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Winter is whale watching season in South Africa

Whale Watching In South Africa

By J.F. Kloppers

For those in the know in South Africa it’s common knowledge in the Western Cape that Hermanus is the land-based whale watching capital of the world. And it is truly a magnificent place to see the Southern Right whales and their offspring frolic in the shallows.

But when it comes to whale watching from land, Hermanus is but a starting point of land-based viewpoints of the creatures that frequent South Africa’s oceans.

Every time I visit the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape, regardless of the season, I am astonished by the amount of whales and dolphins that are visible just beyond the crash of the waves.

On my last hike to Waterfall Bluff outside Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape we were treated to pod of humpback whales breaching constantly as we made our way to the waterfall. Aside from the whales, a pod of 30+ dolphins also followed our trail along the coast, making the 5km walk in misty rain feel like a walk on the clouds.

KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape or Western Cape - the whale season is best experienced in South Africa during winter.

Here follows five great whale watching spots spread across South Africa's coastline:

The West Coast

On the Cape West Coast, excellent sightings of southern rights can be enjoyed all the way from Strandfontein to Lambert's Bay, Elands Bay, St Helena Bay, Saldanha Bay and Ysterfontein, just north of Cape Town. Even in the bays of Cape Town southern right whales are frequently spotted. If you’re lucky, you can even see them from the road along the False Bay coast, or on the scenic coastal Victoria Road. If you don’t want to push your luck, book a trip with the experts.

Hermanus and Walker Bay

There is real value behind the now commercial Hermanus whale season. The whales really do come up close to the shore here, and they have a particularly playful attitude towards people it seems. Earlier this year, a southern right whale even challenged some local surfers to the waves. We loved it!

Mossel Bay

If you’re after the Killers, here might be a good place to look. Hiking the St Blaize Trail will give you a good view of the bay below, where you can spot southern rights, humpbacks, bryde’s whales or the deadly killer whales feeding on seals on the island in the bay. If you want to go out to sea, book a trip with the boat operators in Plettenberg Bay, further along the Garden Route.

The Wild Coast

From Cape St Francis onwards, the cliff-lined coast gives some of the best vantage points from where to see Humpbacks, bryde's whales, and further north towards Port St Johns, even sperm whales. Dolphins are also abundant in this area. You can spot them from land, or opt for a whale watching boat ride. Personally, this is my favourite whale-watching base in SA.

St Lucia

This is humpback whale territory, which stretches as far as Cape Vidal. The whales always stay in the perimeters of the coastline. From mid-May to mid-September, they move more north to breed off the Mozambique coast, and from September to December they return, on route to the nutrient-rich waters of Antarctica.

These three signs shows whales are about...

Breaching – the whale leaps out of the water and falls back in with a large splash. If whales breach once, chances are they'll breach more than three times consecutively.

Blowing – if you're really close, you'll hear this. The sound is accompanied by a spout of condensed water vapour.

Lobtailing – the whale slaps its fluke or tail on the water, causing a loud sound. As with breaching, this typically happens a few times consecutively.

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