Whale watching Knysna

Up close with whales off the coast of Knysna

by Janine Avery July 15, 2021

The breathtaking Garden Route is the ideal setting for observing some of nature's most beautiful sights. With iconic estuaries and a wild coastline, this part of South Africa supports a complex web of life. At its centre sits Knysna which is the perfect place for boat trips out into that big blue yonder.

On a recent trip to Knysna, we were delighted to join the team from Ocean Odyssey on a whale watching tour through the heads. Our journey started at the popular Thesen Island where Ocean Odyssey's vessels are easily accessible by walk-on jetties.

Ocean Odyssey is the only close encounter whale watching permit holder for the greater Knysna area, which extends from the Western Side of the Robberg Peninsula, to Gericke’s Point in Sedgefield. The permit allows you to get within 50 metres of these giant sea creatures.

At Thesen Island we boarded our Butt Cat and cruised out over the sweeping Knysna estuary and out to sea through the Iconic Knysna Heads in search of marine life. Every year, both the Southern Right and the Humpback whales leave their icy feeding grounds off Antarctica and migrate to mate and calve in the warmer waters of our Southern African coastline.

Knysna is one of the best whale watching destinations in the country and a spotter high up on the hill was keeping an eagle eye on the water for any potential activity. 

That said there was a sense of trepidation on board. On the horizon some black clouds loomed, coming closer and closer with every passing minute and the sea had been churned up by a few days of storm that had already passed. I braced for heavy impact as the boat was gunned through the turbulent heads, however none happened. 

The Ocean Odyssey vessels have been specifically designed for this purpose and even a bumpy ocean state didn't effect the smooth ride. Unfortunately though the whales were playing a challenging game of hide and seek and no indications of them could be seen.

We waited and we waited, and eventually when it seemed like rain was surely imminent, we started to make our way back to shore. I resigned myself to the fact that that was that, we had missed the whales.

However as we neared the shore, a crackling came over the radio from the whale spotter. "There, just to the right of the boat" All eyes strained right and then out of the inky blue, emerged a pair of humpback whales. For the next half hour or so, they regaled us in awe, as they submerged and remerged themselves as they travelled lazily on northwards. Each time they popped up, we waited in baited breath for a tail until eventually they willingly obliged, camera clicking away.

However, that wasn't to be the end of our adventure, because just behind us a seal was eating an octopus and further in towards the shore a large school of bottlenose dolphins was playing with surfers in the waves. We turned the boat around and followed those dolphins into the setting sun. 

They too obliged, breaking free from the surf to glide and jump alongside us, the orange and pink tinged waters glistening on their backs. Right alongside the boat they swam, a true spectacle of nature at its most sublime. We watched in awe for as long as they allowed us to until they retreated back to the surf to play some more.

With huge smiles plastered onto our faces, we made our way back to the Knysna Heads, stopping briefly for a look at a hidden cave on the shoreline.

Then it was once again through the Heads, a bucket list experience, and through the lagoon as the weather closed in. But even the rain wasn't washing away the smiles on our faces at the end of a great day out on the water!

Book your own whale watching experience in Knysna here.




Janine Avery
Janine Avery

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