Do you know that humpback calves weigh a ton at birth or that whale mother’s milk is so high in fat that it’s the consistency of toothpaste?
Do you know that some of the whales that visit the South African coast every year have come all the way from Antarctica to breed in our warm waters?
These gentle giants are mysterious, inquisitive, graceful and playful. And, thank goodness, they’re visiting our coastline at the moment! So, I headed out with Ocean Odyssey in Knysna to get up close and personal with my cetacean friends.
Whale-Watching on the Garden Route
The most commonly seen whales along the Garden Route are humpbacks, southern rights and Bryde’s whales, which are usually seen between July and December.
Killer whales, or orcas (which are actually a dolphin species), can be seen all year round, but only seldom.
It’s a little-known fact that there is fantastic whale-watching along the Garden Route. Although Hermanus is often considered to be the whale-watching capital, it’s great for visitors to know that there are plenty of opportunities to see these magnificent mammals in many destinations in South Africa.
Ocean Odyssey is based in Knysna. This is ideal because the humpbacks and southern rights are currently spending their days along the Garden Route, particularly in the waters of Knysna’s Buffalo Bay.
Our Whale-Watching Adventure with Ocean Odyssey
The whale-watching boat is spacious and comfortable, big enough for all 25 passengers to get clear views of the whales and dolphins.
So, we hopped on at the Thesen Island jetty and then headed across the Knysna Lagoon, which is a pretty perfect start to the trip. This estuary is massive and so full of life.
The only way to get from the lagoon to the ocean is through the Knysna Heads. We were told that the water was flat and The Heads calm that day…I believe them, I just didn’t know what flat water meant. It still means swell (swell that seemed massive to me and made for some really fun riding). So, I was glad I’d taken my seasickness tablets.
The kids loved it, though. In fact, both toddlers fell asleep in the fastest, most up-and-down stretch. Go figure.
The boat trip to the whales was about 20 minutes long, with stunning views of the rugged Garden Route coastline along the way.
What sets Ocean Odyssey apart is that they have a whale-watcher perched high on the Brenton hills. He is in radio contact with the skipper at all times. So, they know exactly where the whales are, which saves a lot of time and effort scanning the ocean for signs of life.
So, we found the whales easily in the open ocean of Buffalo Bay (not the bay itself). Within minutes of arriving, a playful baby humpback leapt out of the water ahead of us.
There’s nothing that can really prepare you for that moment. It’s dramatic, touching and unforgettable to be part of these marine animals’ lives, even only for that moment when they surge out of the waters and into our world.
While we were watching the adults and calf playing, lobtailing, blasting out air, and even breaching; Johannes (our guide and skipper) narrated, adding in some interesting info.
He was fantastic – knowledgeable, good with children, and able to communicate well with tourists whose first language wasn’t English.
Once we’d watched the humpbacks for a while, we left them in peace (it’s important that the mother and calf can be alone, without human visitors, for long stretches of time). From these wilder waters, we headed into Buffalo Bay, where a few southern rights were hanging around.
The mother and calf were surprisingly shallow – lifting up and down in swell of the waves just before they curled into white foam.
Johannes started yelling unexpectedly when the massive male southern right emerged just 10 metres from our boat! The rule is that the boat can’t get closer than 50 metres to the whales.
But, the curious whales don’t care about rules, so they approach the boat to spy its passengers out sometimes. I wonder if they charge for their human-watching tours…
As we watched the whales, the humpback dolphins surfed the swell; leaping out of the back of the wave and putting on an unexpected show for us too.
After about 45 minutes of watching the variety of ocean entertainers, we headed back through the surging blues and greens of the Indian Ocean, through The Heads and into the tranquil Knysna Lagoon. The entire tour was about 90 minutes.
About Ocean Odyssey
Ocean Odyssey offers three close-encounter whale-watching tours every day. The boats are spacious, modern and comfy enough for 25 passengers per trip.
They’re based at the Thesen Harbour Town in Knysna.
But, these aren’t the only tours on offer from Ocean Odyssey. This means that, no matter what time of year you visit, there will be an exciting water-based adventure on offer.
Other excursions include:
- The Marine Eco Tour – head out through The Heads and explore the rugged coastline, watch the dolphins and look out for the cute antics of the local penguins. This is a marine safari that celebrates the abundance of the Garden Route’s waters.
- Knysna Heads Adventure – experience the estuary, which is a protected area that is home to an impressive 43% of the plant and animal life in South Africa.
- Sailing Charters with Springtide – for a real spoil, head out through The Heads and onto the ocean on a luxurious monohull (best enjoyed with bubbly and snacks).
- Stand-up paddle tours – hire a SUP and paddle around the canals of Thesen Island, where beautiful homes and gorgeous greenery are the order of the day.
- Hire an electric bike – Knysna is relatively small, but far easier to discover with the help of an electric motor (especially for all these hills). These tours are great for the whole family, but kids must be tall enough for the bike.
Contact Ocean Odyssey
Tel: +27 (0)44 382 0321 / +27 (0)44 382 0421
Mobile: +27 (0)82 852 9402
Address: TH44 Long Street, Thesen Island Harbour Town, Knysna, Garden Route, Western Cape
GPS: 34° 2′ 54.798″ S | 23° 2′ 50.172″ E
Stay in Knysna
Whale-watching is a fantastic way to spend a day in Knysna. But, there is so much more to do here too. To book a guesthouse, hotel, B&B or self-catering apartment, click here.