With the whale watching season fast approaching, ANGELA SAURINE reveals some of the top places to spot them
1. HERVEY BAY, QUEENSLAND
Seeing a newborn whale calf come right up to your boat, to get a closer look at its first humans, is an experience you are not likely to forget in a hurry. If you’re lucky, that’s the kind of thing that might just happen at Hervey Bay. Around two hours’ drive north of Noosa, the bay’s calm, protected waters provide the perfect conditions for mother humpbacks to teach their calves survival skills, before continuing on their long journey south. Each year thousands of the mammals hang out in the bay for up to two weeks at a time. The whales here tend to be quite curious, with more prolonged encounters than you may expect in other parts of the country. Hervey Bay also hosts an annual whale festival that includes a blessing of the fleet ceremony to mark the start of the season, a whale parade and paddle-out for whales. Nearby Fraser Island is a great base for a whale watching holiday, with the chance to view them from lookouts.
2. PHILLIP ISLAND, VICTORIA
Victoria’s wildlife island, just two hours’ drive from Melbourne, makes a great whale watching base. Follow the Phillip Island and Bass Coast Whale Discovery Trail to spot the majestic creatures from dedicated viewing points along the coastline. The trail travels from Eagles Nest, between Cape Paterson and Inverloch on the mainland, to Cowes on Phillip Island, and leads to a range of coastal viewing points where interpretive signs give insights into the life of whales and their behaviours. Sightings occur from May to October and peak from June to July, when there are frequent sightings of humpback whales, some southern right whales and even a few orcas. The major lookouts are The Nobbies, Pyramid Rock and various sections around Cape Woolamai Beach. They can also be seen at the entrance to Western Port from places such as Grossard Point and Cowes Jetty. Sign up to the Wildlife Whales App to receive notifications and learn more about whales visiting the region. To get even closer to the action, book a whale watching cruise with Wildlife Coast Cruises, an environmentally accredited boat tour operator which operates catamarans in the area. The Island Whale Festival, held from June 11 to July 11, is a great time to visit, when a range of events are held to celebrate the migration and all things nature and wildlife. While you’re there, keep an eye out for Little Penguins, Australian fur seals, dolphins and birdlife such as the Wandering Albatross.
3. SYDNEY, NSW
One of the best things about whale watching in Australia is you don’t have to travel to remote parts of the country to do it – one of the best places to spot whales is off the coast of our biggest city. Book a tour with Captain Cook Cruises from Darling Harbour and sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, past the Opera House and out through the heads. Then, it’s a matter of waiting patiently for your first encounter. On a good day, you’ll see humpbacks breaching against the Harbour City’s spectacular sandstone cliffs. You may also see southern right whales, orcas and minke whales, plus dolphins and New Zealand fur seals basking on rocks. As well as providing full commentary with fascinating facts about the animals, Captain Cook Cruises also offers a whale watching guarantee, which means if you don’t see a whale, you can go on another cruise for free. From May 22 until October 31, cruises depart King St Wharf at Darling Harbour at 10am and 1.15pm on Saturday and Sunday, and daily during school holidays. Best of all, until June 30, you can use two $25 NSW Dine & Discover vouchers toward the cost of your ticket, as Captain Cook is registered as both a restaurant and an entertainment experience.
4. NINGALOO, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
At Ningaloo Marine Park, off the coast of Exmouth and Coral Bay, not only can you see humpback whales, but you can also swim with them! Tours take place between July and October each year, when around 40,000 whales migrate along the coastline. When you book a full day whale swim tour you’ll be given a safety briefing on the boat, before having the opportunity to snorkel on Ningaloo’s inner reef while spotter planes locate the whales. Most tours include two snorkels on the inner reef, where you can also see incredible coral and fish and, possibly, manta rays, dolphins and turtles. Seven swimmers can enter the water at a time, accompanied by a divemaster as their guide, who ensures participants are a safe distance from the whales. The guide has an in-water radio to communicate with the boat, to be kept up to date with the exact location and movement of the whales. If you have your head underwater while a humpback whale is ‘singing’ nearby, you’ll be able to hear it! Most operators also have a hydrophone (underwater microphone) on board, so you can also hear the whales singing from on board the boat.
5. EYRE PENINSULA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Every year from June to October southern right whales converge at the Head of Bight on the Eyre Peninsula to mate, give birth and socialise. By late August you can usually see the mothers swimming along the cliffs with their calves by their side. At this time, you can often spot 70 or more whales from the platform. Located near the Nullarbor Plain, The Head of Bight is at the northern end of the Great Australian Bight, around 3.5 – 4 hours from Ceduna. The view from the Bunda Cliffs is spectacular, with boardwalks taking visitors to two main viewing areas – one east and one west. The ramps are sloped for wheelchair (or pram!) access.