The Western Cape of South Africa is a popular region to watch whales and other marine life in their natural environs. Hermanus (map) and Gansbaai, about a two-hour drive east of Cape Town and close to the southernmost tip of the African continent, are great places to watch whales, Great White sharks and other amazing marine life in the Western Cape. The whale-watching season typically lasts from May till November, when Humpback and Southern Right whales make these waters their home. Here are some suggested places to see whales, Great White sharks, penguins and seals around the Western Cape near Cape Town.
Where to see marine life near Cape Town
Whale-watching in Hermanus
Hermanus is the whale-watching capital of South Africa. Sandwiched between the awesome Kleinriviersberge ridge and Walker Bay, it is a popular vacation town which draws a sizeable number of tourists in the summer. Visit in October/November when it’s sufficiently warm, there are less tourists and when you can spot the Southern Right whales from viewing points built on the cliffs overlooking the bay. If you’re visiting in September, don’t miss the annual Whale Festival in Hermanus which celebrates the return of the Southern Right whales to Walker Bay.
I can recommend a stay in Hermanus, with its top-notch restaurants, relaxing cafés, excellent hotels and magnificent scenery. I’ve stayed at the luxurious The Marine Hermanus (on a cliff in the town centre) as well as One Marine Drive (a lovely boutique hotel a short walk from the town centre) and can recommend both.
Search for hotels in Hermanus (Booking.com).
False Bay – whale-watching and penguins
If you don’t have the time to make the trip to Hermanus, you can also spot many whales from the shoreline in False Bay, close to Cape Town, in October. The road from Muizenberg (map) to Simon’s Town winds along the bay’s shore – stop if you see a group of people along the road staring at the water; they’ve most likely spotted some whales (the closest I’ve ever gotten to a whale was close to Fish Hoek when, from the roadside, I spotted a pod of whales that were barely 20 meters away!). Near Simon’s Town, you’ll find Boulders Beach which is famous for its colony of African penguins.
Great White sharks in Gansbaai
For the ultimate whale/Great White-watching experience, head out for Gans Bay or Gansbaai (map), about 40 kilometers southeast of Hermanus. You can easily sign up for one of the boat trips or if you’re a crazy thrill-seeker, you can opt for cage shark diving to rub noses with a Great White. I went for the former and had the time of my life!
The boat tour will take you along the shoreline for some close-ups with the many Great Whites in the area. They can be seen floating around, riding the waves. A chilling experience indeed. Hold on tight to the boat’s railings! There were also many Southern Right and Humpback whales, as well as dolphins. It is a truly exciting and, I found, soothing experience to see these inquisitive creatures frolic in the water.
The tour also took us to Dyer Island and Shark Alley (a passage between two islands filled to the brim with thousands of seals – an easy meal for the Great Whites). Dyer Island is extraordinary – a rocky outcrop with little vegetation, it’s populated with thousands of seals and penguins that produce a wonderously loud cacophony of hoots, cackles, and wails.
Betty’s Bay – penguin watching
Another great place to see a large colony of penguins is Betty’s Bay (map). There are literally hundreds of them there. If you’re in the area, don’t miss the drive along the coast between Betty’s Bay and Gordon’s Bay. This spectacular drive offers many awesome views of the beaches, the mountains and False Bay. You can end your drive in the Cape Winelands, with the historic Stellenbosch as the main town in the region. You’ll find stunning vineyards and hotels as well as a fantastic array of wine experiences.
All these coastal towns can easily be combined with the popular Garden Route road trip which winds through the coastal mountains and along the ocean from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.
Read other Velvet Escape articles on South Africa. Here’s a selection:
- Safaris in South Africa
- Cederberg: mountain passes, safaris & San rock art
- Things to do in Cape Town
- A spectacular drive around the Cape Peninsula