The world-renowned festival takes place annually at the end of September or beginning of October, attracting thousands of eager visitors who flock to the seaside town to observe the whales and enjoy the festivities.
During the festival, the town comes alive with street parades, live shows, film, music, food tents, craft markets, sport events, kids’ activities, and eco-marine displays. But the star of the show remains the Southern Right whales who can be seen frolicking in the azure water of Walker Bay.
South Africa’s coastline is the mating and calving grounds of the Southern Right whales, who migrate from their icy feeding grounds off Antarctica in winter, arriving in the warmer waters of South Africa around June. They are recognizable by the ‘callosities’ (horny growths) behind the blowhole, and on the face. They have large, bow-shaped heads and arched mouths.
The best time to enjoy whale watching is from June to November, while calving takes place in August and September. It is not uncommon to spot other whale species including the Humback Whale, Bryde’s Whale and the Orca (Killer whale).
In Hermanus, the Cliff Path offers 7.5 miles (12km) of the best whale watching vantage points, stretching from one end of the town to the other. At certain points, the playful whales can be seen as close as 16 feet (five meters) from shore.
At the Old Harbor, viewing terraces offer spectacular views over Walker Bay. Other popular viewing spots include Sievers Point and the Voëlklip and Grotto beaches.
For those a bit more adventurous, whale-watching boat trips and kayaking is available for those who wish to get up close to the gentle giants.
During the festival, the charismatic Whale Crier can be heard blowing on his kelp horn to alert tourists of whales nearby. He also happily relays interesting info about the whales and the history of Hermanus to all who wish to listen.