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For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni 

Things to do in South Africa

A memorable whale-watching adventure in Hermanus

We’re ideally placed to see southern rights – our sheltered bays are pretty much their first point of call on their journey north…

By Brandon Payne
Whale specialist guide at Southern Right Charters

We’re lucky to be ideally placed to see southern right whales. Like a lot of other baleen whales, they’re migratory. They feed in the Southern Ocean, but need warmer, calmer waters to do their mating and calving – and our sheltered bays are pretty much their first point of call on their journey north. The whales generally spend about six months here with us, roughly from June to December. Our location in Hermanus New Harbour gives us access to Walker Bay, which becomes a marine protected area during the season. It’s got a beautiful stretch of beach and the whales seem to favour it to bring up their youngsters.

We welcome our guests with tea, coffee and a short presentation about the whales and the plan of action. Walker Bay covers about 400 square kilometres, and there are also humpbacks and Bryde’s whales during the season, plus other marine life, so the tours range from 90 minutes to three hours depending on what’s out there and where it is. After that, we board our very comfortable and manoeuvrable 60-foot catamaran and head out into the bay keeping our eyes peeled right from the start. While we’re on the water, I’ll be interacting with the guests, explaining what we’re seeing and why we’re seeing it and what we’re looking out for.

Every day provides us with at least one memorable occurrence. That’s just what nature does, especially at sea. It’s such a wild, ever-changing place that, as much as you think you might know it, there’s a surprise around every corner. At the height of the season, in August and September, there’s a lot of mating groups in Hermanus and seeing them is pretty mind-blowing. Southern rights are different from a lot of other species in that they don’t fight for the females, so you can have 10 or 11 males waiting for their chance with one individual female, which can go on for hours, sometimes even for days. To see creatures as large as a southern right whale – 60,000 kilos and up to 17 metres long – all washing around as if you’d put them on a slow cycle is incredible. 

It’s fascinating to observe the guests’ reactions. Some show pure excitement, others become very emotional, especially if seeing a whale, let alone multiple whales or even multiple species of whales, has been a lifelong dream. Southern right whales are inquisitive animals. For us to be able to encounter them in the wild, and for them to be as at ease as they are with our presence, allows us some truly special moments. We often find ourselves questioning who is actually observing who. 

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Alfred & Brandon Payne

Brandon Payne was born and raised in Cape Town, studied in the field of environmental science and then became a general naturalist expedition guide. He spent the four years pre-Covid guiding on expedition ships around the world, from Antarctica to Greenland, and is currently based in Hermanus, where he shares his wide knowledge of whale behaviour with visitors on a daily basis.

Alfred&

Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Andy, who's travelled extensively in South Africa. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - ex banker who can show you the hottest foodie spots in Cape Town, the award-winning young sommelier who can introduce you to Stellenbosch's finest wines and the walking safari ranger who can guide you to the best game.

Freephone an expert 01306 744 656