Winter in South Africa, stretching from June to August, is special. In some areas, winters are hot and sunny enough for plenty of beach days. In other areas, it’s temperate, cool, or downright chilly with snow-capped peaks nearby. But, one of the major highlights of winter along the coast is that this is when hundreds of whales visit our shores, making it the perfect time for visitors who wish to do some whale watching in South Africa.
The most common species that can be seen frolicking in the waters are southern rights and humpbacks. But, visitors may also spot orcas (or killer whales), Bryde’s whales and Minkes. Many of the coastal towns and cities offer whale-watching tours, where these mammoth mammals can be seen from boats. But, they are also visible from the land and beaches.
Tip: Download a Free Whale-watching infographic / brochure, showing the best times and areas to spot the whales in South Africa >> Click here to view.
These are the best spots for whale-watching in South Africa
… in the Western Cape
Cape West Coast
The Cape West Coast is famous for its fishing villages and rugged coastline. And it is in these chilly waters that whales can be spotted during the latter half of the year. Whale-watching excursions by boat are available in Saldanha Bay, Lambert’s Bay, Port Nolloth and St Helena Bay. Yzerfontein has several elevated lookout points, while whales can be seen from the beaches in Paternoster and Cape Columbine.
The southern rights come to Langebaan and Saldanha Bay to mate and calve. St Helena Bay also welcomes the southern rights to its shores for between one and three months of the year. Lambert’s Bay, Strandfontein, and Rocherpan Nature Reserve (just outside Dwarskersbos) are also fantastic spots from which to watch the gentle giants lobtail, breach and spyhop.
This area was once home to the successful whaling stations of yesteryear. Today, the animals are protected and promise their spectators impressive watery displays. From the beaches, walkways and roads, you may spot humpback whales and Bryde’s whales.
They are sometimes spotted in the bay and around the boulders of Fishhoek, and there are lookout spots between Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town too. The dizzying heights of Chapman’s Peak offer stunning vantage points. Boyes Drive may not be quite as high, but it is also elevated for fantastic views of the ocean between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay.
As one of the world’s best spots to see whales, Hermanus is a must for cetacean enthusiasts. In fact, there is a whale crier during the whale season in Hermanus, alerting visitors to watch the ocean waters as they come alive with different whale species. The beaches here are gorgeous, and it’s only 90 minutes from Cape Town.
Overberg and Southern Cape
This area stretches roughly between Cape Town and the Garden Route and includes the little coastal gems of Gansbaai, Arniston, Witsand, Cape Agulhas, and Struisbaai. Cape Agulhas is the southernmost tip of Africa and the point at which the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. And it is along this sometimes-rugged, always exquisite stretch of the South African coastline that the whales can be seen.
The Agulhas National Park boasts some excellent vantage points that are elevated to allow for the best views of the animals and their antics in the waters below. In Struisbaai, which is home to a particularly long beach, the whales have been spotted frolicking just 20 metres from the shore. On clear days in Stilbaai and Witsand, onlookers have reported seeing 50 or more of the gentle giants passing by. Walker Bay is acclaimed as being the heart of whale-watching in the Overberg and should be included on any whale-watching itinerary.
… in the Garden Route
This area stretches roughly between Mossel Bay in the Western Cape and Storms River in the Eastern Cape. It is one of the most beautiful areas in South Africa, and certainly has one of the most impressive portions of the coast. It includes the coastal towns and villages of Herold’s Bay, Victoria Bay, Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, and Nature’s Valley. The whales are often spotted from the vantage point overlooking the beach of Wilderness and far beyond.
Buffalo Bay (just 15 minutes from Knysna) is an excellent spot to see whales and dolphins. On its wilder side, the animals are seen further out. But, in the bay around the corner, whales and dolphins come right in; thrilling stand-up paddlers and surfers as they get quite close to them.
Gericke’s Point, Swartvlei Beach and Myoli Beach in Sedgefield are all musts for those that want to spot whales in their natural habitat.
Plettenberg Bay has long beaches and a few elevated lookout points, from where the visiting cetaceans can be seen. Visit the Robberg Peninsula for some beautiful sights of southern rights, orcas, Bryde’s, seals, and dolphins. On clear days, you may even spot them from your seat in one of the local beachfront restaurants or while catching a tan on the sand.
Tsitsikamma, Storms River Mouth and the ocean extending from the Tsitsikamma National Park are prime spots to see whales between July and December.
… in the Eastern Cape
This part of South Africa enjoys slightly warmer ocean waters, which are welcome retreats for the calving whales. This province includes the beachfront towns and cities of St Francis, Oyster Bay, Jeffrey’s Bay, Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred, East London and more. All of these destinations are characterised by their long stretches of sandy beaches, and visitors can often watch the whales from the warm sands.
Port Elizabeth is home to Algoa Bay, where the whales can be seen enjoying the calmer conditions quite close to the shores. On the wilder side (where Sardinia Bay, Maitlands and Schoenmakerskop beaches are), they might be seen further out, away from the rugged shores. Whale watching tours in Algoa Bay allow visitors to get quite close to the animals as they peek curiously from the water’s surface.
The Wild Coast
The Wild Coast is, as its name implies, a part of South Africa’s Eastern Cape that has rugged shores, crashing waves, and rolling mountain ranges with little more than a few Xhosa villages peppered among them.
When visiting Port Edward, Port St John’s, Coffee Bay or Hole in the Wall, keep an eye out for sprays or splashes in the warm waters of the deep. They are particularly common here between June and November. Thanks to the coast’s being punctuated by high mountains, some excellent whale-watching opportunities await those that are looking down from the peaks.
Best Land-Based Whale Watching in South Africa
For those that are happy to stand on the shores or surrounding peaks and watch the whales, the following destinations are tops:
- Walker Bay
- Buffalo Bay
- De Kelders
- Cape Agulhas
- Jeffrey’s Bay
Best Boat-Based Whale-Watching in South Africa
If you’re after adventure, head out for a guided whale-watching tour that brings you right into their watery home.
- De Hoop Nature and Marine Reserve
- Lambert’s Bay
- Knysna and Wilderness
- Mossel Bay
Explore More Whale Watching Pages
- Whale watching in South Africa
- Whale spotting tips
- Whale watching infographic
- Whale behaviour & terminology