Hermanus, Western Cape – a top global whale-watching destination
Once a sleepy little Western Cape seaside town, Hermanus today is bustling with visitors from all over the world. And why do they come? They come to see the whales.
And that’s why I’m here.
I’m sitting on the deck of Birkenhead House hotel wrapped in a fluffy blanket, because even though the sun is shining, a chilly wind is blowing and white horses are galloping over the surface of the Atlantic.
The spacious deck of this gorgeous six-bedroomed boutique hotel just on the outskirts of the town sits on the cliff top, and from here you can watch southern right whales cruise, breach, blow, spyhop (when they stick their huge heads out of the water just for a look around) and sail. 'Sailing' is when the whales lift their tails right out of the water for quite long periods while they are standing on their heads. No, it’s not yoga, or just for fun – they are actually catching the wind to 'sail' through the water.
My prospective whale-watching boat trip with Southern Right Charters on its classy and safe catamaran has been cancelled because of the rough seas, but hey, sitting here with a glass of bubbly in hand as these massive creatures (an average southern right whale is the length of 15 elephants) cruise by with their babies alongside is not a bad way to spend the morning.
Sitting here with a glass of bubbly in hand as these massive creatures (an average southern right whale is the length of 15 elephants) cruise by with their babies alongside is not a bad way to spend the morning.
As I watch, one mother and baby are manoeuvring strands of seaweed over their backs. I’m told this acts as whale exfoliation – ridding themselves of dead skin, whale lice and barnacles.
Suddenly, there’s a loud 'clap' as a mother (disciplining her calf maybe?) slaps her tail on the surface of the water.
Just before I leave, I’m treated to a breaching as a whale lifts her body out of the sea in a huge graceful leap – a spectacular sight. She breaches again five times, before diving back into the depths.
Why do I say 'she'? Because Hermanus is where the females come on their seasonal migration to breed and give birth. By December, the whales will start their long journey back to the Antarctic.
But if you’re here from June to November, book yourself in to one of the legendary grande dames of Cape hotels, the superbly sited Marine Hotel, where you can actually lie on your bed and watch the passing whale parade.
Or if you stroll along the 12km paved cliff path, at some stage you’ll meet the resident Hermanus whale-crier, who will direct you to the latest sightings.