When we realized that we were in South Africa during whale season, we tried to view whales the good budget backpacker way, we really did. In between visits to Wine Country and the Garden Route, we dropped down to the coast to visit Hermanus, a town known for its great land-based whale watching. The way the tourism brochures describe it, all you need to do is walk along the oceanfront route and whales will swim right up. This may be true, but not for us. It didn’t help matters that when we arrived in Hermanus, the weather was the coldest and rainiest during our entire month in South Africa.
The pounding rain made whale watching on our first day impossible, so we tried again the next morning. Slightly cranky from spending the night in a backpackers cottage that had no heat and was overrun by very loud nocturnal campers stowing away inside, we stood in the freezing cold, straining our eyes to try to spot something, anything. The winds whipped the ocean into a such a frenzy that whale watching turned out to be next to impossible. We did see a couple of whales way off in the distance, but it really isn’t that exciting standing in howling winds looking at a speck in the water. See right there? Is that a fin? One of us would say. No, maybe a tail? Who knows.
When we ended up in Plettenberg Bay a couple of days later, we decided to shell out the money for a premium whale watching tour with Ocean Safaris. The premium tour means that the boat can get within 150 feet of the whales, but if the whales want to get closer, that’s their prerogative.
Within 10 minutes of setting out to sea, we spotted our first whale. Shortly thereafter, a group of frisky, playful whales decided our boat looked pretty interesting, and started swimming towards us.
Not only did the whales get close, but they swam around our boat. Along our boat. Under our boat. Lengthwise. Widthwise. At times, an entire whale was underneath our boat. I pondered whether this was a problem, but then decided that the ocean is rather deep after all. There must be room for all of us.
Being so close to such an enormous mammal is a very cool experience. To get a sense of just how large a whale actually is, watch this whale swim underneath our boat: