The ultimate guide to whale watching

by Tourism Australia on 05 February 2016, 16:02PM

Almost 60 percent of the world’s whale population calls Australia home. Here are the best destinations for a close encounter.

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Hervey Bay: whale watching right on your doorstep


This small pocket of water in Queensland, flanked on one side by Australia’s mainland and the extraordinary landmass of Fraser Island on the other, isn’t just a vibrant beachside town, but offers calm, protected waters in an ideal spot along the whales’ migration route – making it perfect for rest and rejuvenation for weary whales. Some 10,000 of these majestic creatures stop in this small bay each year, and these large congregations have led to some labelling this location as a ‘nightclub for whales’!

Thanks in part to the length of time they spend here (usually a few days at a time), whales approach local boats with incredible regularity. In fact, your chances of getting up close and personal with a whale here are so good that local operators guarantee you’ll make a sighting – or you can keep coming back free of charge until you do.

But what’s really special about this place is that you don’t just see whales – you meet them. Whales are naturally inquisitive creatures, and here they show no fear of humans; they’re more interested in getting a good look at you than in swimming away. Some of the behaviours you may encounter here include mothers and calves playing with each other, teenage males showing off to potential partners with all manner of flashy manoeuvres, including jumping, spy-hopping (when a whale holds itself upright, partially out of the water) and lob-tailing (the act of slapping the tail on the surface of the water), and even, in some cases, swimming under and around your vessel.

Whales begin to arrive in Hervey Bay from mid-July, where they remain until late November before heading south again. Keep an eye out for Migaloo, too – he’s the only documented white humpback in the world, and he’s been spotted here several times before.

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More excellent whale-watching areas:

Albany, Western Australia
Between June and October, humpbacks can be seen passing Albany, a laid back town on the south coast of Western Australia, as they make their way 3000km north to Broome. You’re also likely to spot Southern Right whales at this time, as they take shelter in local bays. Albany is also home to an historical whaling station (whaleworld.org), which has been converted into an interactive museum.

Geographe Bay, Western Australia
Australia’s premier wine-growing region, Margaret River isn’t just home to some of the world’s loveliest wines. From September to December you can see visiting humpbacks in Geographe Bay, while they stop here to fatten up their young before returning to the Southern Ocean.

Victor Harbor, South Australia
Victor Harbor is a wonderful beachside town found at the end of foodie paradise, the Fleurieu Peninsula, and between May and October and you might spot Southern Right whales returning to its sheltered bays to calve and mate. There are tours available, but you can also catch glimpses from the cliff-tops around nearby Encounter Bay. 
 
Great Australian Bight Marine Park, South Australia
South Australia’s Head of Bight region is a perfect example of a spot where no tour is necessary to see whales up close. Simply stroll along the clifftop boardwalks and if you come between June and September, you’re guaranteed of spotting the Southern Right whales who take up residence here between June and October each year, often within 100 metres of the shore. 

Port Douglas, Queensland
The Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest are both located on the doorstop of this chic beach town, but between June and September there’s another reason to visit Port Douglas: you can also spot humpbacks making their annual migration to the nearby Whitsundays. For a closer encounter, swim with inquisitive dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef – overnight expeditions leave from the nearby tropical city of Cairns.  
 
Whitsunday Islands, Queensland
The billionaire playground of the tropical Whitsunday islands also becomes a playground for both humpback and pilot whales between May to September each year, when they arrive to give birth to new calves. There are no whale-watching cruises here, but sightings are almost daily at the height of the season (June to August), whichever of the islands you find yourself on. 
 
Sydney, New South Wales
Believe it or not, you don’t even need to set foot out of Sydney’s city limits to satisfy your whale-watching cravings. Humpback sightings from onshore occur regularly every April to December, and Southern Rights will even venture right into Sydney Harbour from June to August. Just pick a headland, pack and picnic and be patient. 
 
Jervis Bay, New South Wales
Not just home to the world’s whitest sand, this stunning Sydney secret – found three hours’ drive south of the harbour city – is also a haven for humpback whales, who retreat here between May and November on their journey back to Antarctica. You’re also likely to spot dolphins and seals. 
 
Bruny Island, Tasmania
Bruny Island – a pristine isle just off the coast of Tasmania’s capital city, Hobart – offers the perfect resting spot for humpbacks and Southern Right whales between May and July and again between September and December. Jump on a Seafood Seduction or Bruny Island Cruise and you’ll be able to enjoy other activities alongside your whale spotting. 
 
Warrnambool, Victoria
Have you always wanted to explore the Great Ocean Road? Here’s another reason to: between June and September you can spot Southern Right whales in the sheltered bays of Warrnambool, one of the lovely seaside towns towards the road’s western end. It’s here that many mothers give birth to their calves and so some whales will stay for several weeks, offering ample opportunities for visitors to watch newborns bonding with their mothers. Watch them from the free viewing platform.

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