So, our first proper holiday with baby Benjamin. A week in Cape Town and Hermanus with the main aim of seeing some southern right whales (after our failure to do so in Western Australia) and also African Penguins. It’s the beginning of spring in August in the Western Cape, not peak season for most tourists, but it is a great time to see whales and penguins. The spring weather meant quite a lot of sunshine, not too hot, but with a big temperature drop as the sun went down, and the odd spot of rain.
On our first day in Cape Town we got the help of a local guide, Merryl O’Brien, to help us get a feel for the place. It’s not something we normally would do, but we had Benjamin and we had a lot of questions to ask of a local that we couldn’t seem to find out before we arrived. Merryl took us out of town and down the Cape to Cape Point. On the way down, we saw Cape fur seals in Hout Bay and, before getting Simon’s Town, we spotted a few people by the side of the road looking out to False Bay right by Glencairn railway station. We guessed they had seen some whales and stopped to see if we were correct. Sure enough, we saw a couple of juvenile humpbacks right up close to shore, probably only 50m away from the road itself. We were expecting
some shore-based whale sightings in Hermanus, but not here, so this was a real bonus.
The weather was foul, when we reached Cape Point, so deferred the trip up the funicular railway and the views over the bay that it offered (had the weather been nice) and carried on to the Point itself for the obligatory photo-op by the Cape of Good Hope sign. We were again surprised to see ostriches here, right by the shore, having thought that they lived in more arid climates! We spent the afternoon visiting a couple of vineyards in the Constantia Valley wine region, one of the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere with some vineyards dating back to the 1680s. First we had lunch at Groot Constantia (the olive, tomato and ricotta ravioli in the Jonkershuis restaurant was incredible) then with a wine tasting at Constantia Glen and their Flagship Tasting, with a mix of reds and whites.
On our next trip out to Simon’s Town, we gain stopped to see the humpbacks at Glencairn, before driving down to Boulder’s Beach to see the penguin colony. The penguins here are African penguins (also known as jackass penguins due to the donkey-like bray that they frequently and loudly emit). After paying a small entrance fee (35 Rand) you walk out onto the boardwalks and are immediately greeted by penguins dotted around the walkways, in the overgrowth and, as you reach the end of the walkway, all over the beach itself. Back in Simon’s Town (home to the South African navy, so you’ll be surrounded by people in uniform) we did a whale-watching trip with Simon’s Town Boat Company. It didn’t take long until we came to some humpbacks again very close to shore, but not the same ones we saw up near Glencairn, and some more fur seals, both in the water and sunning themselves on the rocks.
So, on to Hermanus, where the plan was to see southern right whales every day, either from land or shore. They’re called right whales as they were the “right” whales to hunt. They are big, so you get good returns for your time and money, and they often move slowly and close to the surface, meaning they were easy to catch. This also means that they should be relatively easy whales to find if you only want to see and take pictures of them.
We booked an apartment near a place called Gearing’s Point in Hermanus which is one of the many whale watching points that are dotted along the Walker Bay coast, all of which can be reached on the Fernkloof cliff path. We stopped off at Betty’s Bay to see the penguins at Stoney Point nature reserve. If anything, the penguins are even better to see here. I can’t explain exactly why, but maybe you’re just a little closer them and sometimes you’re almost eye-to-eye with them.
As we arrived at the car park, right on Gearing’s Point, there were quite a few people gathered around the walls, with cameras or binoculars out. There were whales about and I jumped out of the car to get a look, being rewarded by seeing a southern right breaching probably only 70 metres or so from me. Unfortunately we had to go and check into our apartment so the viewings were cut short. In the afternoon, we did a land-based tour along the coast to some of the best whale-watching spots with local whale watcher, expert and photographer, David de Beer. We spotted quite a few southern rights as we explored these points along Walker Bay a then took a drive up to a view point on top of the hills for a spectacular view over Hermanus and Walker Bay as the sun began to set.
We spent the rest of the week doing various boat trips from Hermanus New Harbour (Hermanus Whale Cruises and Southern Right Charters), but our planned cage-diving with sharks trip was cancelled due to choppy seas. Instead we did a Big Marine 5 tour with the same company, https://www.whalewatchsa.com/Dyer Island Cruises, where we spotted another humpback, penguins, loads of fur seals, albatross and Heather even saw a sunfish, but no sharks (apart from one shadow underwater of a bronze whaler shark. Apart from that first day, we didn’t really see any other whales from the shore, but on our walks along the cliff path we saw plenty of birds, including a cape sugarbird and some fiscal shrikes. We also saw what we think was a cape mongoose, along with lots of the dassies (or rock hyrax) that are common around the Cape.
All in all, our mission was accomplished, we saw the southern rights (sometimes with some nice breaching and often very close) and we saw hundreds of penguins. Everything else was a bonus, including the great food and local wines and beers (Old Harbour I’m looking at you), with the spectacular setting of Bientang’s Cave Restaurant, right at the foot of the cliffs in Hermanus, with the waves crashing against the rocks next to you being a particular favourite.
So, what’s next?