Now is the best time to see them
There isn’t a better time for whale watching in South Africa than right now.
Because the southern right whale is busy congregating just off the country’s coastline; close enough to the coast to see with the naked eye.
And certainly approachable by boats, allowed within 50 metres of whales in South Africa’s waters (by those boats with permits only).
You’ve got another 4 weeks, or so, so visit the Whale Coast now!
Every year between June and November the humpback, Brydes and southern right whales migrate to the warmer waters off our shores to mate and calve. The sheltered bays and coves along our Whale Coast offer them the protection and refuge they need during the season.
By December they’re gone.
Head to these places for whale watching South Africa
- the entire Cape Overberg Coast from Stony Point, near Betty’s Bay
- the cliff paths of Kleinmond, Onrus, De Kelders and Walker Bay
- Hermanus and Gansbaai
- De Hoop Nature Reserve
You might want to make use of our free whale watching South Africa infographic for tips on spotting whales, and when and where to find them.
Our cruel history with whales
It wasn’t always as peaceful for the whales. Rather than whale watching, South Africans were intent on hunting them – a practice that only came to end as recently as 1979, with whaling stations up and down the coast (Kalk Bay, for instance, once housed three major whaling stations).
Despite our recent cruelty towards them, whales on their annual pilgrimage are remarkably tolerant of our advances, if not outright curious.
Today is a different story
If you consider that they spend up to 90 percent of their lives below the water, their obvious visibility during their time on our shores, is a privilege. One that South Africans are only too keen to share with visitors from all over the world.
Southern right whales in particular swim within 200 metres of the coastline, and sightings of mother and calf pairs are common.
The antics of younger males competing for female attention usually takes place a little further out to sea, but they are visible nonetheless, particularly on organised boat trips.
Whilst you’re almost guaranteed a whale sighting anywhere between Cape Town and Witsand, there are certain spots that are better than others for sighting whales…
Our best places for spotting whales:
It helps if you know what to look out for when you’re whale watching.
The Whale Trail – the best whale hike ever
A five-day hiking trail within De Hoop Nature Reserve, the Whale Trail, is one of the country’s most popular trails at this time of year.
You might not manage to secure a place this year, but book ahead to walk it in the near future.
The average weight of a southern right whale is 40 tonnes. Their tails alone span five metres and often they are both longer, and wider, than the boat which goes out to meet them.
Seeing the Whales by boat
Only those tour companies who hold a permit are allowed within 50 metres of the whales out at sea.
Everyone else out in the waters may only approach the whales up to 300 metres. Often one is lucky and the whales move closer to the boat, particularly if they’re curious or don’t feel threatened.
Boats are under strict instruction to give cow-calf pairs a wide berth and to slow completely with no wake speed in their presence.
Seeing the Whales on land
But back on land there are no restrictions and people stand on cliff tops with binoculars, enjoying their antics for hours.
“Whales are different. They live in families, they play in the moonlight, they talk to one another and they care for one another in distress. They are awesome and mysterious. In their cold, wet, and forbidding world they are complete and successful. They deserve to be saved, not as potential meatballs but as a source of encouragement to mankind.” – Victor B. Scheffer (former chairman of US Marine Mammal Commission).