The small fishing village of Hermanus, two hours east of Cape Town, is one of the most accessible places in the world for land-based whale-watching. Each year, between June and November, the Southern Right whale migrates from the cold waters of the Antarctic to calf and mate in the warmer, more sheltered waters of the South African coast. The female Southern Right produces one calf every 3–5 years and remains with it until it is strong enough to make the return journey south.
These enormous marine mammals were called ‘Right whales’ because they were considered the ‘right’ whale to hunt because they often swim within sight of shore, are slow swimmers, full of oil, and buoyant after death. They were hunted to the verge of extinction in the 19th and early 20th centuries until a worldwide ban on Right whaling was agreed in 1937.
Despite the illegal whaling that continued in violation of the ban until 1973, the Southern Right is making a slow recovery and large numbers can be seen cavorting in the waves from Cape Town right along to Plettenberg Bay. That Hermanus is recognised as the whale-watching capital of South Africa is largely due to the facts that the town took the initiative and markets itself well.
There are plenty of shops and restaurants to fall back on when you want a break from whale-watching, and a number of cliff-top guest houses. You will find our favourites listed under ‘accommodation’.
In season, the cliff wall, high above the old harbour in Hermanus, is full of people looking intently out to sea, with binoculars or without. Unless the sea is very rough, you are fairly certain to have good whale viewing. You don’t have to stay in this spot for the best viewing. There is a seven-kilometre concrete cliff path all along the rocky shore of Walker Bay, from New Harbour to Grotto Beach, which marks the start of a long stretch of sandy beach.
This beach ends at the clifftop settlement of De Kelders, another excellent place for land-based whale-watching, and close to the superb Grootbos Nature Reserve, in our opinion the finest place to stay in the area.
Whale-Watching by boat
You can go out on a whale-watching boat from both Hermanus and De Kelders. The boats are strictly licensed and have to be careful not to disturb the whales. It is often pretty rough, sometimes too rough to launch the boats. The best time to go is very early in the morning. The boats also go to Dyer Island, where you will see penguins, a 60,000 strong Cape Fur seal colony, dolphins and many different seabirds.
Humpbacks also migrate through the region from May to December, and Bryde's whales are permanent residents of the waters slightly further offshore. Killer whales are seen occasionally.
- Taste gourmet food and superb wines
- Watch the breaching whales
- Dare to dive with a Great White Shark
- Enjoy twice daily drives in search of big game
Birkenhead House is perched on the cliffs between two of the best beaches in the area.Once immersed in the atmosphere of this stylish boutique hotel, you feel utterly carefree and allow yourself to enjoy the pleasure of whatever your South Africa adventure may bring. Just as the décor combines modern with antique in a successful eclectic mix, so the staff carry off relaxed yet exemplary ser...
This award-winning, ocean-front 4-star guesthouse has views that will take your breath away.It is the ideal choice for those looking for whale watching in a quieter and more relaxed atmosphere whilst on holiday in South Africa. De Kelders is a small village near Gansbaai overlooking Walker Bay. The surrounding area has magnificent fynbos (wild flowers), white beaches, horse riding, golf courses, w...
Just 160 km east of Cape Town, the 2000-hectare Grootbos Nature Reserve nestles in fynbos-clad hills above Walker Bay, where the Southern Right Whale breeds each year. The views of the dunes, the sea and the Cape of Good Hope are breathtaking. This small lodge provides tranquility in a unique and beautiful setting and a wide choice of activities. Grootbos was the vision of the Lutzeyer family, esp...
Lavender Manor is a four-star guest house in a brilliant position above Hermanus’ Blue Flag Grotto Beach. It has great whale-watching across Walker Bay, stunning mountain views and is within walking distance of many superb beaches. It is in the village, just outside the town centre, well positioned for all the local attractions such as golfing, visits to local vineyards, nature walks and, of...
Ocean Eleven is a colonial style guest house that sits on top of the magnificent Hermanus cliffs.The guesthouse has a relaxed, intimate and unfussy atmosphere, and one of the best locations in Hermanus: the house is on the seaward side of the coastal road, directly on the cliff front, so you can walk out of the lovely gardens right onto miles of cliff paths.The main house has colonial elegance, wi...
This popular owner run property is in the protected sanctuary of Schulphoek Bay, with spectacular sea views and only 5 km from Hermanus Town. The seven suites have been individually decorated with many thoughtful touches. An open-plan kitchen, with full time chef, specialises in fresh seafood and venison dishes, and guests can recuperate in the heated saltwater pool and enjoy wellness therapies. T...
- See the stunning scenery from Cape Town and along the garden route
- Opportunity to see whales from Hermanus
- Search for the big five in the game rich Timbavati game reserve at &Beyond Ngala Private Game Reserve
- Explore Cape Town's Table Mountain, Wine lands and Cape Peninsula
- Safari in the stunning non-malarial Eastern Cape
- Follow the Garden Route to Plettenberg Bay and Knysna
- Travel with an experienced and knowledgeable professional guide
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