The Old Harbour Museum began in 1972, with the first official curator, Mr Guy Clark, being appointed in 1973. Once the repairs had been completed, old fishing boats were repainted and placed on display outside whilst the indoor museum was still being planned and built. Finally it was built on the slopes of the Old Harbour, where you would have once found fishing shacks from the earlier days of Hermanus.
The present museum is made up of two sections: the Historical Old Fishing Harbour and Fisherman's Village. The indoor displays include items used in the fishing industry during the earlier part of the 20th century, the “Selkirk Collection” (a collection from the world famous angler and shark catcher), a variety of aquariums that display the sea life found around the Hermanus area, specifically the Intertidal Zone as well as a massive section on whales and whaling.
Before the New Harbour was planned and built, the Old Harbour was the centre of activity in Hermanuspietersfontein. From as long ago as 1857 the Old Harbour sheltered fishing boats and even their owners at times. In 1970 the Old Harbour was declared a National Monument but was never again used as it had been in the past. This was mostly because of the sudden growth of Hermanus and the need for a larger harbour to house the influx of fishing, touring and leisure craft in the bay. When the Old Harbour was still in use the boats often had to wait outside the harbour itself, battling strong winds and stormy conditions before they were able to take refuge in the shelter of the cove. For over a century the dangerous task of docking the boats was a spectacle that both locals and visitors alike would gather to watch, as it took both skill and bravado to manoeuvre the craft in between swells before they could land their craft. Their catch would be gutted and sold right there, or carried to the above areas. The boats would need 8 to 16 men to carry to the same areas for storage and repairs.
The Old Harbour Museum includes an open-air museum, which is open 24 hours a day, that displays boats, the old sea wall, brine tanks and “bokkom” stands as well as the indoor museum. The cottage also houses a photographic exhibition of Old Hermanus which dates back as far as the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th. These prints were created from glass negatives and were taken by the famous photographer T.D Ravenscroft, whose studio was in the Main Road.
It is also said that without the Old Harbour there wouldn't have been Hermanuspietersfontein, as this cove was the refuge for any and all passing boats. This small cove that has now become the birth place of the famous whale watching village of Hermanus.