In focus... Hermanus Whale Festival

| September 16, 2014

Have you ever wanted to go whale-watching? There are few better times to do so than during the Hermanus Whale Festival, which we will tell you all about below.

Hermanus is a world-class whale-watching destination

Few creatures possess the same power to inspire awe as whales. Their colossal size and the fact that, for most of us, they are an exceptionally rare sight, makes any opportunity to view them a very exciting prospect indeed.

Located in South Africa, the town of Hermanus is one of the finest places on earth for whale-watching. From June to November, southern right whales can be viewed just off the coast here – close enough to be easily spotted from shore. Perhaps the best time to both spot whales and experience Hermanus at its most vibrant is during the annual Hermanus Whale Festival, which we will tell you all about today.

The festival: what to expect 

Taking place annually at the end of September or start of October, the Hermanus Whale Festival will this year be held from 3rd to 6th October. It formalises something that locals and tourists alike had long been doing before its creation – flocking to the clifftops to watch the whales breaching, playing and spurting water just off the coast.

Of course, this isn't the only time of the year when you can see whales from the land – so you may be wondering what exactly it is that makes this event so special. The answer lies in the sheer variety of activities and attractions the festival offers – and also in the fact that it attracts hundreds of thousands of people, making this town more vibrant than it is at any other time of year.

In fact, this is South Africa's only enviro-arts festival, and it includes everything from car shows to live music acts – so you can look forward to plenty of other activities in addition to spotting whales. Whale themed events and activities include hearing the town's Whale Crier, who is on hand throughout the whale-watching season to alert anyone in the vicinity when a cetacean can be seen, as well as sessions where you can learn more about endangered species.

Other activities include craft markets, sports events, art exhibitions, children's entertainment and the ever-popular Whales and Wheels car show.

All about the southern right whale

The southern right whale is the species you are most likely spot during your time in Hermanus – and it is a fascinating creature. Indeed, its very name is interesting, giving clues to its past; the species was called the 'right' whale by whalers because they were considered the 'right' ones to hunt, being comparatively easy prey and producing a lot of meat, oil and whalebone.

Bearing this is mind, it is perhaps little surprise that species is endangered today. The banning of commercial whaling was a step in the right direction, but unfortunately the southern right is still hunted illegally. The town of Hermanus helps to safeguard the species' future by taking steps such as tight licensing regulations on whale watching trips, helping ensure that tourism here is responsible and causes little impact to the natural environment.

The species grows up to 16.5 metres long, with females usually being larger than males. Calves are usually between five and six metres long when born, taking approximately ten years to reach full size and living for between 90 and 150 years.

Tips for successful whale spotting

One of the reasons behind Hermanus's popularity is that, at the right time of year, spotting whales from the shore is wonderfully easy – especially as there is a dedicated Whale Crier to alert you to their presence. However, that's not to say there aren't a few tips you can follow to help you see them more easily.

Patience is possibly the most important tool to have in your arsenal. There is no knowing exactly when and where you will see a southern right, so you need to be prepared to wait. The spectacular sight of whales in their natural environment is certainly well worth the effort and, given how frequent whale sightings are during the June to November season, you shouldn't have too long a wait.

It is also useful to look for signs of whales, as well as the whales themselves. For instance, you can keep your eyes peeled for the jets of water they spout, or for white splashes or patches in the water, which are caused by the movement of their bodies.

Ways to spot whales

It is worth bearing in mind that there are several ways to spot whales in Hermanus. From the shore is the simplest and therefore possibly the most convenient, but there are other exciting options you might like to consider, such as a whale-watching walking tour around the coves the creatures like to relax in.

Alternatively, you can embark on a boat trip in a bid to see these majestic creatures closer up. Just a few companies and vessels in Hermanus are licensed to do this, so don't worry - your trip won't cause any disturbance to the cetaceans. For the more adventurous, sea kayaking offers the opportunity to see them close up too.

If you would like to arrange to visit Hermanus for the festival, call one of our Africa experts on 020 7873 5000 for advice on when to go, and the best places to stay.

Photo credit: Thinkstock/ iStock

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