Hermanus is situated in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, a short drive away from Cape Town. It is a paradise for sea lovers and whale watchers at heart! Without a doubt the world’s best land based whale watching spot!
When to Go
As one would expect the town is accessible year round, but is most dynamic during the whale season that starts in July and ends in December. The peak time to watch them though, is August to late October.
Hermanus whales are known as Southern Right Whales, one of the largest whale species in the world. They have been named that way because they are the “right” whale type to hunt! They are slow movers, float when dead and are extremely rich in oil and baleen. Adult males can reach lengths of up to 15.5 m, while the average length for females is usually one extra meter.
The bay shoreline is their gathering ground to give birth to their calves, nurture them and reproduce. They will stay in the region until the young ones are big enough to journey back home, in the colder “krill-rich” waters of the Antarctic. During their stay in South African territory (4-6 months), the whales will not engage in any substantial feeding! Some kind of an extended version of Ramadan!
The amazing thing about Hermanus is that you can literally watch the whales from the coast, from only a few meters away. The seashore is deep enough to enable very close encounters; so much so that it could physically be possible to touch them! Be careful not to fall in however, as the currents are rather violent while the waves can be extremely strong!
Besides the very popular on land whale watching, it is also possible to view them by boat or using kayaks (never tried it, but it must be incredibly special). Other activities include trips to Dyer Island to see the seals (make sure you bring some pegs with, as the smell in the area is quite awful lol), and cage diving with great white sharks, which prey upon them and fish from the surrounding waters.
Every year, in the last week of September, a very famous Whale Festival is organized to celebrate the return of the whales. It lasts for an entire week, and lots of activities are organized around it; from concerts to parades, food stalls, expos, shows and parties of all sorts! An absolute treat not to be missed!
Where to Stay
The town is very well organized and has accommodation that suits all types of wallets. Choose from a large range of backpackers, hostels, Bed and Breakfasts (very pleasant), and up market hotels.
How to Spot the Whales
• Look for white patches in the ocean, where the water breaks on their bodies.
• Listen to the noise they make when they reach the surface of the water to breathe. This is known as spouting, as the mammals blow air through their two blow holes near the top of the head.
• Be patient, and take a good pair of binoculars so that you can scan every inch of water.
Whale Water Activities
• Lobtailing: The whale sticks its tail out of the water, swings it around for a few seconds, and then slaps it onto the water surface. Usually done for play, or to communicate with other whale members.
• Fluking: same kind of behavior, except it is highly characteristic of when the whale is about to take a dive!
• Breaching: Most spectacular whale behavior! The whale leaps out of the water and begins a series of 4-6 impressive jumps. Breaching is used to loosen the skin from parasites and any other bothers it might have. Can also be associated as a means of communication.
• Spyhopping: Very funny to watch! The whale sticks its head out to say hello or possibly to enjoy the view from the outside world.
• Logging: The whale simply lies idle, with its tail facing down. Part of the head and back are exposed to the surface.