South Africa is one of the best whale watching destinations in the world. Every year from June to November, thousands of travellers from around the world congregate along the southern shores to spot the gentle giants of the deep – often more than willing to withstand cool winter days further chilled by the ocean breeze.
But you don’t have to stick to the rocks and beaches with your camera on full zoom. There are plenty of ways to see Southern Right, Humpback, and Bryde’s whales closer, be it on a whale watching cruise, a flight overhead, or even by sea kayak. If you dream of seeing whales lobtailing, breaching, and playing with their young, these are the best whale watching destinations to head to in South Africa.
Stretching from the towns of Hermanus to Gansbaai, Walker Bay has become the whale watching hotspot of South Africa. Hermanus plays host to the annual Whale Festival in October and the cliffs of De Kelders is the place to be to see mother whales cuddling with their young from September to October. Do a sea kayak expedition with Walker Bay Adventures, see baby whales up close with Ivanhoe Sea Safaris, or simply keep an eye out for whale tails from the harbour.
Stay: Harbour House Hotel
Harbour House Hotel is located above the Old Harbour. The Lookout Terrace infinity pool is a town icon as it overlooks the ocean and you can experience the tangible excitement of passers-by in search of a breaching whale while floating on a lilo. The Pavillion pool bar invites guests to relax and savour a sundowner.
You won’t be finding any whales in the calm waters of Knysna lagoon, but jump aboard an Ocean Odyssey boat cruise (Knysna’s only permitted close encounter whale watching operation) and head through the famous Knysna Heads. You’ll find that the ocean on the other side is a whale’s playground.
Stay: Head Over Hills
Head over Hills is an exclusive retreat on the famous rocky cliffs of the Knysna’s eastern head. You can’t ask for better whale watching views as the Indian Ocean is spread out below your feet. Luxury features include private balconies, jet baths, and log fireplaces to warm up after a wintery day outdoors.
De Hoop Nature Reserve
Situated at the meeting place of 3 different whale migration routes, De Hoop Nature Reserve is one of the world’s top spots for land-based whale watching. Flights over the marine reserve to see the whales from above can be arranged with African Wings and De Hoop Collection.
Stay: De Hoop Collection
De Hoop Collection has a wide range of accommodation, from basic camping cottages to a luxury manor house. All accommodation is self-catering, but the Fig Tree Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so you can enjoy a tasty meal that you don’t have to cook yourself.
Travellers who don’t want to make the trip up the Cape Whale Coast will be happy to know that, although not as guaranteed, whales are often spotted around Cape Town, particularly in False Bay on the South Peninsula.
Marcel Van de Ghinste is a Director at TravelGround.