Imagine waking up to the spectacular sight of a whale breaching or spotting a whale with her baby calf in tow? Whale watching in Australia is a winter/spring highlight – particularly on Australia’s east coast. About 20,000 whales from Antarctica escape the frigid southern ocean and migrate to Australia to warm up, relax and breed every year.
For us humans, the migration of the world’s most massive mammals is a magnificent sight as they swim, flip, and roll. We have a whale of a time, too. The sight attracts 1.6 million visitors each year. Whale watching tours and experiences are available from Cairns in sub-tropical northern Queensland to Tasmania in the south. Most are in New South Wales. Or should that be New South Whales?
Most migrating whales are of the humpback species. They are easily visible from Sydney Harbour. Humpback adults range in length from 12–16m and weigh about 36,287kg. Their name derives from their long pectoral fins and knobby head that make them look as though they have a hump.
During the season for whale watching in Australia, people have a greater chance to see them here: Gold Coast, Sydney Harbour, Hervey Bay and Cape Byron along the Australian east coast, Point Hicks in Victoria, Sapphire Coast in NSW and Storm Bay in Tasmania. Also, the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight, Ottway Coast in Victoria, Cape Leeuwin and Ningaloo and Shark Bay in Western Australia.
Lighthouse accommodation in NSW national parks offer the best whale watching vantage points.
- Green Cape Lightstation Keeper Cottages – Stay three nights for the price of two (to 31 August 31, 2015)
Perched on the edge of a peninsula in Ben Boyd National Park, three restored keeper cottages feature open fireplaces and nautical decors. Along with a fully-equipped kitchen, dining and lounge rooms, each cottage offers a comfortable verandah – perfect for whale watching and enjoying sea air.
- Montague Island Lighthouse Keeper Cottages – Stay three nights for the price of two (to November 30, 2015)
Great for a weekend escape with a difference in one of two restored heritage lighthouse keeper’s cottages on the wilderness sanctuary of Montage Island Nature Reserve. Breathtaking island views from the cottages to see whales, dolphins, seals and penguins out at sea.
- Assistant Lighthouse Keeper Cottages – Stay three nights for the price of two (to November 30, 2015)
Situated on the headland in the Cape Byron State Conservation Area – the most easterly point in Australia – these award-winning restored lighthouse cottages boast panoramic views of Byron Bay’s golden beaches, dramatic coastline and iconic lighthouse.
More info: Visit Wild About Whales
Travel Tips for whale watching in Sydney
- Book in the afternoon: You’ll notice that cheaper rates are in the morning, because that’s when sightings are fewer. Go in the afternoon if you want the higher probability of seeing whales.
- Book tours with guaranteed sightings: Different companies have different policies on this. Be sure to check how their guarantees work.
- Spend about 4 hours on the water: It will be a shame to book for an hour or two only to see nothing. The longer you are there, the more chances you get to see a beautiful show.
- Go in spring: Whale watching starts in winter, but it’s optimal in spring. That’s when baby whales are born. You get to see the mother whales feeding their kids and teaching them how to handle ocean life.
- Make sure there’s an expert on board: Helpful if you’re bringing kids along. Many companies supply an expert to explain the facts and figures about whales, making it a tour and a learning experience in one.