Self Drive Route 3 – Whale Route
This route not only gives you great whale watching but takes you through quirky coastal villages, wonderful fynbos, and introduces you to sharks, penguins and seals, not to mention the bird life. Drive past lagoons and estuaries and when the day is done, sip your sundowner on the edge of the ocean.
Each year, Southern Right and Humpback whales migrate into the Southern Cape coastal waters to calve and nurse their young. These gentle giants know how to put on a show – breaching, lob tailing, flipper slapping – like the most practiced of drama queens!
This route is best done in the whale season between July and November, with the peak in October.
This route is approximately 559 kms. It has so much to tempt the traveler, and with most of it being off the beaten track, it’s ultimately up to you how long you want to take, where you want to dawdle, and where you’d prefer to overnight.
Take your time – 3 to 4 days would be perfect!
Now, pack your sunglasses, hat, walking shoes, flip flops, camera, binoculars and a good book and let’s hit the road!
Route Map for the Whale Route
Route 3 – Detailed Route Information
If you are doing Detour 3A to Somerset West, continue on the N2 until you reach the sign for Victoria Street at the robots. Turn left and follow directions as given in Detour 3A itself.
Drive this amazing coastline – we have not seen better anywhere in the world!
Allow at least 2 days to explore this area. If you have driven directly from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth on the N2 before, this detour is a magnificent alternative.
This is one of the most scenic coastal drives in South Africa and well worth the effort. It is the also the first part of the Whale Route 3 and features dramatic coast line and beaches, fynbos biosphere, Jackass Penguin colony, baboons, whale watching, birding, shark cage diving and hiking and then …….we throw in some wine estates, just to round things off.
After taking the N2 from Cape Town, take the R44 off ramp and turn right to the Strand. Turn right onto Beach Road and stop at the beach. Beach Road will rejoin the R44 to Gordon’s Bay, which has a small harbour.
For detailed information on the Helderberg including Somerset West, Strand and Gordons Bay, visit ShowMe Helderberg.
Continue on the R44 until you see the signpost on your right to Stony Point Penguin Colony. If you reach Betty’s Bay, you have gone too far!
This really is a must – one of only three breeding colonies of jackass penguins in mainland South Africa.
Enjoy getting up close to these birds to get some pics of their comical swagger to the water or the many nests that cover the area. The kids will really love this too!
Rejoin the R44 and not much further on you will see the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens (+27 (0)28 272 9311) on your left. You can have tea, lunch or pack your own picnic and walk around the cultivated fynbos gardens. Maybe take a hike on one of the nature trails – really beautiful.
Have your binoculars ready if you are a birdwatcher. With over 96 species recorded at Harold Porter, some specials include Verreaux’s Eagle, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Victorin’s Scrub-Warbler, Cape Siskin, Blue-mantled Flycatcher, Olive Woodpecker, Cape Rock-Thrush,Ground Woodpecker and the rare Protea Seedeater.
Betty’s Bay, Kleinmond and Onrus
Betty’s Bay is well known for its beautiful, lonely beach, which is backed by flower covered dunes in the spring.
The Kleinmond area is renowned for whale sightings during the whale season (August to November). To reach the view sites, turn right onto 13th Street, and drive down to Beach Rd.
The picnic area at the lagoon wetland is also pretty. To get there, continue on Beach Rd and rejoin the R44, turn right, and the next turnoff to the right should be to the wetland park. The site supports over 163 bird species, at least 62 of which are water birds. The wetland regularly supports an average of 25,000 individual birds and on occasion it can hold over 40,000.
After Kleinmond, the R44 will merge with the R43 – turn right towards Hermanus.
You will pass the sign for Onrus, a small town on your right. The beach at Onrus is ideal for the family. Flanked by a lagoon it provides an ideal playground for children. The Onrus beach is also a favorite place for local surfers. The Milkwood Restaurant overlooks the beach and has been cited as the best seafood restaurant in Hermanus.
For detailed information on Hermanus visit ShowMe Hermanus.
Originally a fishing village, Hermanus is now a cosmopolitan town and a popular tourist destination. It is known for its “whale crier” who blows his kelp horn when a whale is spotted. Between July and October you can experience great land-based whale watching from the cliff tops, or the old harbor. In September, Hermanus hosts the Whale Festival.
If you’re into adventure activities like canoeing, the Kleinrivier vlei is one of the best places in SA and is only 6kms outside Hermanus towards Gansbaai. Sea kayaking, sand boarding, paragliding, quad biking and guided fresh and salt water fly fishing trips – you’ll find plenty of opportunities to indulge in them here.
Have fun on the famous Grotto Beach at the mouth of the Kleinrivier lagoon. Nearby, De Plaat is a well known fishing spot
Take the Rotary Drive for spectacular views of Walker Bay – drive out of Hermanus towards the N2. Rotary drive is sign posted to the right
Have a meal at Bientang’s Cave, a seafood restaurant that’s carved into a deep old cave that overlooks the Old Harbor. We recommend the bouillabaisse!
The nearby Fernkloof Nature Reserve has about 50km of well-maintained hiking trails, surrounded by the beautiful coastal fynbos indigenous to the area. The area is considered one of the world’s richest floral kingdoms. This is also a good birding spot. If you visit Fernkloof in September you will experience a great wild flower show. To get there, take the R43 towards Gansbaai, turn left into Fir Ave, just past the Hermanus Golf Club
The Cliff Path that stretches from the New Harbour in Westcliff all along the coastline to Grotto beach is 10-12km long and has made Hermanus famous for its land-based Whale watching potential. Accessible from many points along the route, it has benches at strategic points along the way to give hikers a rest or just to provide a place to sit and watch the whales or appreciate the beauty of Walker Bay
If you have the time, why not do a mini wine route!
Hermanus has the most comprehensive collection of internationally acclaimed white and red South African wines in the largest wine shop in South Africa. Found in the Wine Village on the corner of the R43 and R320 en route to the N2.
Continue on the R320. The R320 passes through the fertile Hemel and Aarde valley where you can stop at a number of well known vineyards – wine tasting with amazing views! The terroir in this valley provides for some unique touches to these award-winning wines. The sea breezes, slopes and clay soil have helped wine-makers produce distinctive Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The Bouchard Finlayson estate, Whalehaven Wines, Hamilton Russel Vineyards, Cape Bay and Sumaridge are all open to the public for wine tastings. We hope you find just the right wines to have sent or taken home!
For detailed information on Hermanus, visit ShowMe Hermanus.
These villages have a lovely, peaceful sense of being away from it all.
Walk along or paddle down the Klein River at Stanford to the bird sanctuary with its more than 220 species of birds or take a cruise on the African Queen River Cruises, located on the Klein River, Stanford, Western Cape. Opening hours: Three trips a day, departing at 10h00; 14h00 and 18h00. Tel: +27 (0)28 341-0929. Drive to the end of Du Toit Street for the African Queen and the start to the walk along the Klein River.
From Stanford, turn onto the R326 and drive a short distance – you will find some more surprises:
- Visit the Birkenhead Brewery, the first brewing estate in the Southern hemisphere, and enjoy one of their many premium beers on tap at the pub. It’s situated just outside Stanford on the R326. Tel: +27(0) 28 3410183
- The Klein River Cheese Farm just outside Stanford on the R326 is perfect for a picnic outing – sit and enjoy your prepared deli picnic hamper on the banks of the Klein River, while the kids can play in the large playground area. For info, call them on +27 (0) 28 341 0693.
- Browse the many collectible shops
Please note, if you wish to return to the N2 on a tarred road, the R326 is the last opportunity. From now on, all routes back to the N2 are sand roads.
Drink tea and whale watch at the great little restaurant at De Kelders, overlooking the bay!
Continue on R44. Turn right off the R44 to Kleinbaai just before Gansbaai. Take the kids swimming in the tidal pool at Kleinbaai, which is a gem of a village, complete with scenic golf course and plenty of hikes, just a few km from Gansbaai closer to Hermanus.
Face your fear and go shark cage diving yourself!
Gansbaai is known as the great white shark capital of the world; it’s attracted marine biologists, photographers and adrenalin junkies alike from all over the globe. Take a boat trip to Dyer and Bird Islands and see whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and other marine wonders. Gansbaai also has water sport opportunities – from scuba diving to shore and boat angling. Call Gansbaai tourism at +27 (0) 28 384 1439
This quaint traditional fishing village is situated on not one, but two harbors where many fishing trawlers and boats come and go daily, supplying fresh catches to fishmongers and local restaurants and the bountiful ocean is enjoyed by fishermen as well.
Visit the Dangerpoint Lighthouse and see where the HMS Birkenhead met her doom. Turn right onto van Dyk Street and follow road to Dangerpoint.
Hike along the coast and walk along the sandy white beaches of Franskraal and Pearly Beach or spend time in the Strandveld Museum – A small privately owned museum at the cliffs of Franskraal. The museum has the largest collection of relics from the HMS Birkenhead that wrecked off Danger Point, and several other historical items. The owners are local historians and marvelous story tellers who gladly take you on a trip through time.
To get to Franskraal, follow road from Gansbaai towards Elim and then at Franskraal, turn right.
This is crayfish country with an annual Crayfish Festival over Easter. Abalone (perlemoen) is professionally farmed in the Dangerpoint area
The Gansbaai Festival takes place annually in July in the Gansbaai harbour and the Winter Fynbos (wild flower) show is a great attraction not to be missed. Call Gansbaai tourism at +27 (0) 28 384 1439
From Franskraal, continue on the R43 until you have passed the Strandveld Museum. Shortly thereafter, take the gravel road to Elim, on the left.
Take a journey back in time and experience the mysteries of farm life in Baardskeerdersbos – this village is en route to Elim.
Elim is an almost forgotten village that developed around a Moravian Mission in the mid 1800’s. Its sense of separation from the city buzz is a rare find. On entering Elim, the historical charm of the town will be immediately evident with the lime washed cottages and fig trees welcoming you.
The entire village is a national heritage site!
The thatched Moravian church houses the oldest working clock in SA. The well known Elim Brass Band also plays here every Sunday – so don’t miss the church service at 10.30.
You can also visit the Elim Heritage Centre, for more information on the history of the village.
Walk or drive in the Geelkop Nature Reserve, where a mass of yellow Leucadendrons cover the hill in spring and provide for great views. Ask the locals for directions.
Follow the gravel road till you reach the R319, turn right and you will soon pass Struisbaai and reach A’gulhas.
L’Agulhas and Struisbaai
The water here is very shallow and L’Agulhas is known to be one of the best fishing grounds in SA. This region also lays claim to a National Park which has more than 8500 species of flowering plants and a bounty of birds in the wetlands.
Boat and angling cruises are offered from Struisbaai Harbour. For info, call the Struisbaai Tourism office on +27 (0)44 28 43 57185.
In Struisbaai, wander down the 14 kms of uninterrupted white beach, or take the family for a day of sunbathing, shell collecting or swimming in the safe turquoise waters.
Visit the Southernmost tip of Africa and the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, where you can enjoy a cup of tea or climb up to the top for panoramic views over the two oceans that join here. It is clearly signposted.
Just to the East of the tip of Africa, historians and archaeologists will appreciate the fish-traps and shell middens that were created along the rocks here (some still in use today) by Khoikhoi nomads thousands of years ago.
Take 2 hours to enjoy the Spookdraai Hiking Trail. It teems with bird life and will treat you to many photo opportunities. The starting point for the trail is just before you enter Agulhas on your right.
Retrace your steps on the R319 to where you came in from Elim. Continue on the R319 approximately another 11.9kms. Turn right onto a gravel road for Arniston (Waenhuiskraal).
Nip down to De Mond Nature Reserve (off the road to Waenhuiskrans) for fishing along the coast or in the estuary for grunter and cob. If you are a birdwatcher, see the Damara, Caspian Terns and Black Oystercatcher.
Continue on the gravel road till you reach the R316. Turn right to Arniston.
This pretty fishing village is popular with artists and photographers because of its views of whitewashed cottages, dramatic rocks and flat stretches of beach.
At low tide, take the 1.5 km walk along the beach to the massive limestone cave. Part of the walk is through some tidal pools, so take some shoes that’ll protect you from barnacles!
Arniston is still a top fishing spot, so bring your rod!
Stay at the Arniston Hotel and just relax for a day.
Drive from Arniston on the R316 to Bredasdorp.
Stroll around the Kapula Candles factory and showroom. They produce over 250 000 candles a month; all made and hand painted by the 200 employees from the local community.
Enjoy a walk in the Heuningberg Nature Reserve in Bredasdorp. It protects more than 270 species, some of which, like the rare Bredasdorp lily (April and May), are found only here. Find it at the top end of Van Riebeeck Street.
Visit the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum, where they feature countless restored artifacts and furniture from all the ships that have crashed along the stormy South Coast shores over the years. Open 7 days a week, at 6 Independent Street.
Take the R319 and drive approximately 7kms. Turn right onto a gravel road to De Hoop Nature Reserve. Keep to this road until you reach the entrance to De Hoop on your right.
With rolling dunes, wetlands, rocky cliffs, a fresh water lake, stretches of beach and the Potberg Mountain as far as the eye can see, it’s a world heritage site that offers some of the finest whale viewing and outdoor experiences in Southern Africa to boot.
This beautiful coastal reserve is a peaceful retreat, far away from any rat race.
De Hoop is a flora and fauna paradise. Go on a scenic game drive; you can find up to 86 species of mammal, 1500 species of fynbos (50 of which are only found here) and 250 bird species including a breeding colony of the rare Cape Vulture.
Take a picnic basket to Koppie Alleen, one of the best whale watching sites in the world. You can also spot dolphins, seals and other marine creatures from here.
Take one of the many interesting hiking or biking trails. It won’t be unusual to meet up with zebra, antelope or baboons!
Accommodation is available in cottages though booking is essential. Call +27(0)21 659 3500
From De Hoop, turn right onto the same gravel road and continue on it until you go over the river on the hand operated Pont. Turn right on the R324 to visit Witsand.
The Breede River is one of SA’s largest navigable rivers; the tidal action reaching 20kms upstream. Witsand is situated next to its mouth. It is affectionately known as the “whale nursery” in Southern Africa, as they officially have the largest concentration of Southern Right Whales around.
Investigating from a helicopter in October 1999, Dr. Best, a whale expert, confirmed a count of 233 whales in the Bay. On a good day, a whale watcher may observe up to 70 capering whales.
At the beach restaurant there is a telescope on the roof, whale watching platform that magnifies the whales up to 10 times. The platform is a perfect place from which to view the gentle giants of the sea and can accommodate about 90 people and there is plenty of parking. Whale-watching season starts in June and lasts until November each year.
The Breede River is the largest river estuary in the country and provides a home to many different bird species.
Cast a line and fish for cob, spotted grunter and garrick in the Breede River estuary. It is widely regarded as the best estuarine fishing spot in SA. Catch and release is encouraged here.
Cruise up the Breede River – watch out for birds! Fish Eagles, Kingfishers, Oyster Catchers, Ospreys, Fish Owls and Blue Cranes are often spotted here.
All kinds of water sports are up for grabs on the Breede, including canoeing, sailing, spear- fishing, skiing and windsurfing. Call the Witsand Tourism Bureau for more info: +27(0)28 537 1010
From Witsand, take R322 to join the N2 and Route 1 near Heidelberg. Turn right onto the N2 for Port Elizabeth. If you want to join Route 2 and the R62, take R324 to the N2, turn left onto the N2 and right onto the R322 to Suurbraak and then left onto the R324 to Barrydale.
Drive from Cape Town to Somerset West on the N2
Exit at the R44 if you are going directly to Strand and by-passing Somerset West.
Somerset West boasts the Vergelegen historic wine estate, where you can lunch al fresco, looking onto the magnificent gardens centered around the oldest camphor trees in South Africa. The gardens, with the mountain backdrop, are well known, and make the perfect setting for the historic homestead. The wine cellars are certainly worth a visit!
The nearby Helderberg Reserve Bird Sanctuary has won many awards for the best bird sanctuary in a reserve and is home to many Cape “specials”.
Directions: Turn left off the N2 in Somerset West at Victoria Street, drive up to the T-junction with Main Street, and turn right a few blocks up, into Lourensford Rd.
The Helderberg Reserve Bird Sanctuary is left off Lourensford Road into Landroskop Drive, and left again into Verster Ave.
Vergelegen Wine Estate is just further on in Lourensford Road, on your right. For bookings: +27(0)21 847 1334/1346 (Restaurant/Picnic) +27(0)21 847 1337 Wine tasting/Cellar tours
Return to the N2 and backtrack towards Cape Town. Turn left onto the R44 to the Strand at the Broadway off ramp. See the Somerset Mall on your left.
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