A lot of travellers tend to go on safari to seek the Big Five – lion, rhino, leopard, buffalo, elephant. But did you know that there’s a Marine Big Five too? It consists of seals, dolphins, sharks, penguins, and, of course, whales! Ranging from 2.6 to 29.9 metres in length and from 135 kilograms to an astounding 190 metric tons in weight, whales never fail to amaze even the most experienced wildlife watcher!
Hermanus is the place to include in your itinerary if you would like to view all five species, especially whales. This picturesque town is situated on the coast within the Western Cape region. It is 115 kilometres south-east of Cape Town – and many visitors to the Mother City like to take a trip to Hermanus along the coastal road, spotting whales along the way!
The type of whale that comes to Hermanus is the southern right whale, migrating from Antarctica in June and remaining in the relatively warm waters of South Africa until November or December. You do not need to venture into the ocean to see the massive mammals! The town has numerous cliff paths, totalling a stretch of 12 kilometres. There are many different points of access, so you can opt for a big hike or a shorter stroll. And whale sightings are pretty much guaranteed, as the whale crier of Hermanus is often on the paths himself, blowing keenly on his kelp horn to alert everyone to the presence of whales! It is small wonder that Hermanus is considered the world’s best destination for land-based whale watching.
The southern right whales
The southern rights are not too difficult to spot, as they are on average 15 metres long and weigh up to 100 metric tons! They are dark grey or black, with striking whitish-grey callosities or calluses, patches of calcified skin, on their head, above their eyes, or around their blowhole. They have a broad back, with no dorsal fin. They arrive in the seas off Hermanus in June and begin their breeding season immediately! Mating occurs under water, but you might spot a group of males surrounding a female on the surface before she is ready to pick her partner and swim with him into the deep.
The gestation period is one year and many females have specific birthing zones, to which they return every three years. Mothers love playing with their offspring, sometimes for up to several hours. Walker Bay is particularly popular for breeding, calving, and bringing up babies, with a range of other whale behaviours on show as well! These include lobtailing, when a whale slaps its tail on the top of the water and makes a loud clapping sound, and spyhopping, when a whale emerges vertically from the ocean and has a look around. There is also sailing, holding the tail above the water, and of course the breathtaking display of breaching, immense leaps ending in the noisiest splash ever! Listen out for the ‘whoosh!’ of whales pushing water out through their blowholes too – and finally the grunts that carry for as much as a couple of kilometres!
As the coastal paths include Walker Bay, you can be sure of some really superb sightings from land. However, if you are keen to get up much more close and personal with the wondrous whales, you could certainly consider a trip out to sea. It is truly exhilarating to come just metres – or less! – from such enormous creatures. Described as ‘gentle giants’, southern right whales present no threat to humans, so you can simply relax and enjoy the show! Many tour operators include professional guiding in their packages, which is an excellent opportunity to learn more about life in the seas off the Western Cape. Comfy seating comes as standard, light refreshments are served, and an interpreter may be on board for travellers whose first language is not English. Just let us know if you would like any further details!
Another way to whale watch is to take to the skies in a helicopter and check out all the action from the air! This activity comes highly recommended for those who are especially enthusiastic about seeing mothers and babies playing together – and it is first rate for seeing all other whale behaviours too. An added bonus is the quality of scenery on offer – the pristine beauty of local beach Die Plaat, the characterful village of De Kelders, the verdant vineyards of the Hemel-en-Aarde valley. This makes for a super-scenic flight!
If you happen to holiday in Hermanus around the end of September and beginning of October, there is an extra-special treat in store – the Hermanus Whale Festival! The purpose of this event is to celebrate the whale migration and there is loads to see and do. You can enjoy fine food at a number of restaurants, check out some intriguing arts ‘n’ crafts, listen to some marvellous music, and even see some vintage cars! Special activities are available for children, so there is something for all the family. Earlier in the year – August, usually – there is the ‘Kalfifees’, the Calf Festival, in which the first calves are honoured by the town. This is smaller than the Whale Festival, but it is certainly worth a look if you are in the area at the time!
Hermanus boasts a great range of accommodation – boutique hotels, eco-lodges, stylish little guest houses. To book a break for some wonderful whale watching, just get in touch with us!