unique patterns for each individual. The callosities are a very handy whale identification tool. A strong bond exists between females and their calves. Mothers have been observed playing with their young for hours on end.
In normal circumstances they are non-aggressive toward man and have earned the moniker ‘gentle giant’ for their passive behaviour toward humans in the water.
What are they doing?
Breaching: Whales can lift their entire bodies out of the water in massive, graceful leaps. Keep watching, as they usually breach three to five times in succession.
A whale may push three-quarters, or more, of its body out the water and fall back into the sea with an enormous splash - a spectacular sight.
Scientists are not yet sure whether this is a means of communication, an aggressive display, or simply an act of sheer exuberance.
Spyhopping: Whales lift their heads and part of their bodies out of the water vertically. This gives them a 360° view of the world above the water.
Lobtailing: Whales slap their tails on the surface producing loud claps. This may be done repeatedly over long periods of time. It may be a form of social communication or a warning to rival whales or sharks.
Sailing: Whales sometimes lift their tails clear of the water for long periods. This could be a means of catching the wind to ‘sail’ through the water, or a way of cooling down.
Some locals believe whales just enjoy showing off a well-turned tail.
Blowing: The hollow, echoing sound made when air is expelled from the lungs through the double blowhole, accompanied by a spout of water vapour. The vee shape of the spout enables whale watchers to identify the type of whale.
Grunting: A loud, bellowing sound that carries up to 2 kilometres away, often heard at night.
Playing with kelp: Whales may be seen within the outer edges of kelp beds, or actively manipulating pieces of floating kelp over their backs or heads. They appear to enjoy this contact and the kelp possibly acts as a rough loofah for the release of dead skin and whale lice.
Hermanus, at the heart of the Cape Whale Coast, has interpretative signboards providing visitors with essential information on the southern right whales at various points between the New Harbour and Grotto beach.
Where will we see them?
The 12 km-long cliff path, stretching from one end of Hermanus to the other, provides some of the best whale watching vantage points in the world. Whales can be viewed frolicking as close as five metres from shore.
An hour-long walk along the cliff path is sure to be rewarding.
Favourite spots are:
Dreunkrans - Drive south on Westcliff Road and park at Fick’s Pool. Take the cliff path towards the New Harbour for about 100
Windsor Bay - Park at Fick’s Pool or in Marine Drive. In Marine Drive you can view whales while sitting in your car.
Gearing’s Point - A large paved parking area offering views of Walker Bay to the east and west. The fishermen’s paths leading to the rocks at the point are excellent vantage points for whale watching.
The Old Harbour - Above the Old Harbour there are viewing terraces with spectacular vistas across the bay. An information board provides basic information about the whales that visit Walker Bay.
Die Gang - Drive down Main Road towards the beaches (north-east) and take the turn-off to Die Gang at Berg-en-See.
Sievers Punt - This is one of the most rewarding spots for whale watching. Whales are often seen in the bay between Mossel River and Voëlklip.
Kwaaiwater - One of the most popular areas for the whales is Kwaaiwater, where several viewing points are accessible by
Voëlklip and Grotto - Whales are often found swimming just beyond the breakers at these beaches.
While they do not swim as close to the shore as they do in other areas, whales are often seen breaching in this area and have even been known to surface under surfers waiting for a wave.
Whales are also regularly spotted at the neighbouring villages of Hawston, Vermont, Onrus and Sandbaai.
The whale crier:
The world’s only whale crier, Pasika Noboba, is found in Hermanus, where he patrols the streets of the town blowing his kelp horn and alerting everyone to the whereabouts of the whales.
Different horn ‘codes’ refer to different points along the coastline where whales have been spotted.
The key to these codes is found on his sandwich board, as well as the number of whales spotted at each location. Pasika does his rounds along the coastline between 10:00 and 16:00 during the whale season between June and November.
Please feel free to ask questions, photograph or film him.
Tucked into the folds of the Glen Vauloch Mountains on the outskirts of Hermanus lies the picturesque Hemel-en-Aarde valley.
The name literally means “heaven and earth” and it is here that many of South Africa’s most acclaimed wines have been produced over the last few years.
The cool maritime climate and the rugged clay soil composition combine to make the valley the ideal location for early ripening noble varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, mostly due to the cooling effect of the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
Wine lovers can treat themselves to a wine tour that pays visit to these unique wine estates, set among some of the southern-most vineyards in Africa.
The entrance to the Hemel-en-Aarde valley is where the R43 to Hermanus and the R320 to Caledon intersect.
Strandlopers must have known about Hermanus and its fresh water spring for centuries, but it was Hermanus Pieters who put it on the map way back in the early 1800s.
Pieters was a teacher in Caledon, living on the farm Boontjieskraal. When it was time for the summer holidays, he herded his livestock towards the cooler climes of the coast in search of sweet grazing. He is said to have found his way down the so-called elephant path and discovered a bubbling spring in an idyllic setting. Delighted with his find, he set up camp for a few months.
The news spread fast among the farming community in the Caledon district, who enthusiastically packed up their families into the ox wagons and with provisions, servants and livestock made their way down for long summer holidays at the seaside.
The spot became known as Hermanuspietersfontein among the farmers who would trek back to Caledon for the winter months.
The people who eventually settled permanently, were fishermen who discovered a bay brimming with fish. News of the growing village, its beauty and good fishing spread like wildfire even as far afield as Harley Street in London, where it became fashionable to prescribe a period of convalescence for patients to “take the champagne air”.
By this time, in the early 1900s, the name Hermanuspietersfontein had become too cumbersome and the postmaster peremptorily changed it to plain and simple Hermanus.
Set on rugged cliffs pounded by the sea against a backdrop of mountains, the village with its rustic fishermen’s cottages and gravel roads was a charming place to visit. Its growing popularity alarmed an important regular, one William Hoy, who happened to be the general manager of the South African Railways.
Afraid that the extension of the Bot River railway line to Hermanus would bring a plethora of day-trippers to the village, he used his position effectively to block any attempt to bring the rail line here. It is thanks to his efforts to keep Hermanus exclusive that the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory, with its sensitive equipment, was able to be located here, far away from the vibrations that trains cause as they clack along the tracks.
The first hotel to be built was the Victoria, which stood in the centre of Hermanus where the Astoria Village is today. Soon after that a handsome sanatorium went up on the cliffs overlooking Walker Bay, where overseas convalescents were accommodated in some comfort - today it is the Windsor Hotel.
The Marine Hotel, still fashionable today, was built in 1902 and became a hideaway for English gentry.
The infrastructure of a stable and growing community was being established - churches, a school, a post office, magistrate’s court, police station and even a new modern harbour were built. The town, with all its delightful attributes - sun, sea, beaches, mountains, cliffs, champagne air and annual whale migration, has continued to grow in size and popularity and its reputation draws people from all around the world.