When booking a holiday to Southern Africa, most visitors come to see the wildlife and glimpse at least one of the Big Five. Elephant, lion, rhino and hippo, may be impressive in size, but there’s a far larger mammal that migrates back and forth along the Southern African coast that is equally awe-inspiring to see in the wild. Every year, Southern Right and Humpback whales complete a long journey from the south and can be seen frolicking along the Southern African shoreline whether from land or by boat.
During the winter months, these pods have to leave their feeding grounds rich in krill, in the Antarctic waters and head north. They arrive off the coast of South Africa in June and remain until November, where they mate, calve and frolic to the delight of many visitors who come especially to see these giants of the ocean. In fact, some parts of Southern Africa are considered to be the best in the world for land-based whale spotting.
So just where can you catch a glimpse of these gentle giants of the deep? Here are our five best whale watching sites in Southern Africa:
Even on a trip to Cape Town in the ‘off-peak’ months you can easily see whales during a day trip down to the Cape Peninsula. Driving back via Simon’s Town and False Bay, you have an excellent chance of spotting them from the comfort of your car on this scenic drive (especially from the elevated vantage point of Fish Hoek and St James). Pods of up to 50 Southern Right whales have been seen off the coast of Cape Agulhas.
We recommend that you spend the night at Rodwell House in St James, a beautifully restored 80 year old manor house boasting a fine collection of art and wines. And a great option for lunch is the Two Oceans Restaurant at Cape Point, where the view is magnificent and there are usually good sightings.
Cape West Coast
This coastline of the Cape is less busy and offers a different atmosphere to the mountains and vineyards, but has a pretty bay at Saldanha. Whales find their way here too and can be spotted slapping their tails at a variety of points including, Lambert’s Bay, Elands Bay, and Ysterfontein.
Paternoster is particularly charming with its whitewashed fisherman’s houses contrasting with colourful fishing boats with only deserted beaches, the turquoise waters of the Atlantic and the locals for company. It’s only 90 minutes drive away from Cape Town and we recommend staying at Abalone House, a boutique guesthouse, which elegantly blends eclectic decor with old worldly seaside charm.
When it comes to whale spotting coastal villages, Hermanus reigns supreme! It’s a popular seaside holiday town with a French Riviera character. Private homes and guesthouses are found sandwiched between pristine sandy beaches and coastal cliffs with fynbos clad mountains as a backdrop. Every year, in October, the annual Hermanus Whale Festival sets the town alive. Whales galore show up in Walker Bay especially for the party. You can go on a boat cruise that brings you within 50m of these magnificent marine mammals Even from Hermanus’s famous Cliff Path you will get some excellent sightings as they blow, breach and tail slap. For close-up whale encounters, Southern Right Charters offers boat-based whale watching from both Gansbaai and Hermanus in the whale season. The drive from Cape Town inland or along the scenic coast via Betty’s Bay is spectacular and has numerous fantastic vantage points for whale watching.
We suggest staying at Birkenhead House overlooking Walker Bay and with easy access to the beach and Cliff Path. Or stay at Grootbos, a five-star eco-friendly lodge situated outside of Hermanus in a private nature reserve with sweeping vistas of the fynbos and the ocean.
‘Plett’ is a popular family holiday destination with its lovely beaches and a myriad of fun activities offered on the nearby Garden Route. The Southern Right whales migrate up the coast to this pretty protected bay from June to November. The Humpbacks can be seen from November to February. Ocean Blue Adventures offers boat-based whale watching encounters We often book guests into The Robberg, a luxury guesthouse with a plum location right on Robberg’s beautiful Blue Flag Beach.
The Humpback also makes an appearance in these tropical waters further up the east coast of Africa. They can be seen in the Bazaruto Archipelago between June and October. We recommend staying at the Azura Benguerra Lodge, an eco-boutique retreat, located on the unspoilt white sandy beaches that Mozambique is famous for.
Whether you choose to visit all of our whale watching sites, or just a couple, seeing these incredible mammals in the ocean and following their migration must count as one of the most spectacular experiences.