Whale watching along the Garden Route

In South Africa, we are fortunate enough to have annual visits from humpback whales, southern right whales, seals, dolphins and many more amazing sea animals all year round. Whether from land or sea, you can look forward to spectacular close-up views of these beautiful marine mammals.

The best time

The best time to see these giants is between June and November when they migrate from Antarctica to calve in the sheltered bays of South Africa’s warmer climates. This is due to the fact that our coastal waters offer them the perfect spot and temperature for mating, calving and playing and nursing their newborn – providing locals and tourists with breathtaking land-based viewing.

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The best spots

Whilst the best spots for land-based whale watching remain in De Hoop and Hermanus, which we visit on our Big 5 safari, whale watching and Fynbos tour, the Garden Route’s more secluded bays come in a close second. Several species of whales can be seen on the stretch from Stilbaai through to Mossel Bay and on to George, Wilderness, Knysna and Tsitsikamma. This impressive stretch of coastline hosts southern right whales, humpbacks, Bryde’s whales and occasionally even killer whales.

Whales can be viewed from beaches and cliffs, or if you want an even closer view, boat operators offer tourists locals trips out to sea for close encounters. The unforgettable marine safari on our Big 5 Safari with Dyer Island Cruises usually lasts about two hours. While you’re cruising, the marine biologist on board points out other diverse species in the harbour such as penguins, great white sharks, seals and dolphins.

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Whale body language

Before you go whale watching, make sure you research what whales do and what their actions mean. It’s much more fun to watch these gentle giants when you can understand a bit about what they’re trying to tell you. The following signs are the most popular ones and those that you will see most often:

Blowing – blowing is the normal breathing pattern of whales and it is indicated by the sound the whale makes when expelling air through its blowhole – this is also accompanied by a spout of water vapour.

Breaching – this action is characterised by the whale leaping out of the water and falling back in with a large splash. This can happen numerous times in a row and is believed to be a means of exercise, communication or to scratch off parasites living on them.

Spy hopping – spy hopping is when the whale holds itself vertically in the water and kicks with its tail fin in order to hold its head above the water line. Some individual whales are able to keep this up for minutes at a time. This behaviour is similar to treading water for a human and is done to visually inspect the environment above the water line.

Lobtailing – lobtailing happens when a whale lifts its fluke (tail fin) out of the water and brings it down forcefully to slap the surface of the water with a big splash and can be used to call attention to an individual, to impress a potential mate or to intimidate a competitor.

To observe these giants of the sea in real life, consider our Cape Town and Sanbona Safari, Cape Town, Garden Route and Shamwari Safari or the Big five safari, whale watching and Fynbos tour.

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