Watching Whales at sea on the Overberg Coastline

I’ve spent countless hours since I moved to the Overberg in awe of whales… and  though I’ve been blessed to witness well over a hundred breaches, I’m still amazed every time I see these massive creatures propel themselves out of the ocean and into the sky. Yesterday, Jon and I took to the water for the first time to observe them in their natural habitat with Ivanhoe Sea Safaris, and I’ll tell you this: if there’s one thing to put way up high on your #discoverOverberg bucketlist, this is it!

spy hopping

whale watching mountains… or mountains watching whale?

There’s a fair amount of contention as to where the best spot to erhm… ‘spot’ whales is. Having lived along different parts of the Western Cape coastline (and visited everywhere in between) it’s clear to me that despite the hype and trademarking of phrases, De Kelders is the obvious winner. Speaking to the crew as we cruised beyond Gansbaai harbour, I learned this opinion is well founded: after extensive research Ivanhoe’s founder Rudy Hughes was granted the first official boat based whale watching permit and chose Area 6 in Walker Bay. We were off to a good start.

scene from a desert island? (photo credit: Jon Meinking | ishotimages)

Heading for the horizon, the sun cutting diamonds from the sea’s surface, I felt my spirit soar: there’s a certain sense of freedom in leaving land, abandoning the comfort of the known world for a realm beyond our control. It’s humbling to face the ocean’s sheer vastness – as well as its immense and mysterious inhabitants. The journey alone was worth taking: looking back at familiar houses and landmarks from afar, tiny candyfloss clouds scudding across bubblegum blue skies. Slow rolling hills, white dunes, ancient caves, mountains. And the liquid crystal of the sea. Perspective shifts. This could be paradise, it probably is. How often do we forget?


Look! Right in front of us… (photo credit: Jon Meinking | ishotimages)

Soon we’re passing the endless sun bleached beaches of Die Plaat and JD points out a mother and calf long before I see them. And none of my cliff edge encounters prepares me for the overwhelming sense of wonder to see them frolicking before to the boat. Suddenly these marine giants seem much bigger, I’m acutely aware that the ‘baby’ weighs well over a ton and I’m entering their territory. But these mammals, often 10 times the size of an elephant, are peaceful and friendly: the calf jumps playfully onto his mom’s belly in a display of exuberant affection. It’s impossible to remain impassive to their gentle innocence and joie de vivre. Ask me which animal epitomises ‘joy’ and I’d say it’s a tight tie between whales and dolphins.

(big) baby at play (photo credit: Jon Meinking | ishotimages)

We were lucky to engage with two more mother and calf pairs, with an extremely close and exciting ‘under the boat’ encounter – my highlight of the trip. Along with coming eye to eye with this remarkable spy hop as we headed back to Gansbaai:

massive but gentle… (photo credit: Jon Meinking | ishotimages)

…and getting to see what baleen plates look like (the filters whale use to feed):

Gansbaai local… (photo credit: Jon Meinking | ishotimages)

Although there were no breaches, sailing or lop tailing during our trip, I loved every moment. We even got to spot a harem (yup, that’s one of the collective nouns, look it up!) of seals slicing through our wake on the way home – some folks have been lucky enough to see dolphins and even great whites.

looking back_ishotimages

a journey worth taking… (photo credit: Jon Meinking | ishotimages)

While there are several boat based whale watching companies to choose from in the Overberg, the crew of Ivanhoe differentiate themselves by being the only operators with a permit for the Die Plaat side of Walker Bay (alternatives are based out of Hermanus and Kleinbaai) and although the custom built catamaran can carry almost double, they keep their groups small (maximum of 25 passengers) allowing for personal attention and movement aboard – vital for photographers looking for the perfect shot. The crew’s warm, knowledgeable and friendly: skipper Jason has been with Ivanhoe for years, working his way from a holiday deck hand job as a teenager to captain – and owner. You’ll feel like part of the family.

who’s watching who? (close enough to shoot with an iPhone)

A memorable adventure for old and young alike: a versatile outing for a family, solo traveller or for romantic trip for two. If you are visiting the Stanford/Gansbaai area, this really is a fantastic way to spend 2 hours of your time.

there she blows! (photo credit: Jon Meinking | ishotimages)


Ivanhoe Sea Safaris cost R850 for adults, R425 for children aged 5 – 12 years (kids younger than 5 years travel free). Private charters are also available.

There are four daily trips during peak season, departing at

  • 07h00
  • 10h00
  • 13h00
  • 15h30

Contact Elizna on (028) 3840556 or (082) 9267977 to book.

just a spy hop to the left... (photo credit: Jon Meinking | ishotimages)


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