Celebrating Plettenberg Bay’s newfound status as Whale Heritage Site

A man standing on his balcony with binoculars whale watching

Plettenberg Bay on South Africa’s Garden Route made world headlines recently when it was certified as an official Whale Heritage Site (WHS), one of only three in South Africa – joining The Bluff (Durban) and Algoa Bay (Eastern Cape) – and one of only seven fully accredited WHSes worldwide where local communities “celebrate, respect and protect cetaceans and their habitats”.

The Plettenberg Hotel, widely recognised as the ‘best address’ for visitors to stay in Plett, says it has noted an increased demand from guests wanting to experience whales and dolphins in their natural habitat in an authentic and natural way. The hotel is part of The Liz McGrath Collection and a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, attracting nature enthusiasts locally and from across the globe seeking to witness the wonders of the natural world.

Plettenberg Bay is situated between two Marine Protected Areas (Tsitsikamma and Robberg) on the Garden Route and supports a wide diversity of ocean wildlife including iconic species like humpback whales, southern right whales, Bryde’s whales, killer whales (orcas) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. The area is well known for its terrestrial and marine diversity surrounded by the Tsitsikamma Mountains, Indian Ocean coastline, indigenous forests and endemic fynbos vegetation.

This Marine Protected Area serves as a crucial feeding and nursery ground for a wide variety of resident and migratory cetacean species, with the southern right whale being one of the most notable and representative inhabitants.

Some of the most significant trends in travel seen post-COVID is a renewed interest in sustainable travel and nature-based experiences, as people become more aware of the impact of tourism on the environment and local communities. Melissa Theron, general manager of The Plettenberg, says the newfound Whale Heritage Site status is set to further elevate marine tourism in the Garden Route town, as it provides a clear marker for discerning guests wanting to support sustainable practices in marine culture, heritage and biodiversity.

“We are very proud of this accolade and look forward to more guests drawn to Plett as a responsible marine tourism destination. Apart from whale-watching boat excursions, here at the hotel our guests take great delight in dolphin and whale watching on site: from their rooms, the two pool decks or the restaurant terrace during meals. For many guests, the highlight of the day is being the first to spot a marine sighting and being able to ring our brass whale-watching bell to announce a sighting offshore – an unforgettable experience for young and old!”

More about the Whale Heritage Site programme

The WHS programme is an initiative created by the World Cetacean Alliance, and currently runs in partnership with World Animal Protection to formally recognise and accredit destinations around the world that support and demonstrate the importance of cetaceans and their ocean habitats.

These sites empower and defend the right of local communities to care for and protect whales, dolphins and porpoises through a collaborative management partnership. They showcase an entire community and their relationship with the ocean by encouraging respectful human-cetacean co-existence: celebrating cetaceans in local culture, arts and events; supporting local economic and environmental sustainability; and developing locally based science, research and education.

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