Dear Travel Guru,
I blame it all on the World Cup. My father's got it into his head we should visit Cape Town for a holiday. I really don't know what to think - so far away and, of course, we're doing it on a tour. I have a vision of us ticking off the Table Mountain, a safari, the waterfront and so on with a large group of Hong Kong tourists - probably dining on bad Chinese food morning and night. I'm hoping we can get away and do one thing on our own that is a little different. What do you suggest?
Group Tour Getaway
Thanks for your letter. It's true that Cape Town is a long way away and might seem like the end of the world. But once you've recovered from your jet lag, I think you're going to love what you see.
In fact, there's so much to see in and around Cape Town, and so much natural beauty, you will probably forget you are on a tour altogether. But if you want to do something different, take a trip to the place South Africans call the 'whale-watching capital of the world'. And, as anyone who has been there will tell you, the drive itself is a unique experience - the highway to Hermanus is the background to countless international car advertisements.
Whale of a time
September is the height of the whale season, when the creatures flock to the bay to play and give birth to calves. The residents of Hermanus join in, with arts exhibitions and musical performances that carry on into the night.
Don't worry about not seeing any whales. Hermanus has a whale-watching hotline and even a town whale crier - he's on duty every day (he'll blow on his horn when there's a whale to be seen) from 10am to 4pm.
Hermanus is special - even WWF calls it the 'best whale-watching spot in the world' - because the huge mammals actually come into the bay. In most places, if you see a whale, it is far out to sea. Hermanus is 115km from Cape Town, and is easy to reach.
The whales you are most likely to see at Hermanus are southern right whales. They grow to around 18 metres in length. The mother whales that come to the bay to give birth have been carrying their babies for around one year (that's three months longer than humans). Once they give birth to their 1,000kg-1,500kg babies, they will take care of them as they grow 3cm a day.
If you're wondering about the name, it comes from the old days when whalers went out to sea in wooden boats to hunt. It was a dangerous job.
The safest way to do it was to choose smaller whales that did not move too quickly, and the southern 'right' was just right. It's not the only whale that likes the bay of Hermanus, though. If you're lucky, you might see a humpback whale or two.
1 Sorry, but join a tour - that's a tour bus, not a Hong Kong tour with lunch and shopping detours thrown in. Once you get to Hermanus, you will be free to do what you want.
2 Wear casual clothes - shorts and T-shirt. But don't forget a jacket, because it can be quite cold and windy, and a cap or hat to protect yourself against the sun.
3 Don't forget sunscreen - you're in Africa.
4 If possible, go on a weekday. There will be fewer people like yourself - tourists - and you can soak up the local atmosphere.
5 Don't paddle out in your own boat to see the whales. In July this year, a whale leapt aboard a yacht off Cape Town and completely crushed it. The sailor got a fright, but fortunately, she survived.