The annual first appearance of the southern right whales is cause for celebration in the Cape, as these much-loved mammals return to the shelter of their favourite bays and coves around the coast.
Southern right whales arrive here in June and July to calve, mate and nurse their young. They will stay in these waters all the way through to November. And the good news is that the first whales of the 2014 season are here.
Already, the Whale Crier in Hermanus (@whalecrier) has started posting pictures of whales and alerting visitors to where they can see these denizens of the deep.
In some strategic spots, the whales wallow within a few metres of the shore. If you’re close enough you might even hear their lovesick moans or how they expel air from their blowholes with a loud whoosh.
They also often engage in spectacular but little-understood behaviour, like spyhopping (when they pop their heads high up out of the water to look around) or breaching (when they do several back flips in a row as they smack down hard on the water).
The start of the whale season dovetails with what is called the “green season” in the Cape, which means that if you’re smart about it you can enjoy accommodation and restaurant specials.
Happily, whale watching also combines well with a few other traditional Cape pursuits, like tasting wine, or enjoying a lazy lunch in a restaurant with a knockout view.
It’s really the perfect time to plan a rejuvenating break. Here are a few suggestions for where to start …
This little fishing village, tucked between mountain and sea, is one of a string of suburbs that hug the False Bay shoreline, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a prettier aspect.
With its steep cobbled streets overlooking the old fishing harbour, Kalk Bay is also a great precinct for browsing antique shops, bookstores or simply enjoying a cup of coffee at a street café. Many of the restaurants here, like the Harbour House or Live Bait, are right next to the sea.
And from here, it’s a relatively short hop and a skip around the False Bay shoreline to Cape Point and many whale-watching vantage points en route.
Walker Bay has long been hailed as one of the best places in the world for land-based whale watching, and the town of Hermanus has built something of an international reputation on this claim, which is entirely justified.
This is because the town centre is located at the start of its famous cliff path, with deep water close to shore where the whales can often be seen wallowing around. Listen out for the Whale Crier’s horn made of kelp, which announces the latest whale sighting.
The nearby Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is one of the best wine-growing areas in the Cape, while the village of Stanford, a half-hour’s drive down the coast, has a handful of excellent restaurants.
De Hoop Nature Reserve
For whale density, some people say that you simply can’t beat Koppie Alleen in the De Hoop Nature Reserve, where literally hundreds of whales have been known to gather in the season, hence the famous multi-day hike known as the Whale Trail.
The whales do not come quite as close to shore as they do elsewhere, but their sheer numbers make this a spectacular place to end off your whale tour. The De Hoop Collection offers a wide range of comfortable accommodation for anyone wishing to visit this area.