Whale Watching in South Africa

Written by Daniel Koopowitz

Grand Africa Safaris > Blogs > Whale Watching in South Africa

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A South Africa safari normally brings to mind the Big Five, safari vehicles and the thrill of the African bush. However, little do some know that a short trip from Cape Town offers an entirely different but equally impressive safari experience. Clients can swap the prides of roaring lions in the Kruger National Park with breaching pods of calving whales in the Indian Ocean. Better yet, combine the two.

Home to at least 37 species of whales and dolphins, South Africa has been named one of the best land-based whale watching destinations in the world. Be it from land or sea, the coastline plays host to countless shallow bays filled with these majestic mammals waving their tails and breaching playfully. Whether your client prefers to whale-watch from the coast or by boat, our experts at Grand Africa Safaris are here to help with a few pointers on the ultimate whale watching experience for clients traveling to South Africa.

Where can you see whales in South Africa?

Whale watching by boat - a great option for whale watching in South Africa.
Whale watching by boat

Nestled behind the Kleinriver mountains, above cascading cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean, lies the small Western Cape fishing town of Hermanus. Rated as one of the 12 best whale watching locations on the planet, the Hermanus whale watching season is a definite must for clients visiting South Africa during the months of June and November. Whether staring down from the coastline, looking out from your hotel window or sunbathing on the beach, chances are your client will see a Southern Right Whale show off and launch itself out of the water or catch a glimpse of the flick of a Humpback Whale’s tail. Hermanus is only a short 1 hour and 40 minutes drive from Cape Town. If your client is pressed for time, they can consider making their whale watching experience a day tour.

When does the Hermanus whale watching season start?

The Hermanus coastline - the top place for whale watching in South Africa.
The Hermanus coastline

The Hermanus whale watching season is in full swing between the months of June and November. The calm bays and coves of the Southern Coast, in particular Walker Bay, offer shelter to pods of whales that migrate from the icy waters of the Antarctic to mate, calve and raise their young. The Cape’s cold winter months bring the calving female whales, with the males following behind for the warmer months of spring. Whale expeditions can range anywhere from one to three hours with all boats being allowed to spend 20 minutes with each pod before moving on.

The annual Hermanus Whale Festival takes place in September or October every year and celebrates the return of the Southern Right Whales to the coastal waters of Southern Africa. Whilst September is said to be the most popular time to see whales, it simultaneously becomes the most popular destination for travelers as thousands of people descend upon the town.

Which other destinations offer whale watching opportunities?

A cyclist and keen whale watcher in De Hoop Nature Reserve - another wonderful place for whale watching in South Africa.
A cyclist and keen whale watcher in De Hoop Nature Reserve

Though Hermanus is considered to be the Whale Capital of the world, the less well-trodden area of De Hoop is probably where your client will be able to spot large numbers without having to navigate sizable crowds. In fact, in August 2018, a record number of over 1,116 whales were spotted on the De Hoop coastline alone.

Located further up the coast, three and a half hours from Cape Town and two hours from Hermanus, the De Hoop Nature Reserve consists of 84,000 acres of fynbos, white sandy beaches, dunes, wetlands and mountains – making it a haven for both cyclists and hikers alike. If your client is after a more adventurous trip, they can explore the reserve on the 5 day Whale Trail. The route winds through coastal and mountain trails, offering plenty of opportunities for whale watching in between moderate to strenuous hiking.

The whale season in South Africa is a unique opportunity for travelers to witness these gentle giants in their natural environment from land or sea. Get in touch with one of our travel experts at Grand Africa Safaris today to plan a memorable whale watching safari in South Africa for your client.