During the winter months, one of the best day trips from Cape Town is to the Cape Overberg coast with Hermanus at its centre. Known for some of the best land-based whale watching in the world, Walker Bay in Hermanus has low cliffs that provide excellent vantage points from which to get close to whales – they swim within metres of the shore!
The usually quiet town comes alive from June to September, when you can catch all of the cetacean action up close during our annual whale season. Here, females birth their calves while males woo potential mates – treating visitors to a spectacular show of water acrobatics. Get ready to point your camera and ‘oooh’ in admiration.
What You’ll See
Southern Right Whales dominate the seas, but Humpback Whales, pods of dolphins and even the occasional Orca have been spotted too.
Our baleen Southern Right Whales (named so by whale hunters as they were considered the ‘right’ whale to hunt when it was sadly legal to do so), can be distinguished by their callosities – barnacle covered skin patches on their heads and around their long, arching mouths. They’re black in colour, approximately 15 metres in length, weigh in at a whopping 80 tonnes and are characteristically devoid of a dorsal fin, but can be seen waving their flukes (tail fins) out the water to catch the wind, in a playful manoeuvre known as ‘sailing’.
Mommy whales in our Walker Bay ‘nursery’ can often be seen just a few metres from shore, where they play with their young, touching, rolling over one another or casually draping a flipper over their backs. Males, in their bid for a mate, might be seen ‘huffing’, twisting and rollicking in competition.
Of Walks and Whale Criers
Walk the 12km scenic clifftop route with explanatory signage or knowledgeable guide, before stopping at Gearing’s Point where you will have the best view of Hermanus’ Old Harbour. If you would like to get a little closer, get down to the new harbour where you can catch a boat or even kayak trip out into the open water. For something truly special, book a Cessna flight over the coast, for an aerial view of the whales in their ‘secret’ spots, as well as our surrounding mountains and white beaches.
Hermanus also boasts the world’s only whale crier, who alerts townsfolk on land when whales have been sighted by blowing on a loud kelp horn. Meet him in person and interpret his calls by reading his accompanying sandwich board.
Wining and Dining
Hermanus is home to some fantastic sea-facing restaurants, pubs and wine bars. As the Overberg is famous for its award-winning cool-climate wines, we suggest you make a turn in at The Wine Glass – a newly opened wine bar with close to 100 wines available to taste, savour and enjoy by the glass, by the bottle or simply in a tasting flight of six.
Those in search of a sit-down seafood lunch should book a table at the famed Bientang’s Cave. Created out of a traditional cave previously inhabited by a Khoi Strandloper of the same name, the restaurant spills out onto the rocks of Walker Bay in Hermanus, where you might get a side order of whale watching with your Cape Seafood Curry.
The Fisherman’s Cottage, as its name might suggest, is an authentic 19th century cottage. This homely spot is famous for seafood platters and signature dishes like smoked pork belly and cured hake. Book a seat by the cosy fire in the winter, or sit outside on sunny days.
If you are staying the night and are in search of an indulgent breakfast, or good mood food, look no further than the bright and cheery Betty Blue Bistro. Try the yellow, red, or brown breakfast, or French toast with coconut, lemon and poppy seed, caramelised seasonal fruit and mascarpone. Leave space for the pancakes!
The Hermanus Whale Festival: 27-29 September 2019
The annual Hermanus Festival is both a celebration of the return of our marine giants and a chance to learn more about how to protect them. All events and activities during the festival are focused on the conservation of all our marine wildlife who share our coastal waters.
Now in its 28th year the Hermanus Whale Festival, is the oldest and largest festival on the South African whale coast calendar and while the whales are predominantly the star performers at the festival, these gentle giants will be joined on land by quality entertainers and musicians, an array of food stalls, kiddies activities and events suitable for both the young and old.
View the official whale festival website for the full programme of events and activities. Note that the Whale Festival is a free event with no ticket purchasing required for general entrance.
Whale Tales Lingo
Think you may have spotted one of our magnificent sea dwellers? Look out for these tell-tale signs.
- Blowing or spouting – the sound a whale makes when expelling air through its blowhole, usually visible by the spray of vapour you will see at the surface.
- Breaching – that beautiful leap a whale makes out of the water, falling back in with a large splash; believed to be a means of communication, exercise or possibly to scratch off any parasites.
- Lobtailing – the whale slaps its fluke (tail) on the water, causing a loud sound that may be heard from some distance away.
- Spy hopping – the whale lifts one eye or its head above water, allowing it to see what is happening around it (commonly seen around boats).
Blog post by Tarah Darge