Whale watching festival

Hermanus Whale Watching Festival: A Guide to South Africa’s Premier Marine Event

The Hermanus Whale Watching Festival is an annual event that takes place in the coastal town of Hermanus, South Africa. It’s a couple hours from Cape Town and is part of the famous Garden Route drive that goes from Cape Town to Port Elisabeth and visits some beautiful coastal towns and is by far one of Africa’s top road trip experiences!

The Hermanus whale watching festival is a celebration of the southern right whales that migrate to the area every year to mate and calve. It’s been running for over three decades and is one of the oldest and largest festivals on the Cape Whale Coast.

During the festival, visitors can enjoy a range of activities, including whale watching tours, arts and crafts markets, live music performances, and food stalls. The festival also features educational talks and workshops on marine conservation and the importance of protecting the southern right whale population. This amazing festival attracts visitors from all over the world who come to witness these majestic creatures up close and learn more about their behavior and habitat.

If you’re planning a trip to South Africa, the Hermanus Whale Watching Festival is an event that should not be missed. With its breathtaking scenery, diverse marine life, and rich cultural heritage, Hermanus is a destination that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re an avid whale watcher or simply looking for a unique and memorable experience, the Hermanus Whale Watching Festival is sure to leave a lasting impression.

History of Hermanus Whale Watching Festival

I have always been fascinated by the Hermanus Whale Watching Festival and its rich history. The festival was initiated by the Hermanus Rotary Club in 1992 and aimed at providing cultural entertainment for the town’s visitors. A group of local businessmen, including Basil Clarke-Brown, Bruce van der Spuy, and Neville Sheriff, started the “Whale of a Festival” to celebrate the return of the southern right whales to the coastal waters of Hermanus in South Africa.

Since then, the festival has grown in popularity and size, attracting both local and international visitors. In its 33rd year, the annual Hermanus Whale Festival is a celebration of the southern right whales’ return and their calving season. The festival is an eco-marine festival and the only one of its kind in the world.

The Hermanus Whale Festival has been firmly positioned as an internationally recognized brand, which has grown from humble beginnings. It is now one of the 20 “must-do” events in South Africa and a flagship festival for Overstrand, the Western Cape, and South Africa. The festival offers a unique opportunity to witness the majestic southern right whales up close and learn about their conservation efforts.

Hermanus whale watching festival pier

Festival Overview

As a whale watching enthusiast, I am excited to share with you all the details about the Hermanus Whale Watching Festival. This is a three-day event that takes place annually in Hermanus, South Africa, to celebrate the return of the Southern Right Whales to the coastal waters of Hermanus.

Event Schedule

The Hermanus Whale Watching Festival is usually held at the end of September each year. In 2024, the festival will take place from September 27th to September 29th. The festival schedule is packed with exciting activities for all ages, including live music performances, food and craft markets, and a variety of outdoor activities.

Main Attractions

The main attraction of the Hermanus Whale Watching Festival is, of course, the opportunity to witness the majestic Southern Right Whales up close. These gentle giants migrate to the waters of Hermanus every year to mate and give birth. Visitors can enjoy land-based whale watching from the cliffs and beaches of Hermanus, or take a boat tour for a closer look.

Aside from whale watching, visitors can also enjoy a range of attractions, such as vintage car shows, art exhibitions, and live music performances. The festival also offers a variety of food and craft markets, where visitors can sample local cuisine and purchase handmade souvenirs.

I highly recommend making reservations at the Fisherman’s cottage, a classic restaurant overlooking prime whale watching areas with yummy fresh seafood. You’ll be able to dine with a potential whale tail sighting coming right at you!

Local South African food in Hermanus
Yummy Cape Malay curry at Fisherman’s cottage

Location and Venue

The Hermanus Whale Watching Festival takes place in the charming town of Hermanus, located on the southern coast of the Western Cape province in South Africa. The festival venue is the Hermanus Old Harbour, which is situated in the heart of the town and offers breathtaking views of the ocean and the surrounding mountains.

Whale Watching in Hermanus

As a seasoned whale watching enthusiast, I can confidently say that Hermanus is one of the best places in the world to observe these majestic creatures up close. The Hermanus Whale Watching Festival is a testament to the town’s love and respect for the marine life that visits its shores every year. In this section, I will share some useful information about whale watching in Hermanus.

Best Time for Whale Watching

The best time to see whales in Hermanus is from June to November when the southern right whales migrate to the warmer waters of the bay to mate and calve. During this period, you can expect to see these gentle giants frolicking in the water, breaching, tail slapping, and spy hopping. It is worth noting that whale sightings are not guaranteed, but the chances of seeing them are high during the peak season.

Types of Whales

Apart from southern right whales, visitors to Hermanus can also spot humpback whales, Bryde’s whales, and killer whales. Humpback whales are known for their acrobatic displays, while Bryde’s whales are smaller and less active. Killer whales, on the other hand, are rare visitors to the bay but are a thrill to watch when they do make an appearance.

Whale popping its head out

Conservation Efforts

Hermanus takes its responsibility to protect the whales seriously. The town has a Whale Crier who sounds his kelp horn to alert visitors when whales are spotted in the bay. There are also strict regulations in place to ensure that boats do not get too close to the whales and disturb their natural behavior. Visitors are encouraged to respect these guidelines and enjoy the whales from a safe distance.

Travel and Accommodation

Getting to Hermanus

Hermanus is located approximately 120 kilometers southeast of Cape Town, South Africa. The easiest way to get to Hermanus is by car, and the drive from Cape Town is approximately 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic. There are also several shuttle services that operate between Cape Town and Hermanus, including the Hermanus Shuttle and the Cape Town Shuttle. For those who prefer public transportation, there are buses that run from Cape Town to Hermanus daily.

Where to Stay

There are several accommodation options available in Hermanus, ranging from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels. Some popular options include the Harbour House Hotel, the Whale Coast Hotel, and the Hermanus Backpackers. I highly recommended to book accommodation in advance, especially during the Hermanus Whale Festival, as rooms tend to fill up quickly. For those who prefer camping, there are several campsites in the area, including the Fernkloof Nature Reserve campsite and the Hermanus Caravan Park.

Local Amenities

Hermanus is a small town, but it has all the amenities that travelers might need. There are several supermarkets, including Checkers and Woolworths (I personally love Woolworth’s and their rose flavored sparkling water), as well as pharmacies, banks, and post offices. 

For those who want to do some shopping, there are several small boutiques and souvenir shops in the town center. There are also several restaurants and cafes, serving a variety of cuisines, including seafood, Italian, and Asian. Visitors can also enjoy wine tasting at one of the many vineyards in the area, including Hamilton Russell Vineyards and Creation Wines.

Beautiful whale watching day in Hermanus, South Africa

Activities and Experiences

As one of the most popular whale watching destinations in the world, the Hermanus Whale Watching Festival offers a range of activities and experiences for visitors. Here are some of the top activities to enjoy during the festival:

Land-Based Whale Watching

One of the most popular activities during the Hermanus Whale Watching Festival is land-based whale watching. Visitors can watch southern right whales from the cliffs along the coast. The whales come close to the shore, making it easy to spot them from land. The festival also offers guided walks along the cliff paths, providing an opportunity to learn more about the whales and their behavior.

Boat-Based Whale Watching

For a more up-close and personal experience, visitors can take a boat-based whale watching tour. These tours offer a chance to see the whales from a different perspective and get closer to them. There are a variety of boat tours available, ranging from large boats to smaller, more intimate tours.

Cultural Activities

In addition to whale watching, the Hermanus Whale Watching Festival offers a range of cultural activities. Visitors can enjoy live music, art exhibitions, and food markets. There are also educational displays and talks about marine life and conservation efforts. The festival is a celebration of the local community and its connection to the sea.

The Hermanus Whale Watching Festival offers a unique and unforgettable experience. Whether you choose to watch the whales from land or sea, or enjoy the cultural activities, the festival is a must-visit for anyone interested in marine life and conservation.

We absolutely loved our visit to Hermanus and checking out the whale watching festival. It was a unique experience that brings marine life into focus outside of the game drives that South Africa is typically known for. 

I highly recommend checking out the whale watching festival then checking out a game drive as September is a great time for animal migration in Africa.

Hermanus Whale Watching Festival FAQ:

Q: When is the Hermanus Whale Watching Festival taking place?

A: The Hermanus Whale Watching Festival will be held from September 27 to September 29, 2024. Mark your calendars for an unforgettable celebration of the majestic Southern Right Whales!

Q: Where is the festival located?

A: The festival takes place in the charming coastal town of Hermanus, South Africa. Known as one of the best whale-watching destinations in the world, Hermanus offers stunning views of the ocean and close encounters with these magnificent creatures.

Q: What types of whales can we expect to see?

A: During the festival, you can expect to see Southern Right Whales, Humpback Whales, and even the occasional Bryde’s Whale. These gentle giants migrate to the warm waters of Hermanus every year to breed and calve, providing spectacular viewing opportunities.

Q: What activities are planned for the festival?

A: The festival is packed with exciting activities for all ages! Enjoy guided whale-watching tours, interactive marine conservation talks, art and craft markets, live music performances, food stalls offering delicious local cuisine, and a vibrant parade. There’s something for everyone!

Q: How do I get to the festival

A: The best way is to fly into Cape Town International Airport and rent a car to visit the Hermanus Whale Watching festival. There are also plenty of shuttles available between the two towns to get there.

Q: How can I book a whale-watching tour?

A: Booking a whale-watching tour is easy! You can book online through the festival’s official website or visit the information booths located around Hermanus during the festival. It’s recommended to book early as tours tend to fill up quickly.

Q: What should I bring to the festival?

A: Bring comfortable clothing, a hat, sunscreen, and a camera to capture the incredible whale sightings! Binoculars are also a great idea for an enhanced viewing experience. And don’t forget some cash for food and crafts from local vendors. South Africa is pretty credit card friendly as well.

Q: Is the festival accessible to people with disabilities?

A: Yes, the festival strives to be inclusive and accessible. There are accessible viewing platforms, parking, and facilities available. If you have specific accessibility needs, please contact the festival organizers in advance for assistance.

Q: How can I volunteer for the festival?

A: Volunteers are the heart of our festival! If you’d like to join the team, you can sign up on the official festival website. Volunteers help with a variety of tasks, from guiding tours to assisting at information booths. It’s a great way to get involved and make new friends!

Q: How can I attend with a group of individuals?

A: Cloud Connections specializes in curating unique experiences around cultural festivals. Check out our homepage and sign up for the waitlist to be informed of upcoming retreats to this area!

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