Last chance to spot whales
Words by Fiona McIntosh, Pics by Dave Hurwitz and Chris Fallows
The Cape’s famous seasonal visitors, southern right whales, are still to be seen around the Peninsula, and there have been several sightings of humpbacks as well of late. So keep your eyes peeled and binos handy when you’re driving the coastal roads, or if you’re hiking on the mountain. Alternatively go looking for the big beasties on one of these marine adventures.
A Marine Big Five Seafari
South Africa is well known for its Big Five sightings but fewer people are aware of the Marine Big Five: the common dolphin, Cape fur seal, African penguin, great white shark and the southern right whale. All of them can be seen in False Bay. Weather permitting, Cape Town’s premier shark viewing and cage diving operator, Apex Shark Expeditions, run full day Marine Big Five “Seafaris” until the end of December. They take a maximum of 12 guests, and kids as young as 5 years, on their 36ft catamaran. It’s a great family outing.
The voyage starts in Simon’s Town harbour at the Boulders penguin colony; home to 3,500 of the most photogenic African penguins. After enjoying the antics of these cute birds it’s on to Seal Island to check out the noisy (and smelly) Cape fur seals and numerous seabirds. From here you cruise the bay looking for great white sharks and marine mammals. The apex predators habitually move into the inshore areas from September so there’s a good chance of white shark sightings during the Christmas season. (I’m sure this is just what the beach-goers wanted to hear!) Big pods of common dolphins surfing the boat’s bow wave are regularly encountered along this part of the trip. Bottlenose and dusky dolphins are also seen. While southern right whales are more abundant earlier in the year, there’s still a reasonable chance of spotting them, and occasional a Bryde’s or humpback whale.
Whale watching tours
If you’re after a shorter tour, specialist operator Simon’s Town Boat Company run two whale watching trips a day at 10.30 and 14.00 in a large, and stable, customised vessel. Again this is a highly informative and fun tour that’s great for families, and while sightings can never be guaranteed, you’re pretty certain to track down some interesting marine mammals.
One of the best ways to check out the Cape’s marine life is in a sea kayak. Although rare, an unexpected encounter with a southern right makes you feel a tad vulnerable - exhilarating to say the least! If you’re fit, the Cape Point sea kayaking trip is the ultimate tour – a chance to view the dramatic cliffs and birdlife of Cape Point and the Cape of Hope from a completely different vantage. The paddle from Simon’s town to Boulders penguin colony – where you can swim and snorkel off the beach - is one for the whole family.
Whales are also occasionally spotted on kayaking trips from Three Anchor Bay but you’re more likely to see dolphins or a Cape fur seal sunning itself on the rocks as you take a leisurely paddle along Cape Town’s Atlantic seaboard. And even if the marine mammals don’t play ball you’re not going to be disappointed – just being on the water enjoying the spectacular views will make your holiday.