Packed into a small region of the beautiful, dramatic southern Cape coastline, the towns and villages of the Whale Coast make for lovely places to stay. Find out where to go on the Whale Coast with our been-there guide below or just ask one of our African Safari Experts for their recommendations.
Hermanus: South Africa's whale-watching capital
Tucked between mountain and sea and home to hiking trails, beaches, bird-filled lagoons and a meandering wine valley, it's no wonder that Hermanus is one of the Cape's most popular destinations for both local and international visitors.
A bustling harbour town situated less than a 2-hour drive from Cape Town, Hermanus is not short of things to do but its main attraction - which has visitors flocking to its shores between August and October - is whale season when migrating southern right whales gather at Walker Bay to display, mate and calve.
It makes for an unforgettable experience, not least since Hermanus boasts the best land-based whale-watching in the world. A 12km cliff path hugs the coastline from one end of town to the other and gives whale-watchers unlimited opportunities to study these gentle giants in their natural habitat, especially during the peak viewing month of September when Hermanus also hosts its annual Whale Festival.
Accommodation in Hermanus is both varied and plentiful but it gets booked up over school holidays and during festival time so you would be well advised to book in advance.
Gansbaai: shark-cage diving & a wild coast
Gansbaai, with its relaxed atmosphere, rugged beauty and white sandy beaches, has always been a favourite holiday spot among South Africans but in recent years it has been attracting visitors from across the globe for an entirely different reason: cage-diving with great white sharks.
This once-in-a-lifetime experience, which takes place around Dyer Island (lying eight kilometres off the coast), has turned this once unheard of town into the great white shark capital of the world.
But Gansbaai has a gentler, more relaxing side too: enjoy long strolls along the beach, explore the caves on the coastline or chat to the local fishermen. It is also one of the most naturally beautiful whale-watching spots in the world. The little village of De Kelders, lying 5km outside of Gansbaai on the edge of Walker Bay, is the perfect crowd-free place to observe whales and their calves during the whale season.
Arniston: classic Cape fishing village
Just north of Cape Agulhas lies the village of Arniston, one of the Overberg coast’s best-kept secrets. This small fishing village with its pearly white beaches, unspoilt sand dunes and intense blue sea is under a 3-hour drive from Cape Town and a perfect spot for weekend retreats for those looking to get away from it all.
There's a range of outdoor activities from snorkelling in tidal rock pools and diving off shipwrecks to mountain biking and hiking – and since Arniston is flanked on either side by De Hoop and De Mond Nature Reserves, it's perfect for day excursions. Whales can be spotted off the coast between August and November, peaking in September.
It’s also worth paying a visit to the tiny fishing community of Kassiesbaai on the outskirts of Arniston. Its thatched, sandstone fisherman’s cottages have changed little in 200 years and have collectively been declared a National Monument.
Farm 215 Reserve: comfortable eco-retreat
Farm 215 Nature Retreat, located about three hours by road from Cape Town, is a pioneer in sustainable tourism in the Western Cape. Above all, it aims to protect the natural vegetation of the south-western Cape - the fynbos - the most diverse floral biome on the planet.
Set in the heart of the unspoiled Overberg and surrounded by mountains, vineyards, farms, lakes and orchards, this 800-hectare private reserve features panoramic views towards the ocean over the Agulhas Plains. At Farm 215, nature rules and it is the destination of choice for those seeking wide open spaces, uninterrupted views, natural treasures and an off-the-beaten-track experience.
Grootbos: stunning private nature reserve
Anyone who has an interest in nature will simply love Grootbos. Located at the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve has gone to great lengths to preserve its natural vegetation which includes 12km² of fynbos wilderness as well as the largest milkwood forest in the world.
About a 3-hour drive from Cape Town via Hermanus, Grootbos features panoramic views across coastal dunes and out to sea over beautiful Walker Bay where migrating whales gather in spring. Activities available at this eco-friendly reserve include 4x4 drives, horse rides and guided, interpretive walks through the fynbos and forests as well as along the coast. Community involvement and upliftment are further important aspects at Grootbos and you can see the results for yourself.
Cape Agulhas: iconic southernmost tip of Africa
Not only is Cape Agulhas the southernmost tip of Africa, it is also the point at which the icy Atlantic and warm Indian Oceans officially meet. This is where you’ll find the entrance to the Agulhas National Park which protects the amazing biodiversity found in the region, particularly endangered lowland fynbos.
The small town of L'Agulhas is naturally Africa's southernmost town and is set around a rocky bay, beyond which you can spot whales during season. Apart from a few shops, a pub and a couple of restaurants, it also has safe tidal pools to explore and great fishing.
De Hoop Reserve: extraordinary natural beauty
De Hoop Nature Reserve is one of the largest protected marine reserves in Africa, incorporating 50km of coastline and stretching 5km out to sea into the rich feeding waters of the Agulhas Bank. Dolphin sightings are common and whales can often be seen offshore during late winter and spring.
With its pristine dunes, indigenous Cape fynbos flora and important wetlands, this World Heritage Site teems with a variety of wildlife including the rare bontebok and Cape mountain zebra making it a firm favourite among nature lovers.