South Africa’s southern cape is known to offer fantastic whale-watching opportunities. What makes whale-watching in this region such an exciting activity is the fact that, by simply standing at the shore, you can participate!
South Africa’s shores are home to all nine of the great whale species, but it is the Southern Right Whale that is most commonly seen. These whales visit our shores between May and December.
Whale-watching in Hermanus
Hermanus, along the beautiful shores of Walker Bay, is the official whale-watching capital of the world. A popular holiday destination, Hermanus has spectacular scenery. Surrounded by majestic mountains and indigenous fynbos, it is the heart of the whale coast, offering the best land-based whale-watching in the world.
Between New Harbour and Grotto Beach, the best whale-watching points can be found along concrete cliff paths that line the coast. Here, spectators can be treated to phenomenal, up-close views of these whales that come from the Antarctica to calf. Sightings can occur within 10 metres of the coast!
So synonymous with whale-watching is Hermanus, that a festival is held in honour of this activity. The annual Whale Festival, held usually in September, is highly popular and attracts over 100, 000 visitors. Created to raise awareness and to help protect marine life, the Hermanus Whale Festival is the only enviro-arts festival in South Africa. Musicians, crafters, sports celebrities and thousands of keen whale-watchers come together to celebrate the festival.
This year’s festival drew over 130 000 visitors to Hermanus. Events included the Whales and Wheels Classic Car Show, paintball, Wines of Hermanus and Overberg wine region, kids’ craft market and Whale half marathon. But it is the whales that caused thousands of visitors to line up at the cliff tops around the bay and wait in eager anticipation. The whales are always the star attractions of the event and cause visitors to return to Hermanus year after year.
Other activities in Hermanus
If you’re drawn to Hermanus for its whale sightings, there are plenty of reasons for you to stay and explore this quaint, pretty town. Activities include horse riding, paragliding, kayaking, shark cage diving, fishing, hiking, plane trips, swimming and sunbathing. There are many opportunities for retail therapy with a great selection of galleries, fashion boutiques and jewellery shops. There are many markets, such as the Fernkloof Farmers’ Market, Hermanuspietersfontein Boeremark and Lemm’s Corner Craft Market which are held every Saturday and the Onrus Market held once a month.
Southern Right Whales
Southern Right Whales are black with pale, brownish callosities. They are stately creatures that are extremely intelligent, graceful, gentle and majestic. They live for between 90 and 100 years. The whales migrate south from the sub-Antarctic water during the summer, in search of more food, and north during winter and spring to mate, calve and rear their young. Female whales calve nurse their young for up to three months in sheltered bays. They can be seen interacting in these sheltered bays and coves close inshore and near river mouths.
The art of whale watching
When looking to sight a whale, look for the blow or sprout – a tall, smoky plume lasting a few seconds. This is the whale breathing out before it surfaces. If you see a whale thrust high out of the water and fall back with a great splash, you were lucky enough to see a whale breaching.