The whales of Walker Bay

2013-09-19 10:27

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You've got to love tourists. Their enthusiasm and feeling of sheer exhilaration when they first spot a whale from the shore is enviable.

I'm a Hermanus local and have been asked by tourists, "Do you ever get bored of seeing the whales?"

The answer is always an emphatic "No!" Each year as winter approaches, the race is on to see who will be the first to spot a whale, arriving from its long journey from the Antarctic waters.

The shallow, sandy-bottomed and sheltered bays of our coastline are perfect for mating, calving, nursing their young and resting.

Meet the whales of Walker Bay.

We are so honoured that each year these majestic creatures decide to have their annual vacation in the waters off our lovely town. Southern Right Whales swim 2 500km from the Antarctic to calve off the Southern Cape shores each year. They arrive early June and leave towards the end of November.

They have literally been increasing in numbers with each visit.

To catch them at their most active, you need to visit in September and October. September is also when this little town is abuzz for the Hermanus Whale Festival - taking place from 20 to 24 September this year.

It's is the perfect time to stroll along the famous cliff paths of Hermanus, where you could see a whale breaching only meters away! Both tourists and locals alike gather at viewing spots along the coast in wonder of these majestic animals.

As soon as one is spotted, the crowds gather.

With fingers pointing, and cameras clicking, these intelligent creatures seem to perform for the crowd.

Their curiosity seems to draw them closer to shore. For this reason, the town has officially been named as ‘the best land-based whale watching location in the world'. The coastal towns of the Overberg are now collectively known as the ‘Cape Whale Coast'. As many as 150 whales have been spotted in the bay during peak whale season, and on some days the sea is a hive of activity, with young bulls breaching and showing off.

The official Whale Crier blows his kelp horn, using a Morse code system to indicate where the whales have been spotted.

(Scott Ramsay - A Year in the Wild)

How to increase your chances of spotting a whale while in Hermanus

A good way to be sure to spot a whale from the shore, would be to start in the centre of town, at the old harbour where you have a good chance of seeing a few whales.

From here, walk along the cliff path in the direction of Grotto beach. There are several good lookouts along the way, including ‘Die Gang', and ‘Siewers Punt'. At Voelklip beach you will often see a whale just beyond the breakers, behind the surfers.

Another great viewing location is the New Harbour. On a chilly winter's day when it is too cold to walk the cliff paths, sip a sherry in the Gecko Bar, and watch the whales just beyond the harbour wall. Sometimes they even venture into the harbour!

If you fancy seeing the Southern Rights at their level, I can highly recommend a trip on a whale-watching boat. This 2-hour eco experience departs from the new harbour, weather permitting, and they guarantee that you will see whales.

Although the skippers are required to keep a respectable distance of 50 metres from the whales, their curiosity draws them to the craft. They often surface right next to the vessel, and this is when you truly appreciate their vastness. When they roll over and focus on you with an intelligent eye, it is an unforgettable and emotional experience.

You will hear the resonant hollow sound of their grunts and blows, often close enough to get wet from the spray!

Groups of whales can be seen sometimes lulling about lazily, and sometimes, in the case of mating groups, quite active, with thrashing, flipper slapping and breaching.

You could also get lucky and spot a school of playful dolphins. Other wildlife spotted on the trip includes seals, low-flying cormorants and gannets. Keep an eye out for the odd jackass penguin.


The Whale Festival really is Hermanus' way of saying thank you to the whales for returning each year, bringing the tourists with them.

This enviro-arts festival focuses on the region's magnificent environment, with a strong emphasis on marine life and its protection.

Revel in music, comedy and cabaret. Whether you are a nature enthusiast, enjoy music and stage productions, or are tempted by regional wines and delicacies, Hermanus has lots to offer, not just during the festivals, but all year round.


Contact info
Whale Festival: 028 313 0928 or email:
Hermanus Whale watching:,   
Phone: +2728 341 0585

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