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The Lesser Travelled…Whale Route

The Cape is renowned for exceptional whale sightings each winter. Beat the crowds with a quieter road trip along South Africa’s unofficial whale route.

South Africa’s unofficial whale route starts just south of Cape Town and extends around the country to Richards Bay and St Lucia in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

That is almost 2 000 kilometres of magnificent whale-watching coastline. Sure, there are good reasons why Hermanus was dubbed the country’s whale capital, but with an entire ocean out there to explore, why not broaden the net a little?

Setting off early from the city of Cape Town, sticking to the N2, set your sights on L’Agulhas and the southernmost tip of Africa as a starting point for an off-beat whale-watching road trip.

The second-oldest lighthouse in South Africa at Agulhas . Photo: Melanie van Zyl

The second-oldest lighthouse in South Africa at Agulhas . Photo: Melanie van Zyl

Agulhas National Park

This is a popular stopover, and tourists love taking selfies at the signpost signalling the southernmost tip of Africa. But this park is far more than a mere marker.

On a small koppie stands the second-oldest lighthouse in South Africa, built-in 1848. With an exceptional vantage across the sea, one is sure to see the southern right whales that frequent these bays to breed from August to November.

Struisbaai

On your way from the park, meander westward into the next sleepy coastal town on the whale route. There is some debate about the origin of the name Struisbaai, but some believe it was named after the many ostriches that lived in the Sandveld region (the Afrikaans name for this non-flying bird is “volstruis”).

Struisbaai has one of the only natural harbours in the area. Primarily a fishing harbour, colourfully painted boats float on water that is so tropically hued, it could just as well have been around a Greek island.

Fishing boats in Arniston. Photo: Melanie van Zyl.

Fishing boats in Arniston. Photo: Melanie van Zyl.

Arniston

A short 40-kilometre gravel stretch takes you to the charming seaside village of Arniston, also known as Waenhuiskrans. Built in 1933, the Arniston Spa Hotel is situated a few hundred metres from the beach and according to hotel literature, it is the only town in South Africa with two names.

Whitewashed homes line the roads and tawny cliffs of this beautiful bay with its totally turquoise waters. During the summer holidays, the town heaves with holiday-makers packed into the campsite, but the hotel is a hushed haven during the cooler offseason.

Kassiesbaai

Nextdoor to the hotel, Kassiesbaai is a heritage site of lime-washed walls and thatched roofs – one of the last practising fishing villages in South Africa. Like Struisbaai, a kaleidoscope of fishing boats lines the edges of the ocean.

An early-morning stroll along the Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserve coastline provides yet another excellent vantage point for whale watching. Alternatively, the hotel’s luxury sea-facing rooms have private balconies (and fireplaces) for mornings too chilly to brave the outdoors.

Whale watching in De Hoop. Photo: Melanie van Zyl.

Whale watching in De Hoop. Photo: Melanie van Zyl.

De Hoop Nature Reserve

Saving the best for last, it is time to check into the ultimate whale-watching wonderland on the whale route. A sanctuary on both land and sea, De Hoop Nature Reserve protects pristine marine and fynbos habitats.

Last year, a new record was set for whale sightings at De Hoop Nature Reserve when 1 116 southern right whales were counted in an aerial survey that crossed the Western Cape.

Apart from the wondrous whale sightings and fascinating rock pools, there are lovely beaches and activities out here too. Join an interpretive marine walk, departing from Koppie Alleen. Nearby, inside the Blombos Cave, evidence exists that the world’s first pieces of abstract art date back roughly 70 000 years.

Getting There 

FLY: SAA flies to Cape Town several times each day from Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. You can also fly to Cape Town from Johannesburg (Lanseria), Durban, East London, and Port Elizabeth on SAA’s low-cost carrier Mango, or SAA domestic partners SA Express or Airlink. Book your ticket now!

 

 

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