What to expect when expecting…. WHALES!

Its that time of the year again when our gentle giants come out to play! Here is what to expect.....

Activity –             Close Encounter Whale Watching Tour

Duration –          1.5 – 2 hours

Departures –      9.30am, 12.00 & 15.00pm (Sea & weather conditions permitting)

Check-in –            20 minutes before departure time at TH22 Long St, Thesen Harbour Town, Knysna

Capacity –            Minimum 4 pax – Maximum 25 pax

Rate –                    R1170 per person (R930 kids 12 and under) – Please note that these prices may change depending on the fuel increase

Season –               1st of June until the 30th of November

What can be expected

Absolute joy!!! Our Close Encounter Whale Watching tour is the ultimate ocean experience, offering passengers a unique and quality ocean adventure focused on our migratory whales – the Humpback & Southern Right whales. From the 1st of June annually, the liquid highway beyond the Knysna Heads is teeming with humpback whales, whilst the southern rights can be found hugging the coastline. Every year they leave the icy waters of Antarctica and migrate along the Southern African coastline towards the tropical waters of our east coast, this to mate and calve. As the ONLY PERMITTED WHALE & DOLPHIN WATCHING OPERATOR IN KNYSNA, we are the only boat charter company in the Knysna area that can operate close encounter whale watching, dolphin watching, and marine encounter tours, as we hold the only permit for KNYSNA, issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Humpback Whale tail taken just before sunset

Booking, Check-in & Preparation

Our whale watching tours can be booked with ease through our offices (phone call, WhatsApp, email, or text) or online (live bookable – https://knysnaboattrips.activitar.com/).

Check-in is a breeze at our office on Thesen Island. Each person is required to sign our indemnity form/passenger list (Children younger than 18 years must be signed in by their parent/guardian). Payment can be made on check-in via cash or card (online payment facilities are also available upon request using a secure pay link). Once all Passengers have checked in, they will then be fitted with our SAMSA (SA Maritime Safety Authority) approved life jackets followed by an introduction and pre-departure briefing. Once everyone is ready to go, we take a short walk to the vessel (100m) stopping at the public bathrooms before boarding (no bathroom facilities on the vessel).

Boarding and Departure

Boarding our vessel is safe and effortless. Passengers simply step from the jetty onto the vessel and take a seat. Seating onboard is cushioned for comfort and situated in front of every bench are secure compartments for bags and personal belongings. Once everyone is seated, passengers are requested to pay attention to the skipper’s safety briefing on the “do’s & don’t’ s” whilst onboard our vessel and out at sea. Once everyone is briefed, we start our engines, departing from the Thesen Island Marina, our skipper will navigate the vessel across our scenic and diverse estuary towards the iconic Knysna Heads. The Knysna Headlands is the only passage to sea from our estuary and must be approached with due care and attention to local conditions. At this point, our skipper will pause, access the conditions, and time the swell before safely proceeding through, this to ensure a safe passage to the sea.


Our moorings on Thesen Island

Out & About!


Once through the heads, immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Garden Route coastline! This is where the fun begins! We encourage all the passengers on board to keep their eyes peeled for any activity and point to what they may see. But they aren’t the only ones looking. At one of Knysna’s elevated viewpoints, is our “Eagle Eye Spotter” scanning the ocean for any activity, which helps to increase the chances of sighting marine life while on tour. The office, skipper, and crew are all in constant communication via VHF radios and the spotter can guide the skipper to sightings along the coastline or out at sea. Spotting whales can be tricky depending on the conditions, with the best evidence, is a tell-tale blow from the whale, or a sudden big white splash on the horizon! Once we have spotted a whale, the skipper, skilfully approaches the whale, ensuring the safety of the whale and the vessel at all times. Our skippers are trained on identifying the behavior of the whale and will either slowly travel with the mammal, keeping a safe distance of 50mtr (or 100mtr if the whale is accompanied by a calf) or remain stationary maintaining the permitted 50mtr distance, observing and waiting for the whale to surface. Patience is key with whale watching, when a whale dives, it can take from 2 to 20 minutes to surface again! Every so often we may come across a curious whale which may approach, circle, and/or dive under our vessel, this is known as whale mugging. It is important to remain stationary and wait until the whales distance themselves from the vessel before we start moving again. Even though this is a whale watching tour, you can also expect to see other marine life, e.g., dolphins, seals, penguins, and a vast array of pelagic birdlife! During the tour we cannot ignore the beautiful caves, coves, cliffs, rock formations and beaches, this plays an important role in the experience! For the duration of the tour, our knowledgeable and skilled skipper and guide will part with interesting information on sightings and historical facts about our area of operation, providing a fun and educational experience for everyone on board! It is important to note that operators who do not have the special training and permits for Close Encounter Whale Watching, must maintain a 300mtr distance from the mammals, for safety reasons for both vessels and our precious marine life.

Traversing the Garden Route coastline

Heading Back!

After a thrilling 2-hour adventure, it’s time for the journey back. The calm waters of the estuary are welcoming after the motion of the ocean! Once back at the mooring, passengers disembark at our moorings and make their way back to our offices where they are greeted by our staff. The crew will assist guests to remove life jackets and provide them with warm lemongrass scented refresher towel, which is so welcoming after the cool salty ocean air! After such an exciting activity, clients can warm up with a delicious Lavazza coffee or a decadent hot chocolate from our newly established in-store coffee bar. We also serve a range of freshly baked sweets and savories to beat the hunger after being on the ocean. Clients can sit back, relax, and mingle at one of our café tables on the sidewalk, while they revel in our island vibe! An activity like ours is not complete without a souvenir from our retail shop offering a range of ocean-inspired gifts, souvenirs, and our very own branded merchandise. After this whirlwind whale watching experience, clients can depart with memories of the KNYSNA Garden Route coastline, that will last them a lifetime!

Pro Tips!

  • ALL our activities are weather and sea conditions permitting, we recommend you book this activity for the first day in the area as conditions can only be assessed just days before. In the event that conditions are unfavorable, we can reschedule bookings in accordance with the itinerary. Our reservations team will gladly assist and advise clients on the best ocean day options available to us from various trusting weather report sites we subscribe to. We want to ensure our guests have the best experience
  • Expected Sea and weather conditions can only be seen on the forecast 2-3 days before the activity date; however, this is still only an indication as it can still change. Our experienced skippers continue to assess conditions before and up to the time of departure to ensure absolute safety and comfort at all times.
  • Book now! This is a popular time of the year and seats are limited! Our Permitted Whale Watching vessel has a maximum capacity of 25 passengers per trip – so don’t delay!
  • Seasickness is a thing! This is not the Vaal Dam or the Mediterranean, there will always be a bump on the Indian ocean, or generally, when the boat is stationary while observing wildlife, that’s when it kicks in! If prone to motion sickness, we highly recommend that you pop into a pharmacy for motion sickness tablets beforehand and follow the instructions carefully on how to take them! (Sea sickness tablets need to be taken well before the excursion) N.B. Many assume that these tablets are available at our offices, as this is common in other countries, unfortunately, this is classified as medication and can only be dispensed by a pharmaceutical dispensary
  • Ginger is a great natural remedy for seasickness! We highly recommend grabbing a few Ginger Extract BonBon sweets or Ginger Ale beverages from our retail shop before boarding!
  • Dress warmly and comfortably! Always bring a jacket, it’s always cooler outside on the ocean. Depending on the conditions bring extra clothes as you may get a bit wet from the spray.  Sunglasses and sunblock are always a good idea even if it’s winter! Rubber-soled shoes are ideal!
  • Children of all ages are most welcome on board; however, certain conditions are not ideal for children 6 years and younger. Our skipper will advise guests accordingly.
  • Binoculars – Not always a great idea! Using binoculars or spending too much time behind the lens while on the ocean, can speed up motion sickness!
  • Cameras and cell phones are welcome on board at your own risk! If you are bringing expensive equipment on board, come prepared with waterproof covers, etc.
  • Complimentary Bottled water is available onboard for the duration of the trip. Small snacks such as sweets, ginger bonbons, gum, biltong, etc. are allowed, however, Food & drinks and especially Alcohol is not permitted on any of our vessels. We have an in-store purified water station at our coffee bar for guests who have their own water bottles requiring a refill.
  • Blankets, ponchos, and loan windbreakers are available to passengers joining on tours for adverse weather.

Southern right whale encounter just outside the Knysna Heads


Can we guarantee sightings?

No, we have absolutely no influence over marine life and specifically whales. They are wild and free and that’s exactly the way they are meant to be!

Can we touch/feed/swim with the whales?

No, this is not permitted in South Africa – We respect the whale and marine life, and your safety.

Can we see whales in the estuary?

No, whales can only be seen out in the ocean. The estuary can be life-threatening to the whale, however, occasionally, we have encountered dolphins entering the estuary.

When is the best time of the day to see the whales or when are they more active?

There is no specific time of the day that is better to see them, and no two trips are alike. It all depends on the ocean conditions and what suits your itinerary!

When is the best time during the season to see whales?

In Knysna, the beginning of the season – June – until the end of September/October is best. Approaching the end of the season does become tricker as the whale numbers deplete as they head back to the Antarctic. The arrivals and departure of the whales along our coast change from season to season influenced by water temperatures and climate.

What happens if the tour is canceled due to poor weather & sea conditions?

Should we experience poor weather or sea conditions, our offices will offer guests the option to reschedule the booking to another time or day which will suit their itinerary. If this is not possible and you have already paid for the tour, you will get a full refund via the same channel used for booking and payment.

Phew! We know that was a lot! But now you are whale watching wise and ready!! Now all you have to do is book….. see you soon!