Get ready for an unforgettable blue safari at these 4 whale watching destinations

A whale spotted at the Bay of Plenty in Durban. Picture: Supplied

A whale spotted at the Bay of Plenty in Durban. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 19, 2024


South Africa is one of the best destinations worldwide for watching whales and dolphins. Whale watching season in Durban starts as early as May and in the Western Cape in June.

The exit of summer and the entering of cooler temperatures invites the magnificent ocean animals to our shores, making it the perfect time to get up close and personal with them.

Whales migrate to the South Africa’s coast from Antarctica to mate and calve on our coastline and often breech, providing a spectacular sight.

According to the International Whaling Commission, annual visits from southern right and humpback whales and the presence of enormous pods of dolphins all year-round provide amazing viewing opportunities from land and sea.

At least 37 species of whales and dolphins can be found in the waters of South Africa.

Whale watching has traditionally focused on the migratory routes of spectacular species. Boat-based whale and dolphin watching started in the early 1980s, with the government regulating and managing the industry in 1999.

If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience this season, here are some of the destinations where you can see the magnificent creatures:

Hermanus, Western Cape

The beautiful rugged coastline of Hermanus, South Africa. Picture: Unsplash

Hermanus is South Africa’s whale watching capital. A whale festival is held every year in the town and attracts large numbers of visitors during whale watching season. The annual Hermanus Whale Festival is at the end of September.

The event features interactive exhibits educating people about marine life and conservation efforts, as well as live music, food trucks, art and craft stalls and a lively street parade.

During the whale watching season, a whale crier alerts watchers to the presence of whales by blowing on a kelp horn.

The guest houses face the ocean, their large windows designed to give you the best views possible. You can also learn interesting facts about these annual visitors at Hermanus’s Whale House Museum.

Consider a stay at the Misty Waves Boutique Hotel with breathtaking ocean views. Prices start from R1 785 a night for two.

Cape Town, Western Cape

A view of False Bay to Cape Peninsula. Picture: Unsplash

Cape Town Tourism says that of the whale species seen in the waters around the Cape, the southern right whales are the most common, however, you might also get a chance to see humpback whales and Bryde’s whales.

Whale populations in the region have grown and they’re fairly common to spot off the coast of Cape Town.

Travel advisers say False Bay is the best place close to town for whale watching and for a unforgettable experience. Opt for the higher vantage points along the False Bay coastline such as Cape Point, Boyes Drive between St James and Kalk Bay, and Clarence Drive between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els.

During the whale-watching season, you might even be lucky enough to spot them close up if you take the train trip from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town.

For the best views of cetaceans from afar, consider a stay at Whale View Manor & Spa. Prices start at R1 797 a night for two.

Durban, KwaZulu-Natal

A whale breeching in Durban, with Moses Mabhida in the background. Picture: Supplied

In the next few years, Durban is set to become a premium whaling watching destination as whales migrate along the east coast of South Africa through the coastal waters of Durban and onto the warmer waters of Mozambique and Madagascar to breed and give birth.

A Norwegian whaling station was established in Durban due to the numerous numbers of whales migrating along Durban’s Coast in 1907.

The whaling station became the largest land based whaling station in the world, It was closed in 1975 . What is left of it can be viewed off the Durban bluff.

Since the closure of the whaling station, there are estimated to be more than 7 000 humpback whales migrating and, similarly, the number of southern right whales has increased to more than 1 000 off the coast of southern Africa, boasting a growth of 7% a year.

At this rate, the population is expected to double in the next 10 years.

Consider a stay at Ocean Blue Guesthouse on the Bluff which has spectacular views of the ocean. Prices start from R950 a night for two.

Elephant Coast, KwaZulu-Natal

Views of St Lucia beach on the Elephant Coast. Picture: System

KwaZulu-Natal’s Elephant Coast stretches from the World Heritage Site of Lake St Lucia in the south to Kosi Bay, virtually on the Mozambican border.

The Elephant Coast is an extraordinary, untamed area fast growing in popularity for its incredible variety of habitats and eco-systems that combine into an unforgettable blend of adventure, unspoilt scenery and unique experiences.

The waters act as a corridor for humpback whales that make their way toward the coasts of Mozambique, Tanzania and Madagascar to breed between June and early December.

You can take boat trips out to see them and other marine life, including the occasional southern right whale, dolphins and whale shark.

Consider a stay at Thonga Beach Lodge, within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (a World Heritage Site), which offers ocean-view rooms and open ocean boat trips. A stay at Thonga Beach Lodge starts from R11 500 a night for two.