The Western Cape is one of the top whale watching destinations of the world – rated number two by UK’s The Telegraph, and we are particularly lucky to have some of the best spots not too far off from our capital of Cape Town where we can witness these glorious creatures amidst their annual migratory patterns.
Every year, southern right whales travel to our shores from Antartica, treating locals to a spectacle of breaching, blowing, frolicking and fluking, amongst other playful camaraderie. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the occasional humpback or orca, as well as the ever elusive Bryde’s Whale with its unmistakable, ridged underside.
While whale-watching season usually falls between June and December, peak viewing often takes place between August and October, as the whales tend to calve during this period. Here are some of the best locations in the Cape to get up-close (and be completely enamored) with our majestic yearly visitors.
Rated as one of the top whale-watching destinations in the world by the World Wildlife Fund, Hermanus offers fantastic land-based viewing opportunities as the whales come within close proximity to the shoreline. A 12km cliff path with useful exploratory signage, functions as a guide for those who want to follow these creatures on foot. During the whale watching season, a Whale Crier alerts watchers to the presence of whales by blowing on a kelp horn.
Popular viewing terraces include the Old Harbour and Gearing Point, but if you’re up for something more adventurous, you may prefer to hop on a boat and do a special aerial or guided sea-kayaking trip. The Hermanus Whale Watching Festival is a fun and celebratory way to immerse into the whale watching fever that takes over the town. This year, the festival takes place over three days from 29 September to 1 October 2017 and as always promises good food, live entertainment and awareness of all things cetacean.
Hermanus also forms part of the Cape Whale Coast, along with the towns of Gansbaai, Stanford and Hangklip-Kleinmond. The Cape Whale Coast is in fact made up of a collection of villages, farms, rivers, bays, coves and valleys – each filled with its own special magic. Visitors can explore the whales, sharks, wine routes, fynbos, birding, golf courses, penguins, and many adventure activities on offer in this beautiful region that makes for a rejuvenating family getaway.
Distance from Cape Town 2 hours
2. False Bay
Not too far out from the Mother City lies the pristine False Bay coastline. Populated with a myriad of high vantage points, False Bay is great way to spot whales in the distance, thanks to the expansive views. Some spots with a great track record include Boyes Drive between St James and Kalk Bay, Chapmans’s Peak, Cape Point’s Rooikrans, Clarence Drive and even Baden Powell Drive – some of which allow you to enjoy the sightings from the comfort of your car. Don’t forget the binoculars! Noordehoek, Kommetjie, Fish Hoek, Hout Bay and Simon’s Town are a few other viewing points to try. What’s more, if you embark on the train trip from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town, you may be able to catch some whales frolicking in the water through the carriage window on your commute.
Distance from Cape Town 1 hour
3. Fish Hoek
The coastal path that is Jager’s Walk, nestled alongside the ocean and a curve of granite boulders and rocks, offers a beautiful birds-eye view of the whales, as it meanders towards Glaincairn and all the way to Simon’s Town. Whales are known to visit here and often beach themselves on Fish Hoek beach, creating a spectacle for locals who flock to the scene.
Distance from Cape Town approx. 40 minutes
A quick drive up the West Coast takes you to the small fishing town that is Yzerfontein. Famous for it’s pristine beaches and snoek and crayfish population, it also caters to whale-watchers with a number of lookout points from the main beach and above the harbour. During spring time, it is also a great place for wild flower viewing as the sand dunes and terrain are painted with brightly coloured, indigenous flowers. Together with the West Coast National Park relatively close-by, your best best is to make a day (or two) out of it to experience all the attractions that Yzerfontein has to offer.
Distance from Cape Town 1 hour
5. Cape Agulhus
Spottings of over 50 pairs of calves and cows have been reported in the southern most tip of Africa. The five-day Whale Trail is a remarkable hiking experience that takes you through cliffs, dunes, coasts and beaches, predominantly in the De Hoop Nature Reserve, which is strongly associated with the southern right whale. The trail has become so popular in fact that bookings have to made two years in advance!
Distance from Cape Town 2h 30 minutes
Situated in the Breede River mouth and surrounded by untouched white sand, beaches and stunning fynbos, Witsands is known as the ‘Whale Nursery of South Africa’ due to the large schools of whales that often migrate to mate and birth in the Saint Sebastian Bay. Because of this, boat-based whale watching is not permitted, but the land-based viewing is particularly good as the whales make their way right up to the shoreline once their young are born. The calves are particularly playful, providing great entertainment to those who’ve travelled from a far.
Distance from Cape Town 3h 30 minutes
Photography Ashwynn Baartman/Southern Right Charters