Whale Watching in Hermanus
The biggest living attraction in Hermanus is the whales. The annual visit of the Southern Right Whales to Hermanus and Walker Bay has placed Hermanus firmly on the eco-tourism map.
These gentle giants of the ocean swim from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to Hermanus every year. They arrive any time from June through to October to mate, calve or simply enjoy a vacation in the warmer waters of Walker Bay. A favourite pastime for the locals is to venture to the rocky coastline and watch these magnificent creatures weave wonders through the waters. The seaside town is renowned for having the best land-based whale watching in the world! This rare attraction has resulted in a thriving tourism industry and the locals welcome eco-tourists from all over the world to visit their whale sanctuary. The peak whale watching season is September and October when cow and calf pairs are prolific and mating groups churn the sea with activity. To take advantage of this optimal part of the season there is the much-anticipated Hermanus Whale Watching Festival that takes place every year.
Like any wild animal it is not possible to predict when or where exactly the whales may be seen but watchers simply have to take a walk along the Cliff Path, look to the horizon and be patient. Otherwise you can always wait to hear the resounding noise of the Whale Crier’s kelp horn. This unique character is indiscernible as he carries a board around his neck and spends his days alerting the public of whale sightings, possessing “inside” information on the whales whereabouts. Depending on your location, it is even possible to see whales from your hotel bed or your restaurant table!
Whales do not eat while they are here so there is no “feeding” time or place. For them it is all about relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. Other whales that frequent Hermanus are the incredibly shy Brydes Whales that are found year round in Walker Bay. They are much smaller and are characterised by a small fin on the back which is often all one sees as they surface briefly before diving. Humpback Whales are encountered from May to September on the boat based whale watching trips as they migrate past Walker Bay on their way to warmer waters along the eastern coast of the country.
As the sun rises over the sparkling blue sea of Walker Bay there’s a puff of v-shaped spray near the coastline. The sound of a great breath being expelled from giant lungs follows seconds after. Open the curtains of the bedroom and there it is, a magnificent Southern Right Whale cruising slowly about 50m off shore. With a steaming cup of coffee in hand, relax back against the headboard and watch the whale begin its performance. It disappears for a minute, two, three…and then suddenly, spectacularly, the colossal body is thrust out of the water in a superb surge of energy and crashes down into the sea again with a resounding thud, sending waves of spray high into the air. It will breach three to five times, sometimes even as many as twelve – enough time to grab a camera and focus just ahead of the last breach. Or, if you are a local, take another sip of coffee, settle into the pillows and be inspired by another scene from the biggest show on earth!
It is whale watching season in Hermanus – the best land-based whale watching spot in the world. Incredibly perhaps, but whales can be seen from your seafront bedroom or restaurant table and are almost within reach of your fingertips when seen from the deck of a whale watching boat.
There’s also a very distinct and unique sound-track to the whale watching season in Hermanus. At night the great whoosh of air being expelled from the whales’ lungs will echo up the cliffs to the accompaniment of flukes lazily slapping the surface. Wake up to the call of the Whale Crier’s kelp horn as he alerts everyone to the whereabouts of the whales – in the Old Harbour, or Windsor Bay, or down at Siever’s Punt – or all over! A walk along the cliffs, a rest on a bench along the famous Cliff Path or even your shopping on the Market Square will be punctuated by clicking cameras and yelps of delight as the Southern Right Whales lobtail, spyhop and slap the water with their powerful tails. The best sound of all is the spontaneous shouts of delight when a whale starts breaching right off the Old Harbour where visitors and residents are walking, eating and drinking. People clamber to the harbour wall to get a closer look at the next, awe-inspiring explosion of energy as a massive whale breaches.
It is the biggest show on earth! No tickets or reservations required, just take a seat on the cliffs and watch.