Whale Watching in Hermanus – Stingy Nomads

Whale Watching in Hermanus – Stingy Nomads


The beautiful seaside town Hermanus is situated in Walker Bay on the South Coast of the Western Cape about 90 mins drive from Cape Town. Several different whale species can be seen in the area, but viewing Southern Right whales from Hermanus is world renowned. Walker Bay is a large bay located in Western Cape province of South Africa between False Bay near Cape Town and Cape Agulhas, the most Southern Point of Africa. This is the mating and breeding grounds of the Southern Right whale and they attract more than 150 000 tourists every year to Hermanus. The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) rates Hermanus as one of the 12 best whale watching destinations in the world. In season you have plenty of different options to see these magnificent animals. Whales are not the only animals that can be seen on ocean expeditions. There are opportunities to see the Marine Big 5; Whales, Sharks, Seals, Dolphins and Penguins on cruises in the area.

Whale Watching in Hermanus

Hermanus in Walker Bay is world renowned as one of the best whale watching spots on the planet, allowing you to get close to these massive animals on a boat tour, by kayak or just watching them from the shore. The Southern Right whales grow to a massive 18 metres long and can weigh up to 80 tons, these animals really are huge. The name ‘Southern Right’ comes from the fact that they were seen as the ‘right’ whales to hunt in the past, because they swim relatively slow and don’t dive for too long, spending a lot of time on the surface.

southern right whale
Southern Right Whale

The hunting in the past exhausted their numbers and today there are thought to be only about 3000 of these animals alive. Their huge size, slow swimming speed and long surface time, makes them easy to see.  In season there usually are well over a 100 whales in the bay making for a spectacular whale watching experience. Mothers nursing newborn babies is something amazing that is often seen during a whale watching experience. Whales often play in Walker Bay, an amazing view from the cliffs on the edge of Hermanus to see these enormous animals playing. Sometimes you can see them ‘breach’,  jumping out of the water to create a big splash, or ‘sailing’ with their tails in the wind.

Whale season in Hermanus

  • Southern Right Whales can be seen for 6 months every year, from early June to late November / early December.
  • Peak Season – Late September/early October the Southern Right whale watching season peaks and although sightings cannot be guaranteed with wild animals, not seeing a whale on boat tours at this time is highly unlikely.
  • Other whale species – July to November is a good season to see Humpback whales. Bryde’s whales are present all year round.
  • Out of season trips – January to May, cruises to Danger Point to see the resident Brides whales, Marine Big 5 tours, sunset cruises, bird watching cruises
Two Southern Right Whales - a mother and a calf.
Two Southern Right Whales – a mother and a calf.

Walker Bay  is the mating and breeding grounds of the Southern Right Whale from June to November, winter time in South Africa. These whales migrate from the Antarctic every year around June to calve and mate. Calving takes place in August and September. The Southern Right whale population reaches a peak in October when males arrive in Walker Bay for mating.

How to get to Hermanus

The drive from Cape Town to Hermanus on the coast is one of the most scenic drives in the country. There are no direct public transport connections, you can choose to be picked up at your accommodation in Cape Town by most companies or rent a car.

Driving to Hermanus you have 2 options, the N2 is about 30 minutes faster, but taking Clarence Drive is one of the most scenic coastal drives on the Cape Peninsula.

Driving on the N2 via Sir Lowrys Pass  you will have great views back over False Bay all the way to the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town. Driving this way is 122 km and takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The alternative is driving the spectacular Clarence Drive coastal route. This coastal scenic road follows a beautiful 48km coastal road between Gordon’s Bay and Kleinmond driving with unreal views of False Bay on one side and the foothills of the Hottentots Holland Mountains on the other. There are many awesome look out points on the way to stop and check for whales in False Bay. Kogel Bay is a great surf spot and pulling over to watch the surfers is popular at this spot. Rooi Els is a nice place to stop for something to eat. There is a massive penguin colony that is a great stop in Bettys Bay on the way.

Driving between the mountain and the ocean on the beautiful R44 Clarence Drive from Cape Town to Rooi Els.

To take Clarence drive turn onto the R44 at Somerset West and follow the rugged coastline through Gordon’s Bay. This route is about 142 km taking 2 hours and 15 minutes to drive. 

Rentacar Cape Town Is a great way to find the best rental prices, they compare prices of all the most reputable car rental agencies in the city. Rent a medium sized car from about $20 per day and small budget vehicles start as low as $10 per day  if you rent for a week! Pick up your vehicle in town or at the airport.

Hermanus Whale Cruises

Your best chance to see whales is on a boat based whale cruise. The boats are in contact with each other and often know where the whales are, some even use drones to scout. Some of the boats have permits to get very close to the whales, not closer than 50m. The whales do not always care about these rules and often swim right up to the boat, this of course makes for fantastic encounters. Most of the tours take about 2 hours, the boats are fairly big and stable, to get sea sick is however still possible. Most of the tours offer snacks and drinks on board. Don’t worry if ocean conditions are not perfect, they should allow you to sit inside the cabin and call everyone outside when whales are spotted. 

Time of day is not really important with whale watching, you have a good chance of seeing the animals all day around. In peak season tours leave 3 times a day. Most tours meet in the Hermanus New Harbor, find it on Google Maps. The meeting time is usually 45 min. before departure. It is nice in the harbor and a good place to go for a coffee or something to eat before your whale watching tour.  

Whale watching from Gansbaai or Hermanus? – Whale watching tours from Hermanus harbor are excellent for seeing Southern Right whales. Other than whales you can also see dolphins, seals, penguins and marine birds on these trips. To see a bigger variety of marine animals going on a Marine Big 5 seafari from Gansbaai is a better option. There are only 5 boat licences for whale interactions in Walker Bay to insure minimal impact on the whales. 3 tour operators utilize Hermanus harbour, 1 boat operates from Gansbaai harbour and 1 boat from Kleinbaai harbour. 

Shark cage diving in Cape Town
Shark Cage diving in Gansbaai is one of the most thrilling adventures in Cape Town

The Best Whale Cruises in Walker Bay

These tours are all well rated, with many reviews, go and take a look at the activities and read a couple of reviews from different people before booking.

Land based Whale Watching in Hermanus

Hermanus is said to offer the best land-based whale watching in the world, in season the Southern Right whales can be seen from shore in the area, coming as close as 5m from the rocky shore. The town has a beautiful cliff path wrapping around the coast for 12 km from West Cliff outlook close to the Hermanus New Harbor all the way to Grotto Beach. The cliff path offers excellent vantage points to view the whales. The town has its own ‘Whale-crier’ that walks along the coast blowing through his kelp horn telling visitors of whale sightings. It is fun walking around town or sitting in a coffee shop and running to the edge of the nearby cliffs when you hear the crying of his horn. Bientang’s Cave is one of the restaurants with the best location I have ever been, have a drink at a table on the rocks and with some luck see whales swimming just a couple of meters away.

Good places to see whales from the shore in Hermanus

  • In the West Cliff area, close to the New Harbor; Fick’s Pool, Dreunkrans and Windsor Bay are popular whale watching spots
  • In town; the Old Harbor and Gearing’s Point with great views of the ocean are good spots.
  • Driving down Main Road towards the beaches (north-east) turn-off to Die Gang or stop at Kwaaiwater or Siever’s Point one of the best whale lookout points on the route.
  • The Voëlklip and Grotto beaches are also good for whale spotting from the rocks.
hermanus whale watching map
Hermanus whale watching map – click map for Google Maps

Whale watching by Kayak

In the town of Hermanus Whale watching kayaking tours are available. In season your chances of spotting whales are very good and paddlers sometimes have to take care not to get too close to the whales. It is a great paddle to do around the coast from the Old Harbor if you have your own gear. The tour is a fairly easy paddle for about 2 hours. Two person kayaks are available. This is a great opportunity to encounter Seals, Penguins, birdlife and hopefully dolphins and whales.

Accommodation in Hermanus

I know Hermanus well, these are all excellent accommodations in their price range with great location.

Backpacker Budget 

Midrange

Luxury

The Marine Big 5

The cold Benguela current bringing nutrient rich water from the Atlantic Ocean converges with warm water from the Indian Ocean brought by the Agulhas current. This phenomenon results in the incredible biodiversity found around Africa’s southern tip building up an extraordinary ecosystem from tiny plankton to massive predatory fish.

Most people know the Big Five; lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant so what is the Marine Big 5? During a Marine Big 5 safari  you are out to see  Great White Sharks, whales, seals, dolphins and African Penguins. 

humpback whale
Humpback Whale

Marine Big 5 tours are offered from Gansbaai about 50 km from Hermanus. This is the only tour available where you can see all these amazing animals on one excursion. We did this exciting trip with Dyer Island Cruises, an extremely professional and experienced, eco-friendly outfit.

Marine Big 5 excursion

Marine Big 5 Trip in Gansbaai with Dyer Island Cruises These trips are often fully booked, book now!

You can arrive on your own at Gansbaai harbor or choose to be picked up at your accommodation in Cape Town.

Our whale watching seafari started with a briefing, coffee and muffins at The Great White House in Kleinbaai, close to the harbor (on Google Maps). 

After launching we started heading towards Dyer Island, about 8km offshore. Somewhere close to Uilkraalsmond, we found a  mother and calf pair of Southern Right Whales. They were cruising the area, spending a lot of time on the surface playing in the swell. This created a lot of opportunities for taking photos. The whales showed us a lot of flipper and some tail when they were frolicking and diving in deeper water. They were not shy at all and we saw them again playing on our way back to the harbor. In the morning there was also a pair of humpback whales and a pod of dolphins.

Cape fur seals
There is a colony of 60 000 cape fur seals Dyer Island.

We left the whales and continued to  Dyer Island to  see the Cape Fur Seals. There were thousands on the island and a couple of seals playing around the boat.  On the way, we spotted  some African Penguins in the water.

On our way back in we stopped next to the Marine Dynamics Shark Cage Diving boat. Due to the presence of Killer Whales (orcas) in the bay, the Great White Sharks disappeared for a couple of days. There were however a couple of fairly large Bronze Whaler sharks entertaining the divers in the cage.

The Whale Watching Trip duration is between 2 and 3 hours, depending on sightings and weather conditions. Dyer Island Cruises and Marine Dynamics cruises depart from Kleinbaai harbour near Gansbaai. We had a fantastic trip. The onboard marine biologist was knowledgeable, there was some swell and strong wind, but the crew did a good job of assisting the one or 2 seasick clients.

dolphins

The trips depart all year around. If you are in the Cape between July and December do not miss the opportunity to see the incredible Southern Right Whales!

Whale Behaviour

Southern Right whales are active on the water surface and curious towards humans. They tend to approach and interact with boats and have several interesting behaviors you may observe on a whale watching expedition. Sailing is an interesting action, the whales use their elevated flukes to catch the wind, ‘sailing’ while remaining in the same position for considerable amount of time.

Things to do in Hermanus

This once sleepy fishing village has turned into an incredible tourist destination with beautiful nature, local art galleries, interesting museums, incredible wineries and a variety of exciting adventure activities.

Wine tasting – Stellenbosch is the most famous wine tasting area in South Africa, check out our detailed Stellenbosch Wine Tasting Guide. The Hemel en Aarde Valley, surrounding Hermanus is however home to the best producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines in the country. If you go to Hermanus don’t miss on tasting the world famous wines made by Hamilton Russel and Bouchard Finlayson at the estates.

Museums – The whale museum is an interesting place to visit with info on different whale species, whale sense, echolocation, and behaviours like spyhopping, breaching and lobtailing. There is a complete southern right whale skeleton in the museum. The De Wet’s Huis Photo Museum is interesting with pictures of Hermanus when it was still a tiny fishing village, and old photos of the old harbour and old pics of the Windsor Hotel.

Great White Cage Diving – Get up close with the ultimate apex predator, the Great White Shark with a cage dive amongst the sharks of Gansbaai. Experienced marine biologists onboard. Optional transfers from Cape Town are available.

hemel en aarde valley quad bike
Alya loved exploring the wonderful Hemel en Aarde valley by quad bike!

Adventure activities – the town offers a large variety of activities to get your adrenaline pumping; there is great scuba diving from operators in the new harbor, sandboarding (almost like snowboardingon the nearby dunes in Kleinmond, sea kayaking, mountain biking and great quad biking in the Hemel en Aarde valley.. 

Stony Point Penguin Colony – Home to one of the largest breeding colonies of African Penguin in the world, Stony Point Nature Reserve is the place to go if you want to see many penguins in South Africa. Located in Betty’s Bay about 40 km before reaching Hermanus if you drive the coastal route via Clarence Drive (R44).

African (Jackass) Penguins’ breeding ground at Stony Point, Betty’s Bay.

Animals on a Marine Big 5 Trip

Southern Right Whale

The Southern right whale draws most tourists to the area in whale watching season.  They can be identified by the callosities on it’s head,  lack of a dorsal fin on its back and a long, arching mouth that begins above the eye. Adult whales are between 14-16m in length and can weigh between 40-60 tonnes. Southern Rights have a double blow hole, resulting in a unique V-shaped spray blown out. They are an endangered species strictly protected and the population is slowly recovering. 

Brydes Whale

The Brydes whale is a smaller whale species found in the Walker Bay area. These whales are estimated at 10.1 to 11.6 m (33 to 38 ft) in length. These deep diving animals are difficult to see, usually they dive after surfacing briefly, staying down for up to 20 minutes. Bryde’s whales are found in the Dyer Island area throughout the year, with most sightings occurring during the summer months.

Humpback Whale

Humpback whales are commonly seen between June and August while these animals are migrating to the warmer Indian ocean.  They are easily recognizable by their long flippers, humped back with a dorsal fin, and the distinctive white markings on the underside of tails. Humpback whales grow up to 16m and 30 tons.

Sharks

Great White Shark

When you mention diving in South Africa many questions regarding sharks always come about. Cage diving with Great White Sharks is a very popular bucket list activity for many adventurous tourists. During a Marine Big Five trip with Dyer Island Cruises the boat takes you to the famous ‘Shark Alley’. At this location between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock, they stop next to sister company Marine Dynamics doing cage diving. If there are Great white sharks around you have an excellent chance of seeing these top apex predators from the boat. Bronze whaler sharks also sometimes surround the cage diving boats. The sharks are not fed, they are lured to the boat with a scent trail, the “chumming” consists out of a bait bag containing fish products.

Gansbaai shark diving season

Great White Sharks can be seen around Gansbaai throughout the year,  the best time of the year to view these sharks in the area is between June and September. The visibility is usually good then and many migrating sharks can be found around Dyer Island

Dolphins

Dolphins are often seen on the expeditions and if you are lucky you can be surrounded by massive pods of dolphins. Humpback dolphins and Common dolphins are the species most often seen in Walker Bay.

Cape Fur Seals

This is one of the Marine Big 5 you are basically guaranteed to see on a whale watching Hermanus expedition! There are about 60 000 of these curious, playful animals living on Geyser rock, next to Dyer Island. They often swim and play around the boat making for good photo opportunities.

African Penguin

The African penguin is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa. They breed mainly on offshore islands in colonies and Dyer Island is one such a breeding area. Breeding season begins in January and African penguins mate with the same partner year after year.

Unfortunately these guys are in trouble with a 90% population decline on Dyer Island in the last 30 years. There are many reasons, but a big one is guano harvesting, bird poo is awesome fertilizer for your garden and tons of it was scraped from Dyer island to be sold to gardeners. Penguins used to burrow nests in the guano layer that was meters thick, without this protective layer they are exposed to the sun and predators.

Want to save a Penguin’s life?

You can sponsor a penguin shelter for R500, by building these specially developed ‘artificial nests’ on the island  the population have been stabilized at the current level. MORE INFO

The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) in Gansbaai provide temporary rehabilitative care to diseased, displaced, injured, oiled and abandoned marine birds, focusing on the endangered African penguin. Feeding of the penguins in the center is everyday at 15:00. It is a nice place to go after your seafari,  sit and watch while enjoying excellent cake and coffee.  The APSS is a project driven by the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) together with Marine Dynamics and Dyer Island Cruises. The main sponsor is Volkswagen.

Birds

We saw many birds on our whale watching trip, including Gannets and several different Comorant species.

The Hermanus Whale Festival

The Hermanus Whale Festival, the only Eco-Arts festival in South Africa, is held every year in spring. The festivities happen late September/early October to celebrate the return of the Southern Right whales to Walker Bay. Thousands of visitors come to this beautiful little town to watch whales from the cliffs and enjoy a variety of live shows; music, comedy, kids entertainment, cabaret and dance during the Festival. It is a very festive atmosphere with the whales the main performance and the party never stops. Book accommodation early, this little town gets crazy busy with the Whale Festival. Whales are found in many different locations around the world, checkout more international whale watching excitement.

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