Whale watching in Cape Town is a hugely rewarding activity available in South Africa for half of the year. It combines brilliantly with a Big Five safari so you get to see wildlife on land and in the water.
Each year, southern right whales come into the Cape waters to put on quite a display of breaching, spouting, spyhopping and fluking. So let’s tell you everything you need to know about whale watching in Cape Town.
Read more below…
What whales will I see?
Animals are never predictable, yet the whale species seen in the Cape waters each year are southern right whales (the most common), humpback whales and Bryde’s whales. Thankfully these species are protected and so their numbers are impressive.
Southern right whales swim slowly and are easily distinguished by the callosities (rough skin patches that are covered in barnacles) on their heads plus their long arching mouths and double blow hole. On average, these whales grow to 15 metres and can weigh around 60 tonnes… that’s a lot of whale! These whales migrate each year from Antarctica to the coast around Cape Town to give birth.
Best time to spot: June – November
Humpback whales are easily identified with obvious humps, knobbly heads and long pectoral fins. This species are also in and around the Cape waters during a migration from polar regions to the warm azure waters of Mozambique and Madagascar where they breed and give birth. Humpbacks are considered one of the most friendly whale species and you sometimes see them interacting with the southern right whales and bottlenose dolphins.
Best time to spot: May – November
Bryde’s whales are the only species that remains in the waters around South Africa all . year. The trick is spotting them. Bryde’s whales dive down deep for longer periods of time and resurface ever so briefly. Their most common playground is between the West Coast and up to Port Elizabeth. You can identify the Bryde’s whales by their large, sleek body that is white underneath and dark grey on top. Also look at the blowhole and you’ll see three ridges beside it.
Best time to spot: Tricky all year round
Best places for whale watching in Cape Town
If you want to see the whales whilst ‘in town’ or closest to Cape Town, make your way to False Bay. Head to the high points along the coastline such as Boyes Drive between St James and Kalk Bay, Cape Point and Clarence Drive between Rooi Els and Gordon’s Bay.
For a town outside Cape Town, you cannot go past Hermanus. The World Wildlife Fund rates Hermanus as one of the top twelve whale watching locations in the world. Here you can watch the whales from the land along the coastline while you tuck into your hot chips wrapped in paper. Viewing terraces have also been built for tourists at the Old Harbour and Gearings Point.
You’ve heard of a town crier, well Hermanus has a Whale Crier who blows a kelp horn alerting people of the presence of whales.
Another top favourite is Cape Agulhus because here you often spot multiple pairs of southern right cows and calves playing in the waters at the southernmost tip of Africa.
So we’ve mentioned land based whale watching in Cape Town. Don’t forget there are some rather fantastic boat tours too on offer to get you out on the waters and close to the whales. Finally, you can get an aerial perspective with private charter flights over the coastline and ocean from Cape Town and a few other tourist spots along the coast.
South Africa is so affordable right now with the Aussie dollar so strong. A big five Kruger safari and whale watching finale… not a bad international holiday I say.
So what are you waiting for?