Come see the Whale Coast
The Whale Coast offers stunning scenic coastal drives overlooking sweeping bays, bordered by small isolated villages. The fashionable, bustling little town of Hermanus is the best whale-watching spot and some say it offers the best land-based whale watching in the world. They even have a whale-crier (a new take on the town-crier) announcing the best viewing for the day.
Further along this coast is the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Agulhas and the quaint fishing village of Arniston. Because of its proximity to Cape Town, the Whale Coast is a very popular weekend destination for Capetonians.
The lovely and rapidly growing town of Hermanus forms the centre of the Whale Route. The bustling Whale Festival celebrates these gentle giants at the end of September each year.
Once hunted almost to extinction from the Hermanus harbour, they now loll around within a stone’s throw of the rocks, where you can sit and commune with them for hours.
The most common species arriving here to calve and mate is the southern right whale. These are amongst the biggest in the world, measuring 11–18 metres and weighing 30–80 tonnes.
Don’t pass up the quaint little museum on the harbour’s edge – the whale song playing in the background comes live from underwater microphones in the bay.
Accommodation in Hermanus is plentiful, but it gets quite booked up over public holidays and during festival time.
Cape Agulhas, about two hours’ drive from Cape Town, is the southernmost point of Africa. The old red and white banded lighthouse is now a museum and a National Monument.
Early Portuguese navigators thought this a strange place, because 500 years ago the compass showed no variation between true and magnetic north. Nowadays there is a 24º variation west, as the magnetic poles are constantly moving.
Just before you enter the town of Cape Agulhas, you’ll pass a small bay called Stinkbaai (‘smelly bay’). Its name may come from the kelp that sometimes washes ashore and smells rather pungent as it decays in the sun. The notable feature at Stinkbaai is the Khoi fish traps that can still be seen when the tide drops. The Khoi used stones to create funnel-like contraptions to trap fish when the water levels changed.
The little town at Cape Agulhas has a few shops, a pub and a couple of restaurants. It is a quiet community.
Cape Agulhas is often very windy. Walking in the nature reserve, you get the feeling that you truly are at the edge of the Earth.
Two hours’ drive from Cape Town, the old fishing village of Arniston exudes an authentically quaint atmosphere.
It has two names: Arniston, in memory of the 372 people who drowned on the HMS Arniston, a transport ship wrecked in 1815; and Waenhuiskrans, (‘wagon house cliff’) deriving from its enormous tidal cavern big enough to hold six ox and wagon teams.
Arniston is also notable for its bizarre marine erosion; fishermen clamber over the rocks for the perfect angling spot. The beaches are pearly white and the dunes are vast and unspoiled. Writers and painters are known to come here for peace and inspiration.
A visit to nearby Kassiesbaai is not to be missed. The neighbouring 200–year-old fishing village has a unique collection of whitewashed and thatched fisherman’s cottages that a local guide will show you. The entire village of Kassiesbaai is now a National Monument and you have to be born there to be able to live there.
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