Whales come to South Africa’s coast to calve and to mate, with the courtship season following the birthing season. The “whale season” is from June to November, although whales have been spotted outside this period.
Southern right whales spend most of the year in the Antarctic regions, feeding on plankton.  Humpback whales are often seen off the coast between July and December as they move between their Antarctic feeding grounds and their calving and breeding grounds off the coasts of Mozambique and Angola. Bryde’s (pronounced ‘broodus’) whales are found off South Africa’s coasts all year round, but slightly further offshore than southern right and humpback whales. Killer whales can occasionally be seen throughout the year.
Dolphins can be seen all year round. The most common dolphins are Heaviside’s Dolphin, Common Dolphin, Dusky Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin.
…and then there were six
In South African they sometimes talk about the ‘Big 6’. This means that besides the Big 5 mammals of lion, buffalo, rhino, leopard and elephant, you can also see whales (or even the ‘Big 7’, which includes the great white shark!).
The Whale Route
The Whale Route stretches from 260km north of Cape Town in Lambert’s Bay, all the way round to Durban on the east coast; a staggering 2,000km of whale watching coastline. The route traverses several famous protected areas, including the Cape of Good Hope and the Garden Route.
At least 37 species of whales and dolphins can be found in South African waters. However, the Whale Route is most famous for encounters with southern right whales, humpback whales, and several coastal dolphin species. You can also see African penguins, Cape fur seals, black oystercatchers and a variety of other marine life.
On the western seaboard of the Western Cape, whales are distinctly visible if you get high enough. Some of best places to watch whales include Lambert’s Bay, and south down to Elandsbaai and Saldanha Bay, Yzerfontein and Cape Town.
From Cape Town, around the Cape Peninsula into False Bay, Heaviside’s and dusky dolphins are found in the colder waters on the western (Atlantic) side of the Peninsula, and bottlenose, common and humpback dolphins on the eastern (False Bay) side.
In False Bay the whales can be seen frolicking in the protected waters. Bryde’s whales are found further offshore all year round, and killer whales are also occasionally seen. Almost anywhere along the False Bay coast you can see whales, from the road and even from the train.
Travelling east past Betty’s Bay, onto Walker Bay and the port of Hermanus. Known as the ‘heart of the Whale Coast’, Hermanus is arguably the best whale watching area in South Africa.
The magnificent Overberg mountains watch over this this bustling town, where the rugged cliffs are pretty much the best place in the world to spot these ocean giants. The town has done much to ensure tourists get an unforgettable view of the whales.
The famous cliff-top path, which runs for 12km from the ‘New’ Harbour all the way to the ‘blue flag’ Grotto beach, provides an unobstructed view of Walker Bay and the whales. The precipitous cliffs on the town’s seafront ensure that just a few metres offshore the water is deep enough for the whales to come near enough for a closer view.
Lekker Links
SouthAfrica.info: Whale watching Whales
Walker Bay is in the WWF’s top 12 whale viewing locations in the world.
Hermanus puts on its Whale Festival every year in late September. It’s nine days filled with music, theatre, sport and parties, and the famous Whale Crier is around to give everyone the latest whale watching news.
Then along the coast to Gansbaai and round to Cape Agulhas where whales come into the protected waters.
If you prefer to be away from the crowds, De Hoop Nature Reserve near Witsand and the mouth of the Breede River, offers just the opportunity. One Cape Nature Conservation source described De Hoop was the best whale-watching site all along the coast, with fifty whales being spotted in the bay on one memorable occasion.
Along to Stilbaai, where the southern rights enter the placid water to bear their calves, and on to Gouritzmond, Vleesbaai, Danabaai and then Mossel Bay.
In Mossel Bay you can experience the thrill of viewing the giants of the deep close up, by taking a 3-hour boat trip. Although not cheap, the chance to get within 50m of a whale at water-level is simply unforgettable!
Make sure you go with a properly licensed whale watching operator, as there are only a few boats in the area with valid permits to approach the whales, and there are hefty fines for both owners and passengers of boats breaking the law.
It is illegal to approach within 300m of whales by boat, canoe, ski-boat, aircraft or any other means without a permit. Less than 20 permits have been issued countrywide to ensure regulation of the industry and minimum intrusion on the whales who come to the warmer waters to calve and mate.
Mossel Bay and the St Blaize hiking trail also provides the opportunity of seeing the spectacular site of up to 300 dolphins playing and fishing in the bay.
From Mossel Bay to Plettenberg Bay, good whale watching spots include Hartenbos, Great Brak River, Ballot’s Bay, Heroldsbraai, Wilderness (especially from Dolphin’s Point on Kaaiman’s Pass), Sedgefield and Knysna (especially from Brenton-on-Sea and Knysna Heads).
Plettenberg Bay offers a ‘whale hotline’ and is where whales often come in close, especially at Robberg Peninsula nature reserve and Keurbooms river.
Like Hermanus, Plettenberg Bay also lays claim to being South Africa’s whale capital – and with good reason. The southern rights are around for the whole season and, just when they’re getting ready to leave in early November, the humpback whales arrive with their calves, and stay until January. Bryde’s and killer whales are occasionally seen, and bottlenose and humpback dolphins are here all year. A breeding colony of Cape fur seals completes the assemblage of marine mammals.
Between Plettenberg and Durban there are a number of great locations where whales can be seen. The southern right sometimes goes as far north as southern KwaZulu-Natal, where the whale season starts on July 1st and continues until November.
Boat-based whale-watching is gaining momentum in KwaZulu-Natal. With a greater variety of species being spotted off the coast, seeing whales off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal is virtually guaranteed. The humpback whales are seen as they migrate along the coast between May and November en-route to from their Atlantic feeding grounds to their breeding grounds off Mozambique, and then back again.

Latest posts

  • Johnny Clegg

    Jonathan (Johnny) Clegg was born June 7, 1953 in Rochdale near Manchester in England. Already in his youth, Johnny Clegg, a white, English-speaking person with what he called a ‘secular Jewish’ upbringing in Britain, Israel, Zimbabwe and South Africa, became interested in Zulu street music and took part in traditional Zulu dance competitions. As a […]

    Read more

  • Wessels

    Away fro city life… I met a European couple (the guy from the Netherlands and the girl from UK) in Australia a couple of years ago. They are now planning to come visit South Africa later this year and I thought it may be useful for European travellers to hear a South African’s opinion of […]

    Read more

  • how many months income do you need for a mortgage in south africa

    It is a common misconception that you need a large deposit to get a mortgage in South Africa. You can actually get a mortgage with a deposit of as little as 3% of the purchase price. However, the size of your deposit will affect the interest rate you are offered and the amount you will […]

    Read more