Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Whaling in Hermanus

A quote from Moby Dick:
Ahab - 'Up helm! Keep her off round the world!'

Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings; but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct? Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left behind secure, were all the time before us.

How am I travelling at the moment? Using the “Baz Bus”. This is a backpacker-oriented system whereby you buy a ticket to a certain place, and can hop on and off at will (with a reservation a day or two beforehand) at the intermediary stops. The problem is, as I find today, it’s still run more for their convenience than ours. To travel from Stellenbosch to Hermanus, the Baz only runs a fair distance out of town, so you need shuttle from Stellenbosch (free in this case), then from out of town back into Hermanus (60r return). All this adds up, as does the immense time wasted as it seems to rarely run to schedule, except when Alfred is driving “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are departing in 2 ½ minutes. Please board immediately”!

Hermanus is regarded as the best land-based place in the world to spot whales. They get Southern Right Whales, Humpbacks and Brydes, with occasional Killer Whales (Orcas). They head past here on their way between Antarctica and warmer waters, with the Southern Rights calving in this bay.

The bay

They also run Shark Diving from here. This is where one is lowered in a cage and meat taken down to attract the many Great Whites in the area. When Great Whites bite, they close their eyes as they go for the final chomp, so will just as likely hit the cage as the slabs of meat being offered round. However, I plan not to do this, as LP says there is controversy about the sharks associating humans with meat, as attacks on surfers have increased recently – in fact as I write there is a newspaper article in today’s Cape Times about a 14 year old who had one leg bitten off around here a few days ago (then again, it has another article saying a new study has found that being overweight leads to obesity – go figure).

What I’m not doing

I head down to the water from Hermanus Backpackers with Luke and Dominic, Dutch and Swiss respectively. We’re keen to see whales but it’s quite hard today as it’s very windy, and the white horses of the chop obscure the whales. With 120 whales about in the bay though, it doesn’t take long:

The first glimpse

There is a rocky headland which has most people standing on it. You can tell when there are whales about, as people point with fingers or cameras.

The spectators

We join them, cameras at the ready.



We seem to have a pair just off the rocks below us, pottering about. Mostly all you can see is the backs, with occasional sprays of water. As one seems much smaller than the other, I assume it’s mother and child. Also one of the many information signs says they are not believed to date here, all the romance happens much further out to see (I guess they start snuggling up in the cold Atlantic waters, and nature takes its course!)

Mother and calf

All this talk of fish is getting us hungry, so we go to the Ocean Basket, a chain that nevertheless does excellent seafood. I have the substantial platter for one, at about 70r, washed down with a local chardonnay.

Ocean Basket’s Platter for One

Back to the beach, and we come across some strange small furry things. They turn out to be dassies (hyraxes), which apparently are most closely related to the elephant!!


On the beach, I feel the water – not bad, certainly warmer than the rock pools in front of Gerhard’s house in Betty’s Bay! There’s a good swell though, I can’t imagine swimming being a sensible idea here.

Dominique runs from a wave

Run for it!

I work out a system after a while – one has to ignore the pairs, as they rarely do anything exciting – instead go for boisterous groups or a lone performer.

Tharrr she blows!

There’s plenty of action about, though the best seems to be farther out. Of course, everyone’s looking for that classic tail fin flipped up shot. It’s quite elusive when the whales are just lounging about not doing anything especially energetic!

Frolicking all over the bay

One thing’s for sure, these guys are enormous. Some weigh 80 tonnes or thereabouts. Sitting just below the surface they look like submarines!

Dive, dive, dive!

The tourists are all soaking it up. A nice change from not so long ago when there were whaling stations all along this coast.

Close up action

It seems toward the end of the day the waves are getting ever bigger, some of the biggest I’ve ever seen in my life I suspect. I’m told later that they are about 5m tall!

Even the birds are wary of these waves


Time to call it a day, so I walk along the coastal road back to the hostel, but am treated to a final goodbye from a whale who pokes his head right out of the water and has a quick look about!

Heads up, or the technical term: Skyhopping


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