5 Tips on a whale watching experience | Jumbari Family Safaris
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Aug 20, 2019
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Sep 9, 2019

5 Tips on a whale watching experience in South Africa

A South Africa family safari normally brings to mind the *Big 5, safari vehicles and the thrill of the African bush. Little do some know that a short trip from Cape Town offers an entirely different safari experience with equally impressive mammals. Swap the prides of roaring lions in Kruger with the breaching pods of calving whales in the Indian Ocean. Home to at least 37 species of whales and dolphins, South Africa has been named one of the best land-based whale watching destination in the world. Be it from land or sea, the coastline plays host to countless shallow bays filled with pods of calving whales waving their tails and breaching playfully. Whether your family prefers to whale-watch from the coast or by boat, our experts at Jumbari Family Safaris are here to help with these pointers on the ultimate whale watching experience for families traveling to South Africa.  

*Big 5: The big five refers to the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, leopard, lion and rhino 

Whale watching by Boat, Photo credit | The Marine

01. Where can you see whales in South Africa?

Tucked behind the Kleinrivier mountains, above cascading cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean, is the small Western Cape fishing town of Hermanus. Rated as one of the twelve best whale watching locations in the world, the Hermanus whale watching season is definitely a must when visiting South Africa during the months of June and November. Whether staring down from the coast line, looking out from your hotel window or sunbathing on the beach, chances are you and your family will see a Southern Right Whale show off and launch itself out of the water or catch a glimpse of the flick of a Humpback Whale’s tail. 

Getting there: Hermanus is a short 1 hour 40 minute drive from Cape Town. If your family is pushed for time, you can consider to make your whale watching experience a day tour.

The Hermanus Coastline, Photo credit | The Marine

02. When does the Hermanus whale watching season start?

The Hermanus whale watching season is in full swing between the months of June and November. The calm bays and coves of the Southern Coast, in particular Walker bay, offer shelter to pods of whales that migrate from the icy waters of the Antarctic to calve, mate and raise their young. The Cape’s cold winter months bring the calving female whales, with the males following behind for the warmer months of spring. Whale trips can range anywhere from 1 to 3 hours with all boats being allowed to spend 20 minutes with each pod before moving on.

Good to know: The Annual Hermanus Whale Festival will take place this year from 27 – 29 September 2019 to celebrate the return of the whales to the coastal waters of South Africa. Whilst September is said to be the most popular time for the whales, it simultaneously becomes the most popular destination for people as thousands of visitors descend upon the town. 

Whale pods, Photo credit | African Wing

03. Where can your family stay in Hermanus?

Mosaic Private Sanctuary 

Mosaic Private Sanctuary is a family-friendly lodge located about 30 minutes from the town centre, tucked away near the picturesque village of Stanford on the Hermaus Lagoon. This is the perfect option for families who enjoy the outdoors and prefer to be away from the crowds.

Lagoon Lodges, Photo credit | Mosaic Private Sanctuary

The lodge offers exciting activities for kids such as kayaking, boat cruises and quad bike rides. The property offers luxury rooms at the lodge or alternatively self-catering cottages for larger families traveling together. 

Lagoon Boat trips

Lagoon Boat trips, Photo credit | Mosaic Private Sanctuary

Grootbos Garden Lodge

If in search of a more secluded stay for you and your family, Grootbos Forest Lodge is the perfect spot. Located 30 minutes from Hermanus up the coast towards Gaansbaai, the lodge is known as an eco-lodge, immersed in nature and offering 180 degree views the eco-reserve and the bay. Grootbos Garden Lodge is open to children of all ages, providing indoor and outdoor areas for children to play, explore and learn about the surrounding reserve.The rooms are luxury free standing hideaways with separate lounges and private decks – perfect for families. 

Grootbos Forest Lodge

Grootbos Forest Lodge, Photo credit | Grootbos

The lodge is loaded with on site activities such as bird watching, garden tours, fishing and horse riding. Grootbos is ideally located to watch the whale migration from land or sea. With an abundance of footpaths around the surrounding cliffs, guests can take an easy stroll to view these gentle giants splashing in the coves or head out to sea in Grootbos’s very own Dreamcatcher luxury boat.

Whale watching from the Dreamcatcher Luxury Boat,

Whale watching from the Dreamcatcher Luxury Boat, Photo credit | Grootbos

One Marine Drive

Located in the town centre, One Marine Drive is over the road from the famous Cliff Path, offering families literal seaside views of the migrating whales. This boutique hotel is in a prime location of all things happening in Hermanus, within walking distance to shops, art galleries, restaurants and of course the world’s best shoreline whale watching. The hotel offers 5 spacious and luxurious nautical rooms with either sea or garden views and a pool and sundeck catering for the summer sun.

One Marine Drive Boutique Hotel

One Marine Drive Boutique Hotel, Photo credit | 1MD

Your guide to the best viewing points for whale watching in Hermanus:

  • The Cliff Path offers 12km of the best whale watching view points in the world, stretching from one end of Hermanus to the other. At certain points whales can be seen playing as close as five meters from shore.
  • Fick’s Pool and the nearby Windsor Bay and Marine Pools – just off the popular marine drive, accessible and easy to walk to.

Marine Pool Hermanus

Marine Pool, Photo credit | 1MD

  • Gearing’s Point – overlooking the Old Harbour, provides an uninterrupted view of the ocean.
  • Viewing terraces at the Old Harbour –  offering spectacular views over Walker Bay with information boards that provide basic information about the whales.
  • Siever’s Point – the most popular location and closest point to where the whales frolic.
  • The Voëlklip and Grotto beaches are perfect for a picnic and whale watching experience, especially on the rocks above the sea.

04. Which other destinations offer whale watching opportunities?

Though Hermanus is considered to be the Whale Capital of the world, the less well-trodden area of De Hoop is probably where you’ll be able to spot the largest numbers (without having to dodge crowds). In fact, in August 2018, over 1 116 whales were spotted on the De Hoop coastline alone – a record number!

Whale watching on land at Morukuru

Whale watching on land, Photo credit | Morukuru Beach Lodge

Located further up the coast, 3 and a half hours from Cape Town and 2 hours from Hermanus, the De Hoop Nature Reserve consists of 34000 hectares of Fynbos, white sandy beaches, dunes, wetlands and mountains – making it a haven for both cyclists and hikers alike. If a more serious adventure is what you and your family are after, explore the reserve on the 5 day Whale Trail. The route explores the coastal and mountain trails, offering plenty of opportunities for whale watching in between moderate to strenuous hiking. De Hoop Nature Reserve’s increasing popularity has lead to the opening of 2 luxury lodges in the reserve, both of which are great family-friendly stays.

De Hoop Nature Reserve beach

De Hoop Nature Reserve beach, Photo credit | Morukuru Beach Lodge

05. Where can your family stay in De Hoop Nature Reserve? 

Morukuru Beach Lodge

Morukuru Beach Lodge

Morukuru Beach Lodge, Photo credit | Morukuru

Located within the reserve is the Morukuru Beach Lodge. The 4 suites at Morukuru Beach Lodge are surrounded by fynbos dunes and limestone cliffs that look over the Indian Ocean. During the whaling season, Morukuru Beach Lodge offers guests views of the continents greatest whale nursery, when Southern Right Whales migrate to the shallow coastal basins of the Overberg to calve and raise their young. 

Snorkelling in the rock pools of De Hoop Nature Reserve

Snorkelling in the rock pools of De Hoop Nature Reserve, Photo credit | Morukuru

Family activities at Morukuru Beach Lodge include bird watching, snorkelling, cycling, rock pool swimming, cooking courses, cycling, ample walks, nature drives and of course Whale Watching over the forever merging blues of the Indian Ocean.  

Morukuru Ocean House 

Thanks to innovative eco design, Morukuru Ocean House is completely off the grid, using solar power and double glazed windows in relieving the tension between tourism and sustainability, and offering families a luxury stay with limited pressure to the environment.

Morukuru Ocean House

Morukuru Ocean House, Photo credit | Morukuru

The beautiful Morukuru Ocean House offers privacy and exclusivity, not to mention ample space for families at exclusive use in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. This uniquely designed space offers families the most unbelievably secluded views accompanied by private activities as mentioned with the Beach Lodge. 

Nature walks through De Hoop Nature Reserve

Nature walks through De Hoop Nature Reserve, Photo credit | Morukuru

The whaling season in South Africa is a unique opportunity for your family to witness these gentle giants in their natural environment from land or sea. If you’d like to find out more about a Cape Whale Watching Experience in South Africa, get in touch with one of our expert consultants at Jumbari Family Safari Adventurists or check out our 9 day Marine & Big 5 Family Safari