Your South Africa whale-watching guide 2018

discoverafrica 11 July 2018
Part of the South Africa Safari Collection
Back to the Our Blog

June to October may be the low season in Cape Town, but there’s never any want for things to do. One of the most exciting and celebratory events is the annual passing of whales along the coastline of South Africa. There is something so magical about seeing these enormous creatures breaching, tail-slapping and blowing as they make their journey through the wonderous ocean.

Cape Town and its surrounds happen to be one of the best places to whale-watch, with thousands of visitors both locally and abroad joining in on the action each year. There is even a festival to honour the experience.

This brief guide will let you in on some of the important things to know about seeing our treasured cetaceans:

What will I see during whale-watching season?

Cape Fur seals enjoying the pale winter sun


The most sighted whale is the Southern right, known for its elongated mouth. In addition to these, you may see:

  • Humpback whales
  • Bryde’s whales (rare)
  • Minke whales (rare)
  • False killer whales (rare)
  • Orca
  • Common and Bottlenose dolphins
  • Humpback dolphins (rare and endangered)
  • Great white sharks
  • Cape fur seals
  • Coastal birds, including penguins

When can I see the whales?

The general period runs from June to October or early November. The Southern right whale will stick around during this period to calve. The Humpbacks arrive a bit earlier (around May) on their way to breeding grounds in Mozambique and Madagascar. Other whales will calve heavily during July and August. Despite the fact that Bryde’s whales can be found in our waters year-round, they are difficult to spot.


What is the best way to see whales in South Africa?


There are three ways to observe these gentle giants; on land, from the air and by boat. While land-based is the more affordable option, boating excursions are conducted by various tour operators along the coast. Day trips on the water are a lot of fun and there is nothing quite like seeing a whale (relatively close up). They allow for greater photographic opportunities and offer insight into a whale's’ intriguing behaviour that can be both awe-inspiring and amusing.


Aerial flights can be costly and there is nothing like observing whales with the sea breeze on your face, it’s just a more pleasurable experience.


Which tour operators should I use for whale-watching by boat?

Dyer Island Cruises is a certified member of Fair Trade Tourism


Cape Town and surrounds were once grounds for whaling, which significantly reduced whale populations. Whaling in South Africa was banned in 1979 and the emphasis now is on the conservation and protection of our precious marine life. Unfortunately, not everyone plays by the rules.

Some boating operators do not respect the ocean, nor the delicate ecosystem that supports our marine life. Harassing, crowding and getting too close to these animals scares them away and can be potentially fatal to the whale. These operators often do not have whale-watching permits, or any passenger safety requirements in place, making a trip with them extremely dangerous.

Good tour operators often work closely with local conservation bodies and some even lead non-profit initiatives to educate children about the value of marine life. Look out for a tour operator that is a member of the Blue Flag eco-label and Fair Trade Tourism.

There are strict laws governing the whale-watching industry so please do report any suspicions you may have about a tour operator or anyone who says you can feed, touch or swim with whales in South Africa.

Hermanus Whale Festival

This annual festival is great for a weekend getaway with the family. It’s not just about whales though. There are stalls selling homemade wares and crafts, educational activities for the kids, music, street parades and car shows. Enjoy some fresh seafood at any one of the great restaurants littered through the town.

If you’d like to go whale-watching on the beautiful South African coast, let us advise you on where to stay and how to include this experience in your South Africa safari.


Travel tips:

Look out for the resident whale crier, who alerts the public to whale sightings around Hermanus


  • It is worth phoning a whale-watching tour operator before your trip to check on the latest sightings.
  • Be aware that Great white sharks will avoid areas where there are orcas
  • Children under the age of five usually board a boating excursion for free
  • Pack a pair of binoculars, sunscreen and a sun hat. You will still get sunburn even if it’s winter and there is cloud cover.
  • Look out for a designated “whale crier” if you’re whale-watching from land. They are tasked with signalling where a whale has been spotted. They use a piece of dried out kelp to create audible codes that can be deciphered on the board around their necks.

Feature image credit: Mike Lloyd 

Some related info

Get connected on your South African safari

South Africa is one of the best and most affordable travel destinations in the world. The country has vast coastlines, penguin-filled beaches, abundant wildlife and a diversity of cultures. South Africa is a beautiful country with an endless list of attraction sites for tourists. During your stay in South Africa, it is vital to stay connected with your friends and family. Vodacom and MTN…

Safari getaways to visit in Southern Africa this spring

Flowers are starting to bloom in and around Cape Town and South Africa, the mornings are getting slightly less biting and the sun is slowly starting to set a little later. Spring is just around the corner and oversized winter coats and being replaced by t-shirts and shorts. Spring is a wonderful time to be out there in the wild to experience not only the changing of the seasons and the…

Staying safe in South Africa: Common sense rules

Despite Africa’s reputation for being dangerous, we have to admit to ourselves that danger exists everywhere in the world. With such huge economic disparities and inequality between social groups, the gap between the rich and poor creates situations of desperation, the perfect recipe for crime. In today’s world, this is an unfortunate reality and is not limited to third world countries.…

Two Luxury Safari Packages for Any Season

A luxury safari, unlike your typical vacation, is crafted to spruce up your imagination and awaken your adventurous side. There's arguably no better way to taste, experience and capture the true African spirit than through an affordable, bespoke safari. As they say, the sun never sets in Africa. The party also never ends, and thanks to the continent's excellent warm weather, there is an…

Three of the best Hiking spots in the Drakensberg

The Drakensberg mountain range is not only dizzying but also stunningly panoramic. The infinite beauty of this region seems to go on and on, only punctuated by a series of supremely huge rocks that lie majestically under an unpolluted South African sky. Welcome to the Great Escarpment - one of the most sought-after hiking destinations on the planet. The Drakensberg mountain range…

Lodge Review | Lion Sands Tinga Lodge

Lion Sands Tinga Lodge forms part of the world renowned private reserve of Sabi Sands in the south of Kruger National Park, which means first-class luxury, excellent wildlife experiences and sublime views over the Sabie River from a private balcony. If you’re looking for a luxury South Africa safari experience, you’ve come to the right place. Modelled on an old frontier-style feel,…

You Might Also Like

 | Kruger to the Mozambican coast

Kruger to the Mozambican coast

Combining the bush and the wildlife found in the famous Sabi Sand in the Kruger National Park with a tropical stay in one of the sublime lodges of Mozambique's Ponta Mamoli...

 | Luxury South Africa to Zimbabwe safari

Luxury South Africa to Zimbabwe safari

Spot the Big Five in Thornybush Private Game Reserve and enjoy the majesty of Zimbabwe's roaring Victoria Falls ...

 | Blissful 4-day Kruger Safari

Blissful 4-day Kruger Safari

Experience luxury in the Kruger Park ...

 | Luxury Cape Town and Kruger Safari

Luxury Cape Town and Kruger Safari

Explore two of South Africa's most desirable locations in this whirlwind safari tour...