The most common whale spotted along the Cape Town coastline is the Southern Right Whale. It gets its name from being the hunters’ favourite kind as it’s a slow swimmer and once killed, floats on the sea surface, hence considered the “right” kind of whale for hunting. Other species that you may encounter from False Bay include Bryde’s whales, humpback whales and killer whales (nicknamed “wolves of the sea” as they hunt in packs). You will also find dolphins in the area and if you are lucky, you may come across bottlenose dolphins on the east side of the coast while dusky dolphins are found on the west side. Heaviside’s dolphin, a species endemic to the western coast of Southern Africa, can also be spotted. Penguins and seals can also be spotted in the summer season.
False Bay is probably the best place to go whale watching in Cape Town. The whales use these warmer waters as mating, calving, and nursery grounds and in the summer months, they may be seen just metres from the shore. Whales start arriving in the Cape region as early as May and stay until November, with August – October being the peak whale watching season. This is when the bay is dotted with whales all of the time.
The beauty of the Sunset beach and the Cape Town coastline in general is that you can watch whales frolicking in waters below from land-based vantage points. Take binoculars with you in order to get a better view. You can spend hours sitting on one of the mountainside vantage points, enjoying a picnic basket and watching the whales play. The chances of whale sightings are much greater on wind free days. The whales can be spotted near river mouths and in sheltered bays and coves.
Hermanus is another great option if you have whale watching in mind. It is considered to be the world’s best land-based whale watching destination. The drive from Cape Town takes about an hour and a half and every year, thousands of whale lovers gather in Hermanus for an annual Whale Festival (also known as the Moby Dick Festival). The festival usually takes place in late September.
In Hermanus, a walk along the cliff path stretching 12km from end to end, usually results in an encounter with a whale. You can see them as close as 20m away just beyond the breakers or frolicking in the sheltered bay. The Whale Crier’s kelp horn also signals the most likely spots for whale sightings.
Popular whale spotting sites include an outstanding vantage point on Boyes Drive winding along the mountainside. Fish Hoek is another excellent place to see the Southern Right Whales lolling about particularly close to the boulders. The chances are that you may even get soaked from one of their blows!
The coastal road between Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town has some good whale watching spots. The route from Boulders to Smitswinkelbaai offers even more spectacular mountainside vantage points for whale watching.
Spotting whales in the ocean can get tricky as sometimes they are mistaken for rocks. A great way to find these elegant creatures is to look for white patches in the ocean where the waves break on the whales’ bodies.
For a closer interaction with the whales and dolphins, you can take one of the many boat-based tours from Simon’s Town, the V&A Waterfront, Hermanus, Plettenberg Bay, and Hout Bay. Another highly recommended option is a commercial sea kayaking trip, available from Simon’s Town.
You can also experience fabulous aerial whale sightings via helicopter flips around the peninsula.
Whale watching is a unique experience and no place in the world makes it as special as here in Cape Town, where a simple walk along the beach can be transformed into a cherished memory and a unique encounter with one of nature’s most wonderful creatures.