegant Tern spent some time in this mixed roost. This species has again been spotted here occasionally and local birders are always on the lookout for these vagrant and hugely sought-after species during summer months. The Antarctic Tern, South Africa’s only winter migrant, is often on view at this site between May and September.
Further east from the town center the Cliff Path follows Main road between Sea Road and Mollergren Park. The alley along Mollergren Park is of particular interest as it hosts a diversity of species associated with well-wooded habitats. Be on the lookout for the Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, African Dusky Flycatcher, Sombre Greenbul, African Olive Pigeon and Cardinal Woodpecker. The Spotted Eagle-Owl, African Harrier Hawk and Black Sparrowhawk are also recorded regularly. In summer the Diderick and Red-chested Cuckoos, as well as the African Paradise Flycatcher cause excitement. The area in front of Mollergren Park further offers large terns roost at this time of year.
The cliff path allows for outstanding vistas of often violent seas and stupendous coastal Fynbos as it meanders eastwards towards Sievers Punt, Kwaaiwater and the mouth of the Mossel River. The latter deserves special mention as a parking area is available and the site offers a selection of coastal, estuarine and Fynbos-related species in one spot. African Black Oystercatchers are particularly abundant here. From here it passes the Langbaai bathing beach, the Kammabaai and Voëlklip beaches towards the main Grotto beach. Piet-se-Bos affords the same species composition as described under the initial well-wooded area at Mollergren Park. The cliff path forms part of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve and no camping, fires or picking of flowers are permitted. Cycling is strictly prohibited, dogs must be on a leash and dog droppings must be removed from the cliff path. A word of caution – always be aware of wave action when walking along the cliff path.
Finally the estuary at the mouth of the Klein River adds a wide selection of waterbirds to the cliff path birding experience. The most practical spot to use to explore the birding delights of the area is at the parking area at Prawn Flats (34° 24’50.93”S 19° 18’18.58”E). The White-breasted Cormorant, Yellow-billed Duck, Egyptian Goose, African Black Oystercatcher and Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gulls occur abundantly, with Grey-headed Gull being found far less often. The Red-knobbed Coot, Cape Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, African Darter and Little Grebe are also very common. Good numbers of wading Greater Flamingos, African Spoonbills and Black-winged Stilts are also present for most parts of the year. The Cape Shoveler and Cape Teal occur commonly, with Red-billed Teal being present far less often. All of the region’s herons, kingfishers and resident warblers are also available. The African Fish Eagle and African Marsh Harrier sometimes put in spectacular appearances and the Caspian and Swift Terns patrol the waterways throughout the year.
Common migrants on record include the Common Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kite and Black Sawwing, together with all of the swallows, martins and swifts to be found in the region. Besides the common resident plovers the waders found most often during summer months are the Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Common Whimbrel.
Species that are seen at the Klein River estuary far less often are the Pied Avocet, Lesser Flamingo, Western Osprey, Great White Pelican and African Snipe, even though there is always a chance of finding these special birds. Recent vagrant sightings near the mouth are that of the Goliath Heron and Squacco Heron.
This brief description certainly illustrates the vast birding potential along the Hermanus Cliff Path and the Klein River Estuary. Time should be spent along here when Hermanus is visited as the species diversity, spectacular coastal Fynbos and outstanding seascapes represent the essence of the Cape Whale Coast nature experience.
The Hermanus Cliff Path and the Klein River estuary represent two of the many sites along the Cape Whale Coast shoreline where the adverse impact of plastics, fishing line and other pollutants on our environment in general and our coastal birds in particular often seem obvious. Birds are regularly severely injured through entanglement with various forms of ocean litter and the negative visual impact of the litter could have detrimental impacts on tourism to the region.
The members of BirdLife Overberg recently launched the CleanMarine campaign that features various projects such as regular monthly coastal clean-ups, the erection of bins to collect discarded fishing line and warning placards to inform the public about the presence of African Black Oystercatchers and White-Fronted Plovers breeding, or raising their chicks along our beaches and rocky shores.
Regular quarterly Co-ordinated Waterbird Counts (CWACs) are also undertaken at the Klein River Estuary by members of BirdLife Overberg and their partners. Find out more about these projects at one of the links in the dropdown menu below and assist us by cooperating, thus contributing to the conservation of our beautiful coastline for future generations.
Please report all injured or oiled coastal birds and animals to the Cape Whale Coast stranding network at 072 598 7117 immediately. This dedicated service is provided by the African Penguin and Seabirds Sanctuary (APSS) of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust in Kleinbaai.
GENERAL COMMENT: “here are various ‘firsts’ about the Hermanus Cliff Path. It is the first:
- … cliff path in the Overstrand to be part of a proclaimed Nature Reserve.
- … to have been started by private individuals.
- … to be jointly managed by a private organisation (the Cliff Path Management Group) and a Municipality.
- … (and only) one to have raised more than R2 million in private grants and bequests for its work.
It is no chance that the Path is one of the best known and most loved attractions in Hermanus. As it is part of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve all the laws that protect the environment in a nature reserve also apply to the Path. No planting or gardening is allowed in the Cliff Path Nature Reserve. It is also illegal to cut or trim any vegetation, especially milkwood trees that have special protection under the law.