Cape Whale Coast, Western Cape

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Western Cape Attractions

Cape Whale Coast, Western Cape

Whale watching in Hermanus
Whale watching in Hermanus

The coming of the whales to the Western Cape's southern coastline, also known as the Cape Whale Coast, every year between June and November, not only creates a stir, but brings to our shores a large, intelligent and remarkable giant of the sea and the only mammal to have adapted to life in the open oceans.

Whales, including the Southern Right Whale and less commonly the Bryde’s (pronounced 'broodess') and Humpback Whale, are frequently sited along the Cape Overberg Coast from Stony Point near Betty’s Bay, along the cliff paths of Kleinmond, Onrus, Walker Bay, the De Hoop Nature Reserve and Witsand. These gentle giants spend summer feeding around Antarctica and then migrate thousands of miles to our waters where the sheltered bays of the South African coast provide perfect refuge to mate and calve.

Did you know?
The Southern Right Whale is called such because it was the ‘right’ whale to hunt as it floats when dead; is rich in oil and baleen, and is relatively slow moving.

The Overberg coastline is the meeting place of two oceans - the Indian and Atlantic. Two major ocean currents - the cold Benguela wells up in the west and the warm Agulhas Current in the east - create a number of conditions, which, combined with South Africa’s proximity to the southern ocean, result in a rich marine life including as many as 37 species of whales and dolphins to South Africa’s coastline. By comparison, the whole north Atlantic attracts only 28 species.

Whale breaching off De Kelders
Whale breaching off De Kelders
The Southern Right Whale can weigh up to 60 tonnes, averages 14 metres in length, lives to about 100 years and has the most highly-evolved mammalian brain on earth. They are huge - rounder and heavier than the Humpback or Bryde’s whale - and only smaller than the blue whale. They are characterised by their gentle slowness, lack of dorsal fin and rough patches of skin called callosities on their heads. These are covered with whale lice and, as each whale has a unique callosity pattern, are often used to identify individual whales.

The Southern Right Whale population was virtually decimated during the whaling years - an estimated 20 000 of these beautiful mammals are said to have been slaughtered. There has been active protection in South African waters since 1935 and the population is slowly restoring itself. There are now close to 4 000 of these languid beasts - a large proportion of which grace our shores every year.

They swim within 200 metres of the shore-line between June and November (as opposed to the Humpback which prefer deeper waters) and sightings of mother and calf are especially common. In Walker Bay, in places like De Kelders, they come as close as 20-30 metres from the shore and never fail to fill hearts and minds with wonder at their magnificence.

Did you know?
Female Southern Right Whales calve every three years - one year of gestation, one year to raise the calf and one year of rest!

Cape Whale Coast

Catching a glimpse of the whales

The entire Cape Overberg coastline offers generous sightings of the whales and the Walker Bay area, between Gansbaai and Hermanus, is a whale sanctuary. Hermanus arguably offers the best land-based whale watching in the world. For this position it competes only with Plettenberg Bay, further along the coast. Not only does Hermanus boast the world’s only ‘whale crier’, but there is a 14 km cliff path that offers a bird’s eye view of the 100 or so Southern Right Whales that visit Walker Bay every year and often come within five to ten metres of the coast. Hermanus celebrates the arrival of the whales with an event-filled annual Whale Festival in late September.

Famous cliff paths in Hermanus
Famous cliff paths in Hermanus
The 'big two' town of Gansbaai offers both Great White Shark and Southern Right Whale viewing, east and west of the Danger Point peninsula respectively and De Kelders, a suburb of Gansbaai, offers a hiking trail along its cliffs which allows fantastic views of the protected coves in which the whales wallow and approach very close to the shore. Cape Agulhas is equally rewarding as the bay attracts a number of pairs of mother and calf at a time and Pearly Beach has a protective, shallow bay offering the whales a sanctuary in which to mate and calve.

Witsand, in St Sebastian Bay, has earned the reputation of the most important whale nursery on the African Coast and one of the greatest concentrations of Southern Right Whales comes here to calve every year. Boat access in this area, and the breeding grounds of the De Hoop Nature Reserve, is obviously severely restricted. Watching the whales from a boat is another experience entirely. The Southern Right Whale tends towards natural curiosity and venturing close to the boats is not uncommon. Failing this, you’re bound to evidence a playful display of raised heads, tails and flippers as the whales acknowledge your presence. Characteristic behaviour is resting head down in the water with tails in the air, called ‘sailing’ or ‘headstanding’.

Did you know?
South Africa doesn’t allow boats any closer than 300 metres from a whale without a permit and 50 metres with a permit - although this doesn’t stop the whales from coming close to the boats themselves, which they often do! Approaching whales is done quietly, without motors and at ‘no wake speed’. We are also the only country in the world, so far, with an established environmental court (in Hermanus) where poachers of protected marine species are tried for their offences.

The number of legal boat-based permits is limited. South Africa’s coast is divided into sections, for whale watching, and each section has only one permit holder for boat cruises. Boats are also not allowed anywhere near cow-calf pairs. If this does happen accidentally, guides know to leave the area straight away at a constant slow ‘no wake speed’ so that as little intrusion as possible occurs.

Southern Right Whales tend to leave our waters by late October, although some stay through November, and sightings are still made even as late as December. Just as they leave our waters, the Humpback whales and their calves arrive and stay until the end of December or early January. But the Humpback does not mate in our waters and are thus less easy to see.

The Overberg coastline is without doubt one of the most exciting parts of the country to view whales and few visitors leave disappointed or untouched by the experience.

Whale Watching Hotline:
Phone +27 (0)28 312-2629 for up to the minute info on where to see the whales.

"Whales are different. They live in families, they play in the moonlight, they talk to one another and they care for one another in distress. They are awesome and mysterious. In their cold, wet, and forbidding world they are complete and successful. They deserve to be saved, not as potential meatballs but as a source of encouragement to mankind." - Victor B. Scheffer (former chairman of US Marine Mammal Commission)

Cape Whale Coast

"Must See" Attractions on the Cape Whale Coast

Hermanus Whale Crier

Hermanus on the Cape Whale Coast has its very own whale crier, and, what’s more, Hermanus lays claim to the only whale crier in the world. The popular town of Hermanus, connected directly to the Mother City by the R43 and N2, is famous for whale watching, and the whale festival ... more information

Hermanus Whale Festival

The Hermanus Whale Festival, the only Enviro-Arts festival in South Africa, is held annually to celebrate the return of the Southern Right whales to the waters of Walker Bay, our magnificent environment and the arrival of Spring! Hermanus, known as the best land based ... more information

Platbos Indigenous Forest

Just off the coast of Gansbaai you will find Africa's southernmost forest. Platbos is an ancient, indigenous forest that lies on the slopes of the Baviaanspoort Hills on the Grootbos Road just outside Stanford, the largest remaining fragment of the orginal Swartkransberg Forests - lowland ... more information

Baardskeerdersbos Art Route

The little village has attracted a collection of artists - at least 12 of them, in fact. Since 2008 the group have opened their homes and their hearts three times a year to introduce people to the local painters, photographers, sculptors, printmakers and ceramicists. Artist Niël Jonker has added bread ... more information

Grootbos Nature Reserve

Grootbos Nature Reserve is spectacularly situated on the fynbos and forest clad hills that overlook the whale-watching haven of Walker Bay. This multi-award winning 1750 ha reserve is home to more than 740 different species of plants is a nature lover’s paradise. The Cape Fynbos Kingdom is ... more information

The Whale Coast Route

The Whale Route begins in Cape Town and follows the particularly pretty R44, also known as Clarence Drive, through the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. It is a popular drive that easily rivals Chapman's Peak in Cape Town as one of the most scenic in the country - views over False Bay are incredible ... more information

Walker Bay Wine Estates

The Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley is one of the most productive regions in terms of the production of wines. It has the ideal climate, as the icy wind from the Atlantic Ocean cools it down. In addition, the mountains, which surround the valley, lock in clouds and the resultant ... more information

Cape Whale Coast

Featured Things To Do on the Cape Whale Coast

See the Whale Show at the Whale Museum

Where: Hermanus
How much (per person): R1 to R100

The Whale Show is an audiovisual presentation shown daily at the Whale Museum in Hermanus. Noel Ashton, using his paintings and scientific i ... more information

White Shark Cage Diving

Where: Gansbaai
How much (per person): On Request

In South Africa, we are privileged to have access to great white sharks … if you know where to go, and when. The general public, too, can ... more information

Cape Whale Coast

Holiday Accommodation on the Cape Whale Coast

For accommodation on the Cape Whale Coast see:
ArnistonBettys BayBrenton On SeaDana BayDe HoopDe Kelders
GansbaaiGlentanaGordons BayGreat BrakHermanusHerolds Bay
KleinbaaiKleinmondL'AgulhasMossel BayPearly BeachPlettenberg Bay
Pringle BaySandbaaiStill BayStruisbaaiVermontWildernessWitsand

Or to see all accommodation in this region at once, visit Cape Whale Coast accommodation.

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On you'll find plenty of South Africa accommodation options. We've also listed nearby activities for any town or city in which you plan to stay. And the big bonus is that you deal directly with the venues - no fees involved. With eight world heritage sites, a multitude of game reserves and national parks, over 1350 ha of national botanical gardens, and exotic combinations of landscapes, people, history and culture, South Africa offers the traveller a unique and inspiring experience. Enjoy your trip to the Cape Whale Coast!
Information about the Cape Whale Coast in Western Cape, South Africa
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