Photo: Dan Mitler
Get on a real wildlife cruise in South Africa!
When people think of South Africa, their first thoughts would often be of game drives and the “Big Five”. Did you know that the country also provides the opportunity for you to experience some of the most amazing aquatic wildlife displays in the world? This is where you’ll be able to go on your very own “marine safari”.
Photo: Derek Keats
Situated 115 km southeast of Cape Town, you can begin your marine safari adventure at Hermanus where you’ll be able to meet the Stony Point Penguin Colony that resides at Betty’s Bay. A pair of penguins arrived in the bay in 1982 and have made it their home ever since. Today, the colony has grown to include more than 150 nests, with hundreds of penguins living in the abandoned Betty’s Bay Whaling Station.
Did You Know?
African Penguins return to the same nesting sites for the entire 15 years of their breeding life. The female lays two eggs and the monogamous penguin partners take turns incubating them for up to 42 days.
The African Penguin is an endangered species and Stony Point is one of the only three land-based colonies in the whole of Africa. You’ll be able to have some excellent, up-close encounters of these wonderful flightless birds via the broadwalk that leads you through the colony without disturbing the habitat, observing as the penguins go about their daily activities.
The best times to see the penguins would either be in the early morning or late afternoon, when they return from their 20 km fishing expeditions.
Hermanus is South Africa’s premiere whale watching destination — it’s also one of the best places in the world to see these giant aquatic mammals up close. Each year, the whales make their way from the Antarctic to the relatively warmer waters of the South Atlantic to breed and calve. During this time, hundreds of Southern right whales find their way to Walker’s Bay in Hermanus from June to December. Hunted almost to extinction, these whales are now a protected species and their numbers have been steadily increasing at growth rate of approximately 7 per cent per annum.
The whales are most active during this season and it is common to see whales “breaching” (jumping) clear out of the water and landing with a terrific splash. They’re also known to “sail” by sticking their tails up out of the water and raising their massive heads, allowing onlookers to get a good look at these magnificent creatures.
As the whales’ swim close to the shore, you can easily view them from either the beach or from one of the many seaside bars or restaurants. Alternatively, go on a clifftop walk along the coast and catch a bird’s eye view of the whales. If you’d like to go out to sea like most whale watching tours, there are several local operators offering boat tours with specialist guides on board. Expect a 1.5- to 3-hour (approximately S$70 to S$90) ride and get up close to these gentle giants and experience the occasional soaking from a whale tail or nearby breaching.
Great White Sharks
Perfect for adrenaline junkies, you’ll be able to meet a fearsome Great White Shark up close in Gansbaai (160 km southeast of Cape Town). Known as the “great white capital of the world”, Gansbaai is home to the hundreds of sharks who are attracted to the large number of Cape Fur Seals that live on the islands off the coast.
You’ll be able to meet these amazing predators with just a 20-minute boat trip from shore. As Great Whites are surface feeders, tour operators will use bait to lure the sharks right up to the boat, allowing for an incredible view of them as they glide past. For visitors who want to get even closer to the sharks, you can choose to get lowered in an impenetrable floating cage — watch as the sharks swim nearby and catch a glimpse of their exploding rows of razor-sharp teeth.
Did You Know?
Most sharks only attack humans by accident as they mistake humans for seal, their favourite food. More people are killed by chairs or electric toasters than sharks each year.
You can look up Apex Shark Expeditions and White Shark Diving Company when planning your tours, trips usually depart seven days a week and last from three to five hours. Visit during the peak season from April to September for increased chances of spotting a shark.
Each year, between the months of June and July, South Africa’s Kwazulu-Natal coastline plays host to one of the most amazing sights in the world: the Sardine Run. Over 700 million sardines make the journey from the colder waters of their spawning grounds in the Cape to the warmer tides up the coast. Travelling en masse, there are so many fish that the water turns silver as they swim through.
This is also when schools of sharks, seals, whales and hundreds of dolphins and birds can be found hot on the heels of the few kilometres long shoal of baitfish. Keep a lookout for the dolphins — you’ll see them “herd” sections of the shoal into densely packed groups called “bait balls” by working together, whirling and twisting around the sardines to get them into clusters, which are then easily fed upon. Although the peak season for penguins, whales, sharks and sardines don’t coincide perfectly, they do have overlaps between June and July each year. You’ll be able to experience all four activities within a week, with the Sardine Run offering the chance to see several animals at one go. Ideally, you should aim to base yourselves out of somewhere like Hermanus so as to access all the activities conveniently.
Visit www.hermanus.co.za for more information.