The most southerly region of Africa, east of Cape Town, lies in a fertile area surrounded by mountains and sea, beautiful farmland, historic towns and seaside villages. The Overberg coast, also known as the Whale Coast, awaits any traveller who enjoys escaping the busy city, even just for the day. Southern right whales prefer warmer waters to mate and calf, so they migrate to the southern coast from July to November. There are many areas where you can view whales from land.
The gentle giants of the ocean emerge from its depths along the Whale Route. Thunderous claps echo toward the shoreline as southern right whales and humpback whales carry out courtship rituals and bear calves in sheltered bays along the coastline. A varied number of dolphin species, along with cape fur seals and penguins, also populate the area and can be spotted.
The Whale Route is dripping with small-town charm and appeal as visitors stop by coastal hamlets such as Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay, and Kleinmond. The heart of the Whale Route, Hermanus, also has numerous attractions. Have your wits about you, though – the Hermanus Whale Crier will sound his kelp horn at the first sighting of whales, prompting a flurry of activity on the coastline as whale-watchers scan the horizon.
Further along the coast, thrill-seekers can go shark-cage-diving in Gansbaai (a coastal town whose waters are known for great white sharks), while Cape Agulhas allows visitors to tick a visit to the southernmost tip of Africa off their bucket list. Don’t miss Grootbos Nature Reserve, De Hoop Nature Reserve, and other small-town stops such as De Kelders, Arniston, and Stanford along the way. Activities in the area include kayaking, quad biking, golfing, horse-riding, and whale-watching trips out to sea.
We've taken the liberty to answer everything you may need to know about visiting the Whale Route.
- Whale Watching: South Africa’s Whale Route is well-known for offering incredible land-based whale-watching opportunities. Its main town, Hermanus, has a beautiful Cliff Walk, a meandering path that takes you along the coastline. During certain times of the year, whales show up to give you a show. There are many lookout points for this – including going out at sea in a boat. Here you will also find the famous Whale Crier, a man who notifies the town by blowing a kelp horn when the whales are making their seasonal debut.
- Wine Tasting: Don't miss out on the picturesque Hemel en Aarde Valley, where you can enjoy some wine tasting. There are also several hiking trails, and activities such as horseback riding are on offer.
- Shark Cage Diving: Feeling a little bit more adventurous? You can also pay the neighbouring town of Gansbaai a visit, where the brave ones can embark on shark cage diving.
- Cape Agulhas: Visit the southernmost tip of Africa.
- Flora & Fauna: Nature walks and hikes in the Grootbos Nature Reserve, Fernkloof Nature Reserve, Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens and De Hoop Nature Reserve are a must as well.
Approximately 1,5-2 hours from Cape Town, this seaside town has some of the world's best land-based whale-watching opportunities (taking place between June and November) in the world! Whether you are strolling along the cliffs overlooking Walker Bay or relaxing at one of the many restaurants in the old harbour, the town offers wonderful land-based views across the bay, a favourite playground for the whales.
At the top of Walker Bay, there is a clifftop walk that stretches seemingly from one end of the town to the other, and from it, you can watch and commune with the whales in the bay.
While visiting Hermanus, you may go on a whale-watching boat trip (seasonal) or even shark cage diving in Gansbaai, not too far away. Visit the Hemel en Aarde Valley for its unique light reds like Pinot Noir and deliciously zesty white wines.
The Rotary Way is a lookout point in Hermanus, winding through a scenic drive offering incredible views of Hermanus coastline. Other activities to enjoy in Hermanus include going to the beach, surfing, snorkelling, sunbathing, walking, and fynbos exploring! Fernkloof Nature Reserve, as well as Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens, offer visitors some extraordinary scenes.
Mainly known for its boat-based whale watching and shark cage diving trips, Gansbaai is also home to a quirky seal, seabird and penguin colony. This little coastal town definitely offers far more than meets the eye!
Gansbaai is the HMS Birkenhead shipwreck location. This well-known ship was destroyed at Danger Point due to submerged rocks in 1852. The rocks tore out the bottom of the ship, and many soldiers died in their hammocks. Survivors settled in the area, and Dangerpoint Lighthouse was erected in 1895, after 20 more shipwrecks. There is more to the story, but you'll just have to visit for a local historical tour to the De Kelders and Klipgat Caves.
Another icon found in this area is the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, which focuses on sustainable tourism. With more than 650 species of indigenous plants, it's a sight to behold. After you’ve had your share of guided nature walks, birding, horse riding, and flower safaris, indulge in a treatment at the on-site spa or enjoy one of the delectable dining options offered within your stay. A great place to stay for those wanting to escape the crowds of Hermanus, but are still close enough to visit for lunch!
Although it has tough competition, the Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) valley has been regarded by many as being one of the most exciting and most beautiful wine areas in South Africa. With many award-winning wines and winemakers, this route is an excellent addition for any traveller headed along the Whale Route and beyond.
Being wedged between a valley, where the Antarctic Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean pushes through from the south-east between the vines off the coast, the wines of their region are distinctly cool-climate, crisp wines made primarily from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals.
The vineyards are set up in a way to maximise the wine benefitting from this cooler maritime climate, with some varietals planted along the valley floor and others perked high on the sloping hills. These hills seem to go on for miles and reaches an altitude of up to 350 meters (1148 feet) above sea level. The drive through the valley is best done at a leisurely pace, so it is recommended to stay for at least two nights.
Here are some wine farms to add to your list of stops along the way to help you taste "heaven on earth":
Top Travel Tip for the Hemel en Aarde Valley: If you are looking for the best wine guide to take you along this valley (so you can drink and not have to drive), we can highly recommend The Wine Fairy! Our specialist wine guide and enthusiastic, a mythical creature who sure does have magical powers – especially when it comes to wine!