Winter may mean shorter days and colder temperatures, but it also heralds the arrival of whales to the False Bay coastline. Each year, these majestic beasts leave the icy waters off Antarctica, and head to our warmer shores to feed, mate, and nurse their young. As a result, South Africa offers some of the best land- and sea-based whale watching in the world.
Cape Point, at the very south-western tip of the continent, also provides a range of perfect vantage points to experience this annual phenomenon. So bundle up, brave the cold, and make a plan to head out this winter. Here is our guide to getting the most out of the whale season in Cape Town:
What to Expect
Whales, like other wildlife, are unpredictable, and there is no guarantee that you will spot these magnificent creatures. This simply adds to the excitement and expectation, so treat each sighting as an unexpected treat.
Southern right whales are the most common species to visit False Bay, and they tend to start arriving during the course of May. They will be around until the end of November, and their numbers peak during October. Southern rights are truly massive animals, and adults reach up to 15 metres in length and weigh up to 60 tons.
While Southern Rights are the most common species sighted along False Bay, there is also a chance you will see other whales in our waters, including humpback whales, orcas, Bryde’s whales and killer whales. Keep an eye out for dolphins as well – there’s a good chance you’ll see bottlenose dolphins enjoying the vigorous False Bay surf.
Southern right whales tend to choose sheltered bays along the Cape coast in which to breed, making the drive out to Cape Point a particularly good for land-based viewing. Keep an eye out all along the drive for signs of life, including glimpses of tails and spurts of water. If you spot movement among the water, find a safe place to stop and be patient – there is a good chance the whales will tire of wallowing in the shallows and put on a show.
Once at Cape Point, there are several amazing locations where you might be able to spot whales.
The deck at the Two Oceans Restaurant offers a superb overview of the bay, and while high up, there’s a good chance you will see marine life in the waters below. It’s a great spot to sit back with a cocktail, or hot chocolate, and gaze at the vast oceans below, particularly after a long morning of sightseeing.
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Trail, which stretches out behind the upper funicular station, also offers an exhilarating aerial vantage point from which to spot whales. Your chances of seeing marine life from this narrow pathway increase as you get closer to the water. This walk also gives you the opportunity to look into the waters on both sides of the peninsula, and while whales tend to spend more time in the sheltered waters of False Bay, many visitors also report sightings on the western side, and further out to sea.
The beaches at Cape Point also serve up plenty of whale sightings each year, so be sure to keep an eye on the waters at all times, and pay careful attention to the sheltered bays around the peninsula.
Heading out to sea will give you a spectacular new perspective on the Cape Point coastline, and increase your chances of seeing whales. There are several reputable and responsible boat companies in Simon’s Town, such as Simon’s Town Boat Company, that take regular whale viewing trips throughout the season. Browse around at all companies that leave from the region – there are a variety of companies and options to suit both your needs and your budget.
What to bring
Whether you choose to track down the whales on land or at sea, remember that it can get cold and wet during winter. Pack a waterproof jacket and wrap up warmly. There are coin-operated binoculars at most lookout points at Cape Point, but bring your own set and a camera to get up close to the creatures as soon as you see them. You can also stock up on essentials and supplies at the Cape Point shores if necessary.
While most whale sightings require a little bit of luck, and a reasonable amount of patience, there are few better places in the world to see these colossal creatures so clearly. So next time you’re at Cape Point, be sure to take your time and scan the waters thoroughly, so you can return home with one more story about what makes this corner of Africa so unique.