Whale Watching and Wine Tasting in the Western Cape


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Africa » South Africa » Western Cape » Hermanus
October 3rd 2018
Published: October 5th 2018
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It's a whale of a tailIt's a whale of a tailIt's a whale of a tail

Performing for us.
While the big city offers many wonderful distractions and learnings, the more subtle countryside and smaller towns along the coast have a charm all their own….especially when your interests are being on the lookout out for those magnificent sea creatures, the whale. They are an amazing to behold on the Western Cape, as the Southern Right Whales return each year to the bays south of Cape Town to the delight of many. The females are spotted with their young calves and you easily become captivated by their presence.

The town of Hermanus, located some two hours south of Cape Town afforded us the opportunity to see some of the best land-based whale watching possible…..from our balcony no less! Our room overlooked Walker Bay and it was immediately apparent why this area has its reputation. No sooner had we stepped out on the balcony, we immediately spotted some whales……cool! It was almost surreal as we had been in search of whales more than a couple of times in other places, where you got on a boat and motored for quite a while in the hope of spotting these behemoths of the deep. You sit and scan the waters, hoping to get
Yummy prawnsYummy prawnsYummy prawns

We ordered Cajun Argentinian prawns!
lucky to see one or two and maybe capture a photo. Here, they are quite easy to spot…..you just look out your window……and there they are.

Southern Right Whales

A little after six one morning, we were picked up and transported some 40 minutes to Gansbaai, where we were briefed on the morning’s activities, given a life jacket, a raincoat and hopped on a boat for our whaling adventure. The weather was so calm that the raincoats were not necessary. We were only a few minutes out when we spotted the first whale and her calf. This was the first of many sightings and we found ourselves only about 20 yards from them most of the time. The whale calf caught our attention as it kept slapping the surface of the water with its tail. It was really performing for us. Magnificent!

Our excursion also included floating near Dyer Island, where birds and sea lions were seemingly in the thousands. We watched the seal pups play in the water and the older adults on shore busy barking and sunning themselves. We also saw more penguins as well. A stunning display of nature’s sea life to be sure.

We learned that Hermanus is the breeding ground for the Southern Right Whales and that several months a year they are frequently seen in the waters off this town. That proved to be true while we were there. The bay in Hermanus had no fewer than 4 whales most of the time and at some time during the day 6 or 7. From the balcony of our room… yes, our room! We could sit in the chairs sipping wine and watch the whales surface, blow a bit and on occasion slap their tales at us! We were in awe. I doubt we will ever have a room with this kind of whale viewing ever again.

Shark Diving

Ok we are going to leave a bit of snark here. We are scuba divers and love all sea creatures… even sharks. With that said we are recreational divers and don’t need to go past 80 or 90 feet when diving. We have in the past … but honestly there isn’t much bottom time and generally not as much to see down there. We’ve never had the desire to do, “The Great White Shark dives” as seen on TV where the cage is lowered into the water as the shark circles the cage. We are certain you are perfectly safe in those cages but it just doesn’t interest us. Dave suspects that most people do it so they can brag to their friends…..whatever.

On our whale watching trip we were told we would drive out and observe the shark diving boats. This peaked our curiosity. From what we observed it seemed disappointing. The cage was tacked to the side of the boat—not one of those cages you see on TV that gets lowered into the water. The cage is ¾ submerged into the water. They flip open the lid and 8 people in wet suits and mask climb down into the cold waters. They chum for the sharks, meaning they toss a rope with bloody bait into the water hoping to attract the sharks. Spotters are on top of the boat letting them know if they see a big fish or shark nearby. The divers lower themselves further in the cage when they think a creature is nearby. It looked like there were 30 eager future shark divers on each of four boats. Hopefully, most of them got to see a shark (who knows what kind) and were happy with their trip. The spotter on our boat did see a shark in the waters in front of our boat but I’m not sure the people in the cage saw it as it was too far away. The shark divers did see a manta ray. All is all it didn’t seem like the excitement they were hoping for……at least from our perspective.

Wine Tasting

With an open mind and curious palates, we came in search of wine tastings. We have lived in the Sonoma Valley region of California and tasted many wines from that region as well as Napa Valley, Paso Robles and the Russian River Valley. Wine snobs we are not. An educated palate we do not have… but we do know what we enjoy. In addition, we are familiar with many wonderful wines from the state of Washington. In a way, the more wine you’ve tasted makes your curiosity for wines even greater.

We’ve never had many South African wines but wanted to give them a fair taste. We’ve been pleased with what we have found. We came with an impression that the South Africans
HermanusHermanusHermanus

View from our room
made more white wines than reds but that does not seem to be the case and they seem to spend equal time on reds and whites. Our friend Linda, who is originally from South Africa, instructed us to give the Pinotage wines a try. Thanks Linda… a great recommendation! These turned out to be some of our favorite wines.

Our tour included visits to vineyards in the regions of Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The wineries we sampled the grape included: The Kanonkop Estate, Neethlingshof, Moreson’s and we went to the Fairview winery for a wine and cheese pairing. As it turns out wines followed us back to our lodging from most of the vineyards and we especially enjoyed the wine and cheese tasting at The Fairview winery. We sampled 8 wines and 8 cheeses and were in taste bud heaven! At Kanonkop, we bought a Cabernet, at Neethlingshof and Fairview a Pinotage. Fairview also has a Rose Quartz that we really enjoyed if you are looking for a lighter wine. We took a couple of bottles to diner at the local restaurants, who have no issue with you bringing your own wine for a very small corkage fee.
Whale SurfacingWhale SurfacingWhale Surfacing

Southern Right Whale

Many of you may know we are cheese hounds (ok, MJ is) and she wanted to buy all of the cheese to take home. We decided we should have a picnic that night at our hotel so be bought some biltong (South African beef jerky, only better), ciabatta bread and settled for small packages of Fairview’s cream cheese sweet chili cheese (our favorite), the cambazola and the cheddar with garlic and rosemary. What a treat that was relaxing in our lovely guest house with magnificent wines and cheeses. Life really does not get any better.

When we get home, we will be on the lookout for Fairview’s Primo’s Pinotage 2016. Although we were warned we had to buy it at the vineyard and have it shipped. It is our understanding we should be able to purchase the Kanonkop wines from molly@capeclassics.com. Hopefully, we can find the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2014 Paul Sauer. The Needthlingshof had a Shiraz, Pinotage and a Chenin Blanc that we enjoyed.

Chocolate Tasting

Conveniently placed next door to the wineries was De Villers chocolates where we were forced into trying 8 different chocolates. We really wished our friend Michael was with
Southern Right Whale!Southern Right Whale!Southern Right Whale!

This guy was having fun slapping his tail.
us for this tasting. He now lives in Paris most of the year and leads amazing chocolate tours so if you are in Paris google “The Paris Chocolate Guru” and take the tour!

Beer, Beer and Beer

While in Cape Town and now in wine country we managed to squeeze in a couple of beer tastings. We do not want to be harsh or hurt anyone’s feelings but there is a reason you don’t hear much about south African beers. They are just average. They are doing their best to learn beer brewing. Mostly they serve lagers and pilsners. Credit is given because they are trying hard to brew some fine hops and grains.

Guest Houses

We generally list the places we stay but don’t take the time to comment. We stayed in two very amazing places and recommend you stay there if you are in the area.

Ocean’s Eleven Guest House in Hermanus was right on the water and provided us amazing views of the bay from our bed, seating area and balcony. They offered nice short trails with bench seating that allowed you to sit on the cliff edge and be even closer to the whale activity. Very well run and an excellent breakfast. Watching whales from bed… amazing.

Akademie Guest House in Fanschhoek has lovely dark woods and charmingly decorated. A nice library and several outdoor seating areas, pool, hot tub and flowered grounds make this place very inviting. Breakfast is amazing and it is served in what seems to be a greenhouse room with twenty-foot ceilings and glass wall and ceiling. The space is inviting and the people who run this place are amazing. These two properties were extra special and we loved every minute of our time in them.

Could our voyage get any better? We feel confident because now we’re off to see animals in the wild….stay tuned.

Restaurants we recommend in Hermanus:

Fisherman’s Cottage

Lemon Butta

Where we stayed:

Ocean’s Eleven Guest House, Hermanus

Akademie Guest House, Franschhoek


Additional photos below
Photos: 37, Displayed: 29


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5th October 2018

Are'nt the whales amazing...
As you know we were there only a month or so ago... Blown away by how close you can get to whales from the shore!!! Amazing stuff. Like you, we skipped the shark tours too... I'd love to see a white shark in the wild (We've seen one in Monterey Bay Aquarium), but not like that. It seems the most inauthentic experience there is! I'd rather see one scuba diving, without a cage, as scary as that may be! Safe travels, hope you're enjoying Kruger... :)
5th October 2018
Brutus in Hermanus

Meeting
Brutus and Beeny should meet up some time soon.
5th October 2018
Brutus in Hermanus

Brutus and Beany
Yes let’s make a plan for them to meet.
5th October 2018

A Whale of a time
Looks like you are certainly having one whale of a time. Wine , whales , chocolate and cheese what a great start to the trip. I think it sounds perfect to whale watch from your bed !
5th October 2018

A whale of a time
We are having a great time. We would stay at Oceans Eleven again. Wine, cheese, chocolate. Life is grand.
5th October 2018

Chocolate
Wish I was there to "test" the chocolate as well. With some pinitage!
6th October 2018

Chocolate
It woul have been great to have you with us.
5th October 2018

Perfectly content
You sound perfectly content on this trip. Whales, wine, cheese. I wish I was there with you. Eat, drink, sight-see, enjoy, and above all, keep Brutus out of danger. You know how he can be.Looking forward to reading about your next adventure.
6th October 2018

Perfectly content
We should have brought you along to provide personal security for Brutus. However, he tends to get into trouble just as you do. Travel Brendan and travel Brutus... we’ll have to plan another trip. Wish you were here to enjoy these wines with us. They really have some nice ones and you would have enjoyed our whales.
5th October 2018

Chocolate!
You had me at chocolate.... I remember waaay back in the '60s, I saw the move "The Endless Summer" where the guys found the perfect wave off the coast between Cape Town and Durban. Sounds like you had equally exciting watery adventures.
6th October 2018

Chocolate
Yes the chocolate sampling was rough work. Ha. The coast aroun here is scenic. The whales cooperated for us.
5th October 2018

Whale watching
Great stuff. Nothing like seeing the world's largest mammals close up. Even better when they breach or wave their tails to you.
6th October 2018

Whale watching
We are having some fantastic experiences. All the animal life wants to see us an we love them clapping their tales!
6th October 2018

You are having a ball!
The Whale, Wine, beer, cheese, sea lion - what else is left to make it a fantastic trip DMJ? Your trip has increased my appetite to make a trip in SA sooner than I was hoping. Lucky you and enjoy....the photos are stunning!
6th October 2018

Wow!
What an amazing time you are having. The best of everything, except beer. No wonder Peter moved there.
6th October 2018

WOW!
There is so much to see here and it is very easy to get around. Yes, Peter might have been chasing those wines.
6th October 2018

Whales!
I'm not surprised those wines followed you home, they do that to us all the time - pesky wines! You are certainly enjoying so many of life's best things on this trip - what an amazing adventure :)
6th October 2018

Whales!
Yes, those pesky wines are always following after us and we are happy about it. This trip is in celebration of my 60th birthday ( a bit late). Dave told me to plan the trip I wanted so I built in some comfort on this trip.
7th October 2018

Crustaceans and Cetaceans
First, I love prawns! Second, I love whales! To see the Southern Right is fantastic. I am pleased you continue to enjoy great food whilst travelling. The avo-egg combo looks very tasty. I can drool... Dave
7th October 2018

Crustaceans and cetaceans
So many things to love about this part of the world. Thanks for following along.
7th October 2018
Whale says hello

Whale watching
We went on a whale safari in Sri Lanka some years ago. The crew said that one of the whales we saw was a blue whale, but I think it wasn't. The just wanted us to think it was a blue to make us happy. However, we have seen whale sharks up close. I even touched it! That was one of the coolest things I've ever done. I am not sure the whale shark was happy about it, but I surely was. /Ake
8th October 2018

Amazing wildlife!
Wow, what amazing sealife! We've been lucky this winter to have a couple of southern right whales (one a mother and new calf) visit us right inside Wellington harbour, they caused traffic chaos and productivity across government workers plummeted. Who can think about work when there is a whale doing breaches out the window? They really are incredible creatures
8th October 2018

Amazing wildlife.
I can imagine the whales causing chaos with traffic. I would be down there watching. They are amazing
10th October 2018

Jealous
You bring back so many memories of our 2017 trip
13th October 2018

2017 trip
Great hearing from you! I’ll write when we get back. So glad we are providing memories. So many amazing things.
3rd November 2018

Whales, Wine and Cheese
Ah, the traveller's life doesn't get any better than this! What a wonderful blog read, very inspiring, and the Western Cape region seems a beautiful place to visit. Sorry for my late comment, I'm just catching up on your journey now. Looking forward very much to reading more 😊
3rd November 2018

Whales, wine and cheese
Alex, thank you for following our travels and commenting. The western Cape has so much to offer. I'm glad we were moving slowly through that part of the trip. The couple extra days allowed us to get over the jet lag and savor each day.

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