Great opportunities to get close to wild animals in their natural environment in South Africa are safaris or whale watching tours.
Every year from approximately June to November humpback whales migrate from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to the North, passing the South African coast, to spend the winter in warmer waters around Mozambique. This is why South Africa is a hotspot for whale watchers.
During the “whale season” numerous whales migrate along the South African coast and whale watching in South Africa is possible at different places. While Bryde’s whales are rather shy animals and difficult to observe, humpback whales and Southern right whales appear at the water surface quite frequently.
One of their most spectacular behaviors is breaching. That is when a whale jumps out of the water, sometimes whirls around, to fall back into the water again. When a whale is spyhopping it moves its head up out of the water to look around. Sometimes whales slap there flippers (flippering) oder their flukes (lobtailing) onto the water surface.
In this article I tell you where you can go for whale watching in South Africa.
However, I do not claim to be complete. I’m sure that there are many more places for whale watching in South Africa.
Whale Watching in South Africa
Hermanus is probably the most famous place for whale watching in South Africa. It is located about two hours from Cape Town by car. Hermanus is very special as whales can be easily observed from land. The small town is also known as the “whale capital”. Between June and December numerous Southern right whales visit the Walker Bay in Hermaus. Thus, it is not surprising that Hermanus celebrates each year in September the Hermanus Whale Festival. Of course, it is also possible to observe the whales from a boat. For example, you can go for whale watching with Southern Right Charters or with Walker Bay Adventures.
De Hoop Nature Reserve
The De Hoop Nature Reserve is about 140 kilometers further east from Hermanus and another great place for whale watching in South Africa. Especially famous is the five-day-long Whale Trail. The Whale Trail is about 55 kilometers long and connects Potberg and Koppie Allen. The coast of the De Hoop Nature Reserve is an important habitat for Southern right whales as they calve and raise their offspring in these waters. Therefore, the chance to see Southern right whales from land between June and December is high during a walk on the Whale Trail.
Plettenberg Bay – also known as “Plett“ – is a popular place among holidaymakers and tourists from abroad, but also from South Africa. The little town is located about 500 kilometers from Cape Town. With respect to whale watching in South Africa, Plettenberg Bay is on the top list among whale watchers. Even on the streets of Plettenberg Bay you can guess that whales and dolphins are very central to the town. In Plettenberg Bay you can observe the whales from different observation platforms. But do not forget your binoculars. On a boat trip with Ocean Blue Adventures you can observe the whales on a boat between July and December when humpback whales and Southern right whales pass the coast of Plettenberg Bay. There is only one resident whale species in Plettenberg Bay and that is the Bryde’s whale. However, as this is a very shy animal the well-known whale season is restricted to a few months.
There are some more places along the Garden Route where you can observe whales on a boat. That is, for example, in Mossel Bay and Knysna, but also in George, Wilderness and Tsitsikamma.
Cape St Francis
About 200 kilometers further east from Plettenberg Bay is Cape St Francis. There you can observe between May and September humpback whales and Southern right whales from land. However, you need good binoculars for your observations. Besides many whales you can also observe penguins. You can combine whale watching in South Africa here with a visit at the penguin rehabilitation center SANCCOB.
Port St Johns
If you drive from Cape St Francis nine hours further north along the coast you will reach the small town Port St Johns at the Wild Coast. Whales do not migrate close to the coast at Port St Johns, and thus, it is difficult to go there for land-based whale watching. But there are opportunities to observe whales on a boat. You get the best whale sightings in Port St Johns between May and July during the sardine run. As billions of sardines migrate at the South African east coast to the north, marine animals like whales, dolphins, sharks, seals and numerous birds like for example Cape gannet congregate to catch sardines.
The Western Cape and the Eastern Cape get most attention with respect to whale watching in South Africa. However, it is also possible to see whales at the coast of KwaZulu-Natal like for example in Scottburgh. You can spot there mainly humpback whales, but sometimes also other whales. Humpback whales pass the coast of KwaZulu-Natal on their northwards migration to their breeding grounds and on their way back to the Antarctic. The best sights are between July and October. You can join a boat tour with Oceans Alive to observe the whales.
Yzerfontein und Lambert’s Bay
Yzerfontein and Lambert’s Bay are rather unknown among places for whale watching in South Africa. However, in spring it is possible there to observe Southern right whales and in winter humpback whales. With luck you can even observe the Heaviside dolphin, which is endemic to these waters. There are no specific whale watching companies in Yzerfontein or Lambert’s Bay, but you can observe the whales from a boat with Lambert’s Bay Boat Charter. In Yzerfontein it is possible to observe whales from land.