Whale Watching in Hermanus with Southern Right Charters
ShowMe got to experience the sheer joy of boat-based whale-watching in Hermanus with Southern Right Charters. It was one of those rare days in winter – the weather was perfect, blue skies and the sun left a tingling sensation on your skin. The promise of a summer yet to come, and hopefully plenty of whales!
I was born in Hermanus and as a child we used to travel into Walker Bay on my father’s boat, I miss it terribly. A large area of Walker Bay has been declared a Whale Sanctuary, and from 1 July to 30 November each year, no boats or crafts of any kind are allowed in the Walker Bay Whale Sanctuary Marine Protected Area. Permits for boat-based whale watching charters have been issued to a limited number of applicants in various ‘concession areas’ and permit holders adhere to a very strict code of conduct. My excitement was like that of when I was a child; it has definitely been a while since I was last on a boat. My colleagues still laughed at my rushing about last minute to buy anti sea sickness medication. I was, after all, planning on spotting whales, NOT feeding the fish.
My nervousness was soon put to rest on arrival at the New Harbour. Southern Right Charters’s beautiful, pale blue whale shack, flags and white benches can’t be missed. Look out for the full scale Southern Right Whale sculpture and you have arrived. We were asked to kindly take our seats and await the arrival of the remaining guests. Once everyone had arrived, we were welcomed by a large, charming seaman, Ken “The Whale Man” Moore! He introduced the team who would be accompanying us, and then got down to business: whales.
Some incredibly interesting facts that he passed on where:
- Southern Right Whales can grow to the age of 50, even older.
- Their gestation period is little over a year.
- The Southern Right whales that return to Walker Bay each year are here to mate and calve. They do not eat much, if anything at all, while here. Their food source, microscopic zoo plankton, is found in the frosty waters of the Antarctic. They leave Walker Bay around December and head to the South Pole to feed.
- Southern Rights are normally black in colour, while some have white bellies. The white, raised surfaces on their heads, are callosities. These are actually rough patches of skin (typically grey in colour) that appear white and raised because of thousands of sea lice and other creatures attached to them. Each whale’s callosities are unique and can be seen scattered over their heads. Calves are born with the rough patches but they become more pronounced with time as growths and lice increase on the patches.
After the short introduction we headed in the direction of the boat. There she lay, Miroshca, a marvellous, purpose-built catamaran. The boat can accommodate 70 visitors along with 5 crewmen comfortably inside and out, along with bathrooms to boot. Visitors where allowed to pick their seats and provided with life vests if they wanted. Southern Right Charters fully complies with the SA Marine Safety Association.
We grabbed the outside seats in the front of the boat and waited to set sail. I must honestly say that Miroshca is the best vessel I have ever been on. It glides so smoothly over the ocean that even a non-seafarer like myself could let go and thoroughly enjoy the adventure. PS. The sea sickness medication was not needed at all but if you are unsure, take them, rather safe than sorry!
Ken explained over surround sound about all the various wildlife that we could expect to see. They also have an interpreter on each cruise that caters for the Italian, French, German and Dutch guests. Guests were incredibly lucky to see the elusive Bryde’s Whale that patrols the oceans around South Africa. A fleeting but memorable sight. The crew on board Southern Right Charters are well-trained and all have a keen eye for spotting marine life.
Guests have the opportunity to see Humpback, Southern Right and Bryde’s Whales, along with dolphins, seals and a number of ocean birds. Once, they even came across a pod of Killer Whales.
Our route took us across the crystal waters of Walker Bay to Gansbaai. Southern Right Charters films the visitors and the whales of each cruise and compiles a personalised DVD. These DVD’s can be purchased for R180. Nobody else offers this service, I urge you to purchase one so as to never forget your experiences on board.
After a short 30-minute cruise, we came across a Southern Right Whale and her calf. Every time you see them, may it be land based whale watching or boat based whale watching in Hermanus, it is like the first time all over again! You realize how insignificant you are against the backdrop of the ocean, alongside them. The mother and calf didn’t stick around for long, and headed out to sea.
Ken led us to another pair frolicking about nearby. The whale watching boats are only allowed to be as close as 50m but whales have a curious nature and they often come closer. The Southern Right Whales that we came upon next, kept the guests entertained for almost an hour. The Southern Right Charters team encouraged us to step up to the railings and take photos. I was initially a bit unsteady on my feet, but once you get your sea-legs it is really easy to stand quite still and take amazing photographs of the whales lazing about.
The pair where quite interested in us, the Swiss children that where with us absolutely loved the whales’s quizzical spy-hopping. Every once in a while they came up and blew water through their blowholes and the spray washed over everybody. Lots of laughs and some amazing moments where definitely captured. The whales were incredibly curious and interested in us and put on a fantastic display. There was slapping of their flippers on the waters surface, sailing of their flukes (tails), rolling over, spy-hopping, you name it. Surprisingly it felt like they were just as happy, if not happier to see us!
After they headed back into deeper water it was time to head back home. Visitors on board the Miroscha each receive vouchers for refreshments. This really made my day, the child like feeling started to return and a sense of freedom washed over me. As we munched on our chips with the sea air blowing I relished in the magnificent views of Walker Bay. Guests really do have incredible views of the bay spanning from Gansbaai right around to the New Harbour in Hermanus.
On the trip back I struck up a conversation with an American couple. They mentioned that Hermanus is one of the best places they have ever visited in the world. The couple said that nowhere else in the world does a person get to experience something so special that has not been ruined by the masses and I agree 100%.
This little town is a one of a kind!
Once we where anchored in the calm water of the harbour again it was a sad moment, you really have fun out there. The splendour and beauty of Hermanus as seen by boat is very special. I encourage any person visiting to hop aboard with Southern Right Charters. They are knowledgeable, entertaining and can offer you an experience of a lifetime on a boat that beats the socks off any kind I was ever on!
Their motto is simple: “Observing NOT Disturbing”, the safety and conservation of the whales and marine life is principal.
You can contact Southern Right Charters:
Telephone: +27 (0) 82 353 0550
Address: Southern Right Charters, The Whale Shack, New Harbour, Hermanus (corner of Westcliff Drive & Stil Rd)
The trip costs and the operating hours are:
June till December – Whale watching trips
December till March – Scenic cruises
The whale watching tour is from 1hr 30m – 3hrs maximum.
It depends on travelling time to the whales on that trip; the time spent with them is the same.
The Duration of trip (is) normally averages at 2 hours.
Trip departure times:
Daily departures in season, all trips are weather permitting
From June- December 9H00 – 12H00 – 15H00
Additional departure at 7h00 from September onwards
Arrive 30min prior to departure for a briefing
Cash or Card Welcome on arrival (Master or Visa cards accepted)
- Adults: R650
- Children (under 14): R650
- Children (under 5): Free
- Students: R550
- Pensioners: R550
Remember to bring:
- Weather appropriate clothing. Windbreaker jacket, it is colder at sea than it is on land
- Sensible shoes, for the ladies flat shoes are recommended (no high heels)
- Sun block; sunglasses and a cap or hat for hot days, gloves and ‘beanie’ for the cold days
- If you are prone to motion sickness or do not have ‘sea legs’ it is best to purchase and take seasick or motion sickness prevention tablets in advance as per instructions on the packet. They are not permitted to stock this medication and strongly advise that those who feel they might suffer from seasickness should not consume too much alcohol the evening prior and avoid extremely fatty breakfasts.
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