There is a vast swathe of the jagged southern coastline of South Africa that is prime whale watching territory. The small coastal town of Hermanus has the advantage that it perches on low cliffs fringing deep Walker Bay, offering excellent land based whale watching. The town’s fortuitous position means it has been rated as one of the top 12 spots on the entire planet for spotting the gentle giants of the ocean. If you go during whale season, you are virtually guaranteed to see whales (yes, that’s whales plural) without even having to set foot on a boat.
We hoped we could experience the highlights of Hermanus and surrounds in 24 hours, here’s how we did…
By the skin of our teeth we caught a 7am flight from Joburg (hooray for Lanseria airport and the fact it’s more like catching a bus that a flight), landing in Cape Town by 9am.
Luggage and hire car collected, we took the lazy scenic route (which takes approximately 90 minutes, unless like us you stopped to take in the expansive coastal views, dodging occasional baboons along the way). Alternatively, there is a more time efficient route that only takes about an hour.
12am Lunch at Bientang’s Cave
We’d reserved a table at Bientang’s Cave – it had been recommended and does get busy at weekends. It’s not flashy, but they serve good honest seafood and you are right by the water.
As an interesting aside, the restaurant is named after the beachcomber Bientang who lived in the cave for many years.
Access is via steps, so it’s not pushchair or wheelchair friendly, but otherwise it’s a nice spot.
No sooner had we finished lunch than we heard a horn sounding. It was the call the Whale Crier (the only one in the world), who roams the cliff tops every morning during whale season, alerting watchers to whale sightings with a long dark horn.
We saw our first whale.
3pm Creation Wines
We hotfooted it to Creation Wines in the nearby Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) valley. There are a number of vineyards scattered about the valley, but we’d had a tip off that this was the one to go to.
We hadn’t booked, but the staff made a plan and found us a sunny balcony perch to taste some of their delicious wines. There was a small playroom for the kids and they were kept well supplied with drinks and crackers. This looks like a great spot for lunch, perhaps next time.
7pm Pear Tree for dinner.
We headed back into Hermanus for an evening meal. The food was good and although the menu wasn’t specifically child friendly, our two are at the age where that’s manageable and we found something that they would eat (and in fact really enjoyed).
6.30am Whale Watching Boat Trip with Southern Right Charters.
We set off at the crack of dawn. The trip lasted approximately 2 hours. We saw plenty of whales. It wasn’t a problem to take children and they were fitted with lifejackets before going anywhere near the boat. Adult life jackets are optional and come in a standard shade of fetching luminous orange.
The company provided light snacks (crisps and bottled water) on the way back and hot drinks were available for a small fee. We’d heard horror stories about seasickness on these trips and did take tablets just to be on the safe side (1 the night before and 1 an hour before setting sail) – as far as I’m aware there were no seasick sailors on our voyage, but it was fresh (glacial) and we had layered up with every single item of clothing that we had brought with us. Top tip – pack a coat.
We saw whales up close, just spitting distance from our boat. Unfortunately, our camera skills – or lack there of – don’t do justice to the experience. It’s pretty amazing seeing these gentle giants up close.
11am A leisurely mooch along the cliff tops and a light lunch on the sea facing terrace at the Marine Hotel.
We sat on the rocks and whale watched some more in the sunshine.
Hermanus is fairly small. It’s impossible to get lost and there are various shops, cafes and a couple of galleries dotted about the centre, there is also a tiny museum dedicated to all things Whale. 24 hours was just enough for us to unwind, marvel at the whales and check out the local wines and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Whale Season: If you’re planning to go and see the whales, you need to know when to go. Different sources give slightly different dates. Year round there are sharks, dolphins and other whales, but if you want to see the gentle giants of the down deep, the Southern Right Whales, the window you’re looking at is June to November with the best chance of sightings from September onwards. Confusingly I’ve read that they can arrive as early as April and depart as late as January, so it’s probably wise to check with a travel agent before booking. We were told that September was a great time to go. We were there 10/11 September and saw whales galore.