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Selected as one of the top 12 whale watching locations in the world by WWF, and with a location easily accessible from Cape Town, Hermanus is a prime destination for those hoping for a close encounter with some of the largest animals on our planet. Hermanus is a small town on the coast of the Western Cape province of South Africa, but during whale season, it becomes the whale-spotting capital of the country. Visitors from all over the world descend to this attractive former fishing village to see the famous Southern right whales that come here every year to mate and calve. For anyone interested in seeing these graceful giants in their natural habitat, whale watching in Hermanus makes for an unmissable trip.
- September to November is the best time to spot Southern right whales.
- July through November is a good season to see Humpback whales. Bryde’s whales are present all year round.
Hermanus will not disappoint if you are here for a whale-watching tour; there are many options to choose from. The small town has some of the best spots on the planet to see whales from land; boat trips are available for those who hope to witness these great cetaceans at close hand; and aerial tours can be organised for those who want to get a different view and try something more unique.
- Land based Whale-watching tours
The 12-km Cliff Path starting near the New Harbour and heading east takes in several excellent spots for land-based whale watching in Hermanus. At some places, whales are known to approach to within five metres of the shore and this can offer an excellent opportunity to see them up close without the need to head out to sea. This is a good option for those hoping to see whales independently without joining a tour but it can also make for a memorable excursion for anyone wishing to explore the coastline before or after a boat tour.
- Boat Tours
Although sightings can never be guaranteed, it is very rare for boats to be unable to locate whales. Boats are permitted to approach to within 50 metres of the whales but, being naturally inquisitive creatures, they often swim much closer than this, offering the chance for some truly intimate encounters. Hermanus whale watching tours (like this) usually range from around 90 minutes to three hours, depending on how long it takes to find the whales. The chance of seeing whales on a boat trip is higher than from land.
For the more adventurous of spirit, kayaking tours are available which allow you to explore the coastline and get close to local marine life including seals, dolphins, penguins and, of course, whales.
- Aerial Tours
To experience the whales in a different way, it is possible to take to the skies in a light aircraft to spot them from above. While whale watching from a plane doesn’t provide the intimate contact of a boat tour, it allows for a greater appreciation of the size of the animals. One of the many advantages of whale watching from air is the possibility of seeing an entire family of whales, usually a mother whale and her calf, instead of just one or two at a time. Flights usually last half an hour and offer the chance to witness whales playing, mating, and breaching in a way that is not possible from land or a boat.
Every year, around the end of September and the start of October, at the peak of the whale-spotting season, Hermanus holds the only eco-marine festival in South Africa, the Hermanus Whale Festival. The festival is a celebration of the marine world and features a variety of community and cultural activities, food, sports events, kids’ entertainment, a music stage and a vintage car show among others. There is an interactive marine-themed eco-village and the focus is on educating the young about the marine environment. The event highlights the importance of preserving and protecting the unique aquatic resource that makes Hermanus the place it is.
Hermanus is located around 100km from Cape Town. The easiest way to travel to Hermanus is by hiring a car for the hour-and-a-half drive. Cars can be hired at the airport at Cape Town. Some tour operators can also organise transport to and from the airport.
- There is no best time of day to see the whales and trips are usually offered at several times each day. The best way to choose is by looking at the weather forecast and your own personal schedule since the whales are active the whole time.
- It is highly recommended to book in advance since you may well find boats fully booked if you just turn up on the day.
- There is no guarantee of seeing whales but during the peak whale season, it is uncommon for boats to be unable to locate whales.
- The region is also famous for its wine production and visitors should find time to sample the local product.
- Hermanus is the only town in the world with a full-time ‘whale crier’, a well-loved tradition dating back to 1991. When the crier spots a whale in the ocean, he blows on his kelp horn to alert tourists to the whales’ presence.
Hermanus is one of the world’s premier whale watching destinations and offers the opportunity to see Southern right whales, as well as humpbacks and Bryde’s whales, from land, sea and from the skies above. Perhaps when people think of a South Africa tour, they first think of spotting big game animals on safari — but for anyone interested in encountering the gentle giants of the oceans, whale watching in Hermanus is an equally essential experience.