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Whale Watching in Hermanus, South Africa Guide (2023)

The beautiful seaside town of Hermanus is situated in Walker Bay on the South Coast of the Western Cape about 90 mins drive from Cape Town. Several different whale species can be seen in the area all year, but viewing Southern Right whales from Hermanus is world-renowned. The best time for whale watching in Hermanus South Africa is from June to December when large numbers of Southern Right Whales congregate here for mating. These gentle giants can be seen in Hermanus from the cliff tops along the shore or on boat trips. A Hermanus tour can be much more than a whale-watching trip, the small town is packed with art galleries and restaurants, and farms offering excellent wine tasting. 

Southern Right Whale
Southern Right Whale on our whale watching cruise

Top Hermanus Whale Watching Tours

The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) rates Hermanus as one of the 12 best spots for whale-watching in the world. Hermanus is a great place for a weekend getaway from Cape Town. In season you have plenty of different options to see these magnificent animals. Whales are not the only animals that can be seen on ocean expeditions. There are opportunities to see the Marine Big 5; Whales, Sharks, Cape Fur Seals, Dolphins, and African Penguins on cruises in the area.

This little town has a lot to offer including world-class wine farms, excellent restaurants, and a huge variety of museums and adventure activities. For more see our Complete Guide for things to do in Hermanus.

Options for Whale Watching in Hermanus

In the town of Hermanus, you can go whale watching from a boat on a whale watching cruise or you can do whale watching from shore.

For whale-watching tours in Walker Bay (Hermanus), you have 3 options, tours departing from Hermanus, Gansbaai, or Cape Town.

The Best Whale Cruises in Walker Bay

Is whale watching from Gansbaai or Hermanus? – Boat based whale watching trips from Hermanus harbor are excellent for seeing Southern Right whales. Other than whales you can also see dolphins, seals, penguins, and marine birds on these trips. To see a bigger variety of marine animals going on a Marine Big 5 safari from Gansbaai is a better option. There are only 5 boat licenses for whale interactions in Walker Bay to ensure minimal impact on the whales. Shark cage diving and whale watching boats operate from Gansbaai’s, with cage diving being the major attraction here. Dyer Island, home to thousands of African penguins is located close by. Between the island and Geyser Rock a shallow channel known as ‘shark alley’ is popular with cage diving boats. Boat-based whale watching tours also depart from Kleinbaai, a small fishing village just east of Gansbaai

Departing from Hermanus.

Hermanus Whale Cruise – top-ranked 2-hour tour meeting in Hermanus New Harbor

Departing from Gansbaai

Marine Big 5 Excursion Gansbaai – best location for spotting whales, seals, sharks, dolphins, and penguins all in a single trip, Cape Town or Hermanus Hotel pick up optional. Go past Dyer Island and shark alley to see great white sharks and more local marine life. 

shark cage dive gansbaai marine big five
Seeing cage divers observing sharks during our Marine Big Five Safari

Garden Route and Addo Elephant National Park: 6-Day Safari – Awesome tour includes Hermanus, I know some of the guides, and you will have a great time!

What is the Best Time of the Day for Whale Watching?

The time of day is not really important with whale watching, you have a good chance of seeing the animals all day around. In the peak season tours leave 3 times a day. Most tours meet in the Hermanus New Harbor, find it on Google Maps. The meeting time is usually 45 min. Before departure. It is nice in the harbor and a good place to go for a coffee or something to eat before your whale-watching tour.  

southern right whale
Southern Right Whale

Hermanus in Walker Bay is world-renowned as one of the best whale-watching spots on the planet, allowing you to get close to these massive animals on a boat tour, by kayak or just watching them from the shore. The Southern Right whales grow to a massive 18 meters long and can weigh up to 80 tons, these animals really are huge. The name ‘Southern Right’ comes from the fact that they were seen as the ‘right’ whales to hunt in the past, because they swim relatively slow and don’t dive for too long, spending a lot of time on the surface.

In this post, we discuss several great boat tour options as well as land-based whale watching with a map.

Boat-Based Whale Watching Trips

Your best chance to see whales is on a boat-based whale cruise. Watching massive whales from a boat is one of the most exciting things to do in Cape Town. The boats are in contact with each other and often know where the whales are, some even use drones to scout. Some of the boats have permits to get very close to the whales, not closer than 50m. The whales do not always care about these rules and often swim right up to the boat, of course, makes for fantastic encounters. Most of the tours take about 2 hours, and the boats are fairly big and stable, to get seasick is however still possible. Most of the tours offer snacks and drinks on board. Don’t worry if ocean conditions are not perfect, they should allow you to sit inside the cabin and call everyone outside when whales are spotted. 

Land-based Whale Watching in Hermanus

Hermanus is said to offer the best land-based whale watching in the world, in the season the Southern Right whales can be seen from shore in the area, coming as close as 5m from the rocky shore. The town has a beautiful cliff path wrapping around the coast for 12 km from West Cliff outlook close to the Hermanus New Harbour all the way to Grotto Beach. The cliff path offers excellent vantage points to view the whales.

The town has its own ‘Whale crier’ that walks along the coast blowing through his kelp horn telling visitors of whale sightings. It is fun walking around town or sitting in a coffee shop and running to the edge of the nearby cliffs when you hear the crying of his horn. Bintang’s Cave is one of the restaurants with the best location I have ever been to, have a drink at a table on the rocks and with some luck see whales swimming just a couple of meters away.

Good places to see whales from the shore in Hermanus

  • In the West Cliff area, close to the New Harbor; Fick’s Pool, Dreunkrans and Windsor Bay are popular whale-watching spots
  • In town; the Old Harbour and Gearing’s Point with great views of the ocean are good spots.
  • Driving down Main Road towards the beaches (north-east) turn off to Die Gang or stop at Kwaaiwater or Siever’s Point one of the best whale lookout points on the route.
  • The Voëlklip and Grotto beaches are also good for whale spotting from the rocks.
hermanus whale watching map
Hermanus whale watching map – click map for Google Maps Whale watching by Kayak
In the town of Hermanus Whale watching kayaking tours are available. In season your chances of spotting whales are very good, and paddlers sometimes have to take care not to get too close to the whales. It is a great paddle to do around the coast from the Old Harbor if you have your own gear. The tour is a fairly easy paddle for about 2 hours. Two-person kayaks are available. This is a great opportunity to encounter Seals, Penguins, birdlife, and hopefully dolphins and whales.

Peak Whale season in Hermanus

  • Southern Right Whales can be seen in the waters of Walker Bay for 6 months every year, from early June to late November / early December.
  • Peak Season – Late September/early October the Southern Right whale watching season peaks and although sightings cannot be guaranteed with wild animals, not seeing a whale on boat tours at this time is highly unlikely.
  • Other whale species – July to November is a good season to see Humpback whales. Bryde’s whales are present all year round.
  • Out-of-season trips – January to May cruises to Danger Point to see the resident Brides whales, Marine Big 5 tours, sunset cruises, and bird-watching cruises.
Two Southern Right Whales - a mother and a calf.
Two Southern Right Whales – a mother and a calf.

Walker Bay is the mating and breeding ground of the Southern Right Whale from June to November, wintertime in South Africa. These whales migrate from the Antarctic every year around June to calve and mate. Calving takes place in August and September. The Southern Right whale population reaches a peak in October when males arrive in Walker Bay for mating.

How to get to Hermanus

Hermanus can be visited as a day trip from Cape Town. The drive from Cape Town to Hermanus on the coast is one of the most scenic drives in the country. There are no direct public transport connections, you can choose to be picked up at your accommodation in Cape Town by most companies or rent a car.

Driving to Hermanus you have 2 options, the N2 is about 30 minutes faster, but taking Clarence Drive is one of the most scenic coastal drives on the Cape Peninsula.

Driving between the mountain and the ocean on the beautiful R44 Clarence Drive from Cape Town to Rooi Els.

Driving on the N2 via Sir Lowrys Pass you will have great views back over False Bay all the way to the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town. Driving this way is 122 km and takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The alternative is driving the spectacular Clarence Drive coastal route. This coastal scenic road follows a beautiful 48km coastal road between Gordon’s Bay and Kleinmond driving with unreal views of False Bay on one side and the foothills of the Hottentots Holland Mountains on the other. There are many awesome lookout points on the way to stop and check for whales in False Bay. Kogel Bay is a great surf spot and pulling over to watch the surfers is popular at this spot. Rooi Els is a nice place to stop for something to eat. There is a massive penguin colony that is a great stop in Bettys Bay on the way. You can combine a drive to Hermanus with a road trip along the Garden Route.

To take Clarence Drive turn onto the R44 at Somerset West and follow the rugged coastline through Gordon’s Bay. This route is about 142 km taking 2 hours and 15 minutes to drive. 

Rentalcars is a great way to find the best rental prices, they compare prices of all the most reputable car rental agencies in the city. Rent a medium-sized car from about $20 per day and small budget vehicles start as low as $10 per day if you rent for a week! Pick up your vehicle in town or at the airport.

Accommodation in Hermanus

I know Hermanus well, these are all excellent accommodations in their price range with great locations.

Backpacker Budget 

Midrange

Luxury

Whale Behaviour

Southern Right whales are active on the water surface and curious towards humans. They tend to approach and interact with boats and have several interesting behaviors you may observe on a whale-watching expedition. Sailing is an interesting action, the whales use their elevated flukes to catch the wind, ‘sailing’ while remaining in the same position for a considerable amount of time.

The Hermanus Whale Festival

The Hermanus Whale Festival, the only Eco-Arts festival in South Africa, is held every year in spring. The festivities happen in late September/early October to celebrate the return of the Southern Right whales to Walker Bay. Thousands of visitors come to this beautiful little town to watch whales from the cliffs and enjoy a variety of live shows; music, comedy, kids entertainment, cabaret, and dance during the Festival. It is a very festive atmosphere with the whales the main performance and the party never stops. Book accommodation early, this little town gets crazy busy with the Whale Festival. Whales are found in many different locations around the world, check for more international whale-watching events.

Planning Resources

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Rob Knowles

Sunday 1st of October 2023

Hi, I last visited Hermanus in Sept 2016 and sadly the whales were pretty much absent. Have their numbers recovered in recent years as I'm hoping to return next year to see them?

Stingy Nomads

Tuesday 3rd of October 2023

Hello Rob, I am not currently in Hermanus, but according to the article (2022) below their numbers have been recovering. I did contact a reputable operator in Hermanus that told me they have been seeing whales everyday this season. https://conservationmag.org/en/wildlife/the-whales-are-back-count-shows-southern-right-whale-numbers-increase#:~:text=Preliminary%20count%20surveys%20conducted%20by,and%2040%20unaccompanied%20adults%20counted%2C

Nancy

Thursday 2nd of November 2017

What an amazing place and experience. Love South Africa!!

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 2nd of November 2017

Hi, Nancy! Yes, whale watching is a fantastic experience! We're glad you love our country!

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