Starting just 90 minutes' drive from Cape Town, this magnificent coastal region includes small seaside towns, picture-perfect inland valleys and one of the largest protected marine reserves in Africa, the breeding ground of the southern right whale.
For so many visitors to South Africa, a wildlife safari is a must-do on the list, but did you know that there are many exciting land- and boat-based wildlife experiences to be had? The Cape Whale Coast gets its moniker from the proliferation of whale species that call these waters home at different times of the year. Once hunted in these waters, whales are now protected and the only hunts that happen these days are for the best shots of mothers and their calves or the magnificent sight of a breaching whale.
Where best to start your whale-watching expedition? Clarence Drive is one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world, hugging the coast from Gordons Bay and winding its way through the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve as it passes through the coastal villages of Rooi Els, Pringle Bay and Betty’s Bay. Once a whaling station, Betty’s Bay now plays host to a colony of resident penguins whose waddling bottoms make for cute pictures. The main town in the region is Hermanus. Once a sleepy seaside village that only filled up over Christmas, Hermanus is now a thriving year-round destination, with a large permanent population and a tourism industry that thrives on its unique position – with the ocean to the front and magnificent unspoilt mountain range behind – and of course the whales.
One of the major annual events is the Hermanus Whale Festival, held in September each year to coincide with the arrival of the southern right whales that return here annually to calve – but don’t worry if you’re visiting at other times, any of the boat excursion operators will be able to get you up close and personal with other whale species.
The town’s accommodation is booked out way in advance and if you can secure a room at any of the smart seaview hotels or apartments, you won’t be sorry. Of course, since Hermanus is fairly close to Cape Town, a day trip is doable but an overnight stay is first prize, especially as there are also outstanding wine estates to visit in the nearby Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.
Further along the coast is the quaint riverside village of Stanford, which has become something of a foodie mecca in the past few years. And just 20 minutes’ drive further on lies Gansbaai, where the region’s shark-cage diving and viewing operators launch their boats.
DE HOOP NATURE RESERVE
If a view of whales in the wild is on your bucket list, be sure to pay De Hoop Nature Reserve a visit. This magnificent tract of land spans 34 000 hectares and plays host to some of the most unspoilt stretches of coastline in South Africa. Hugely popular with mountain bikers and hikers (coveted places on the Whale Trail need to be booked a year in advance), De Hoop is where serious whale watchers head come August and September when more than 100 whales congregate to calve and mate. This is a truly extraordinary sight, especially given your bird’s-eye vantage points from the powdered sugar dunes of the reserve. Down at the shore, swimming in the sea is more dangerous, but the numerous rock pools and comparatively warmer waters make snorkelling a pleasure.
Accommodation at De Hoop is available in a series of renovated historical buildings. Given the reserve’s magnificent surrounds and unique whale-spotting experience, visitors will certainly be captivated by what this jewel in the Overberg has to offer.
Things To Do
• Whale watching from land or by boat or helicopter
• Shark-cage diving
• Fine dining
• Scenic drives
• Guided hikes
• Horseback trails
• Mountain biking
• Penguin colony visits
• Wine tasting