The Best Whale-Watching in the Cape

Whale Watching

The southern right’s epic annual migration is a spectacle not to be missed.

Every year, between June and November, southern right whales journey to our shores to mate and calve, giving us the awe-inspiring opportunity to watch them blow, breach and belly-flop. Sometimes they arrive earlier and stay later, with prime whale-watching season peaking between August and October. Calving normally takes place in August and September, but can happen as early as July.

Though Hermanus is the most famous destination for whales, there are plenty of other wonderful places to see them. The Whale Route – a 900km stretch of coastline that extends from Doring Bay on the West Coast to Storms River Mouth on the Garden Route – is teeming with these gentle giants. We’ve rounded up the best places to witness these magnificent mammals and their annual migration.

The Overberg
Garden Route
West Coast
Cape Town

Hermanus

No whale-watching list would be worth its weight in plankton without mentioning the self-proclaimed land-based whale-watching capital of the world, Hermanus. Here, you can spot whales in Walker Bay from the easily accessible, wheelchair-friendly,12km-long Cliff Path – which has useful explanatory signage. Or you might prefer to board a boat, or do a guided sea-kayaking trip, allowing you to get closer to these colossal creatures.
Top spots Voëlklip and Grotto beaches, Gearing’s Point (overlooking the Old Harbour), Dreunkrans (towards New Harbour) and Siever’s Point are the closest to where the whales frolic.
Good to know The Hermanus Whale Festival (26 – 29 September 2024) is a fun and festive time to whale-watch, and is also the only “eco-marine” festival in the world. Over 100 000 visitors pass through town – for the whales, the activities, good food and live entertainment. Also, Hermanus has the world’s only Whale Crier, who uses a kelp horn as a vuvuzela to alert visitors and locals to sightings.
Insider tip During summer, you can enjoy sightings of Bryde’s whales and dolphins.
Distance from CT 2 hours.
Contact 028 313 8930; hermanustourism@overstrand.gov.za
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De Hoop Nature Reserve

Whale Watching: De Hoop

Encompassing 34 000 hectares of unspoilt nature, De Hoop is one of South Africa’s most diverse reserves, with a mountain range (Potberg), unspoilt beaches, towering sand dunes, a wealth of fynbos and a dreamy vlei. It’s also arguably the best land-based whale-watching destination on the Cape’s southern coast – with record sightings of over 1 000 whales in a single day! The Marine Protected Area offshore is one of the most important whale nurseries.
Top spots Koppie Alleen is the best vantage point in the reserve (plus you’ll find Bites Beach Café here, an idyllic lunch and coffee stop). But you can spot whales pretty much anywhere along the shoreline. The 4-day De Hoop Trail (catered and guided) and 5-day Whale Trail (operated by Cape Nature, with luggage transport) offer total immersion.
Good to know Outdoor lovers can go hiking or mountain-biking, enjoy a guided bird, coastal or nature walk, an eco boat trip on the vlei, or visit the Vulture Deck. Linger longer and stay a few nights: Morukuru Beach Lodge and Lekkerwater Beach Lodge offer luxury and unhindered, nonstop whale-watching, while the De Hoop Collection has a variety of accommodation options.
Insider tip The new ‘Origins of Early Southern Sapiens Behaviour’ exhibition gives an overview of the ancient history of this coastline.
Distance from CT 3 hours
Contact 087 087 4004 (reserve); 021 422 4522 (De Hoop Collection)
087 087 8250 (CapeNature)

Gansbaai + De Kelders

The fishing village of Gansbaai is home to the marine Big Five – great white sharks, dolphins, seals, penguins and whales, making it the perfect destination for up-close ocean adventures. The seaside village of De Kelders, with its remarkable limestone caves, is the scenic portal to Gansbaai, and is considered to be one of the best whale-watching spots in the world. You can whale-spot from land (the area has spectacular cliffs and inlets, and unparalleled views of Walker Bay) or join a boat-based tour from Kleinbaai Harbour.
Top spots De Kelders (for up-close observation). On either side of town, unspoilt Pearly Beach and Die Plaat beach (in Walker Bay Nature Reserve); also the Gansbaai peninsula, with easily accessible spots at Franskraal.
Good to know You can get a full nature fix at nearby Grootbos, a magnificent fynbos reserve, and at Platbos Forest, home to rare and ancient milkwoods.
Insider tip Don’t miss the 7km Klipgat hiking trail at De Kelders, which offers wonderful whale views.
Distance from CT 2.5 hours
Contact 028 384 8336, gansbaaiinfo@overstrand.gov.za

Witsand

Whale Watching: Witsand

It was the southern right whale that put sleepy Witsand on the map in the 1990s. Situated at the beautiful Breede River mouth, and with 4km of white beaches enclosed by stunning fynbos, Witsand is a significant whale nursery – surveys have counted large numbers of cows and calves in Saint Sebastian Bay. (For this reason, there is no boat-based whale-watching.) It’s a special (and quieter) place for land-based whale-watching, where visitors can observe these 40 to 58-ton behemoths from as close as 100 metres from shore.
Top spots The village proudly boasts the first whale-watching “tower” in the Cape, on the deck of the beachside The Anchorage restaurant. The Witsand Nature Reserve (a satellite of De Hoop Reserve) offers five hiking trails and wonderful views.
Good to know Witsand is a great watersports destination, too, offering SUP boarding, surfing, kite-surfing, kayaking, river cruises and fishing.
Insider tip You’ll find Sijnn Wines, the most southerly winery, between Malgas and Witsand. (Crossing the river on the pontoon at Malgas is also a unique experience.)
Distance from CT 3.5 hours
Contact Contact 028 713 7935 (Hassequa Tourism)
084 445 4640, visitwitsand@gmail.com

Mossel Bay

Whale Watching: Mossel Bay

Mossel Bay offers visitors great beaches, amazing surf, warm hospitality, fascinating history and, of course, whale-watching. Though southern rights are most commonly seen during winter, humpbacks, orcas and Bryde’s whales also make an appearance. Aside from boat-based tours, there are also great viewpoints on land with informative boards providing handy info.
Top spots The Point area, the Reebok area and Dana Bay. Or hike the St Blaize Trail, which offers dramatic sea views and great whale and dolphin sightings. The slackpacking Oystercatcher Trail (3- to 5-day options) is another wonderful way to experience this coastline.
Good to know Mossel Bay is also home to an over-ocean zipline, the Point of Human Origins caves and a variety of thrilling boat adventures – not all of them have whale-watching permits (which allows them to get closer to the cetaceans), so check before you book.
Insider tip Mossel Bay’s Seal Island is home to over 3 000 Cape fur seals – on a boat trip there, you’re also likely to see whales, dolphins and sharks.
Distance from CT 4.5 hours
Contact 044 691 2202, info@visitmosselbay.co.za

Wilderness to Knysna

Whale Watching: Wilderness

Wilderness, Sedgefield and Knysna are the Garden Route’s brightest gems, boasting beaches, lakes, lagoons and rivers in lush forest surroundings. It’s an outdoor adventurer’s playground. Add whale-watching (southern right, humpback and Bryde’s whales) along this gorgeous coastline, and you have a perfect holiday cut out.
Wilderness top spots Dolphin’s Point, Map of Africa viewpoint, Wilderness Beach, Leentjiesklip and Flat Rock Beach.
Sedgefield top spots Gericke’s Point, Myoli Beach and Buffels Bay (between Sedgefield and Knysna).
Knysna top spots The Heads, Noetzie and Brenton-on-Sea. Book a yacht cruise that heads through The Heads out to sea for maximum spotting chances.
Good to know Wilderness and Sedgefield are known for paragliding – so you could spot whales from the air. For a giant of a different kind, don’t miss the 800-year-old Diepwalle/King Edward VII Big Tree (a 37-metre-high and almost-as-wide yellowwood) in the Knysna Forest.
Insider tip The Kranshoek Viewpoint near Harkerville (between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay) offers sea views for miles. The hiking trail also includes a section of coastline.
Distance from CT 5.5 – 6 hours
Tourism offices Wilderness: 044 877 0045, info@visitwilderness.co.za
Sedgefield: 061 471 8327, admin@sedgefieldinfo.com
Knysna: 044 382 5510, info@visitknysna.co.za

Plettenberg Bay

Whale Watching: Plettenberg Bay

Stunning Plett is the St Tropez of the Garden Route, a resort popular for annual summer holidays. Well-known for its long beaches and animal sanctuaries, Plett also has a thriving whale-watching scene – with its own Whale Hotline during season and recognised as one of 10 official Whale Heritage Areas in the world. It’s also a popular destination for seeing dolphins, sharks and Cape Fur seals. Whale-watching (southern rights from June to November, and humpback whales from November to February and May to June) can be done by boat, kayak and aerial trips.
Top spots Robberg Peninsula (with three circular hiking trails), No 1 Beachy Head Drive, Signal Hill, the Beacon Isle, Lookout Beach & Deck and Keurboomstrand. The Whale Tail bench can be found between Lookout and Keurbooms beaches.
Good to know Plett counts more dolphin sightings than most other places around our coast, including bottlenose and Indian Ocean humpback dolphins. The Plett Ocean Festival is held every year in June, and there’s a lovely wine route to explore.
Insider tip From its rocky headland, The Plettenberg hotel offers stunning ocean (and whale) views, whether from your room, the restaurant, bar or pool terrace.
Distance from CT 6 hours
Contact 044 533 4065, info@pletttourism.com

Yzerfontein

Whale Watching: Yzerfontein

This small seaside town is famous for its pristine beaches and fishing (especially snoek and crayfish), and also caters to whale-watchers at a number of lookout points. In spring, you can combine whale-watching with colourful wildflower displays – especially at the neighbouring West Coast National Park (with its Postberg Flower Reserve section). The 16 Mile Beach is the longest (roughly 30km) uninterrupted sandy beach on South Africa’s coastline.
Top spots Above the harbour and from the main beach – head south along the 2km Schaap Island walking trail (which has info boards). Also the Labyrinth Lookout point (on Atlantic Drive).
Good to know There’s also bird-watching, kite-surfing, bodyboarding, windsurfing and horse-riding to be enjoyed, plus some lovely eateries and an art route.
Insider tip Yzerfontein has recently become a key site for supergroups of humpback whales in summer (December to April). See them on a boat trip with Whale Expedition.
Distance from CT 1 hour
Contact 022 451 2985, yzerfontein@swartlandtourism.co.za

Lambert’s Bay

Whale Watching: Lambert's Bay

Like other West Coast spots, this rustic fishing village offers visitors the unique combination of Namaqualand flowers and whales in one awesome trip (in August and September). You can view the whales up close from the shore or take a guided boat trip. It’s also one of the best places to see the endemic Heaviside dolphins.
Top spots Along the beaches (especially in front of the caravan park, where there is a dune for elevation), at Bird Island and the Whale Lookout (western edge of town, on the road to Elands Bay).
Good to know Lambert’s Bay is something of a seafood mecca (with famous open-air beach buffet restaurants Muisbosskerm and Bosduifklip). It’s also home to the Sandveld Museum, for some rich cultural history, and Bird Island Nature Reserve. A careful walk along the breakwater wall (if the sea isn’t too rough) leads onto the island, where you’ll see blue-eyed Cape gannets and cormorants, plus Cape fur seals.
Insider tip The snoek run also takes place in autumn and winter, from April to July, when you can buy direct from the fishing boats. (Lobster season is usually from November to April, when you can catch your own with a permit.)
Distance from CT 3 hours
Contact 027 432 1000, lambertsinfo@mweb.co.za

Strandfontein

Whale Watching: Strandfontein

Strandfontein has always been a popular seaside holiday spot, but over the years it has evolved into a bustling travel hub – a handy stopover for those heading along the N7 to Namibia. With its pristine coastline of dramatic cliffs and long white beaches, it has a lot to offer, especially during wildflower season and when the whales visit its shores.
Top spots The sandy cliffs provide excellent viewing spots, including a whale lookout point with benches and info boards on the south side of town.
Good to know Other activities include hiking, boat trips, kayaking, kite-surfing and windsurfing, to name a few. The important Olifants River Estuary at nearby Papendorp is a birdwatchers’ paradise, with over 200 bird species, including flamingos and pelicans.
Insider tip Between Strandfontein and Doringbaai is the Wandering Whale Labyrinth. Built on a clifftop, its beautiful paths are made from blue mussel shells with a rose quartz centre.
Distance from CT 3.5 hours
Contact 027 201 3376, info@namaquawestcoast.com

The False Bay Coast

Whale Watching: False Bay Coast

Known to some as Cape Town’s “Whale Central”, this coastline has some great whale-watching spots – and an important history behind them, too. Between 1806 and 1935, False Bay had several thriving whaling stations – nowadays, they’ve been replaced by viewing points. Spot these spectacular beasts from the shore (or your car), book a whale-watching boat trip or even a jaunt on a sea kayak.
Top spots Boyes Drive, St James, Kalk Bay, Clovelly Corner, Jager’s Walk (Fish Hoek), the coastal road from Fish Hoek to Simon’s Town, Cape Point’s Rooikrans and even Baden Powell Drive (connecting Muizenberg to Stellenbosch).
Good to know See our guide to False Bay for things to do and places to eat.
Insider tip The South Peninsula Whale Watchers Group posts info, sightings and pics on its Facebook page. Also check out the Seafari app for info on sightings.
Distance from CT central 45 minutes

Other wonderful whale-watching spots in the Western Cape:

  • Clarence Drive (between Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay, Overberg)
  • Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond (Overberg)
  • Struisbaai (Southern Cape)
  • Arniston (Southern Cape)
  • Stilbaai (Southern Cape)
  • Nature’s Valley (Garden Route)
  • Elands Bay (West Coast)
  • Saldanha Bay (West Coast)
  • Langebaan (West Coast)
  • Paternoster (West Coast)
  • Doringbaai (West Coast)
  • Llandudno (Cape Town)
  • Hout Bay (Cape Town)
  • Melkbosstrand (Cape Town)

Although there are many other great spots dotted around the Western Cape (and in fact the entire coastline of South Africa), we’ve listed our favourites above. Take a pair of binoculars and your camera (or smartphone, with your favourite Instagram filter). For those who’ve had the pleasure of close-up sightings, you’ll know what we mean when we say it’ll move you in ways you never expected.

Which are your favourites? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Disclaimer:

The Inside Guide has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, we do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, cost, time, and location.

Time of publication: 10 July 2024

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