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Spirit of Hervey Bay – Whale watching review

Considering a day out whale watching on the Spirit of Hervey Bay? When we found ourselves with a couple of extra weeks in Hervey Bay this year it didn’t take long to talk ourselves into heading out again. This boat has been a long time favourite of ours over the years and we couldn’t resist spending another morning out in the Great Sandy Strait with the whales.

Humpback whale from the Spirit of Hervey Bay

The Spirit of Hervey Bay is a family-owned business, its boats are purpose-built for whale watching right here in Hervey Bay and they really do know how to deliver a great experience.

I booked our tickets the day before through one of our trusted Australian online booking agents after checking the weather and wind conditions were looking good. The booking confirmation is instant, it saves down either as a file you can print or to your Apple pay / Google Pay app. On the day you can scan the barcode to check in so it’s contact-free, paperless and fast.

Our day out with Spirit of Hervey Bay

Your first decision is whether to join the morning or afternoon cruise. The whales and other marine life out in the bay don’t have a routine that makes one better than the other, it really is just personal preference but we are morning people generally and always end up choosing the morning option. It’s worked so well for us over the years and our experiences have convinced us at this point that morning is best even though there are no scientific facts to back that up.

The Spirit of Hervey Bay morning departure is 8.30 am, we checked in at the office briefly just after 8 am then went down to where it is docked to wait to board. I’m used to seeing the boat in its sunshine yellow livery but they seem to have moved away from that in favour of a more minimalist branding.

Spirit of Hervey Bay
The Spirit of Hervey Bay berthed outside the Whale Bay Marina in Hervey Bay

We started boarding at 8.15 am, the team welcomed everyone aboard, made them aware of current safety protocols and checked them off the passenger manifest. It was a very quick process and we made our way to the tiered seating on the front deck. This is my favourite spot to do the trip out, you have the fresh air in your face and a great view, it’s easy to access the other decks throughout the day and when there is any action around the boat the captain and team are constantly announcing it.

The main thing everyone is on board to see are the humpback whales that gather in the bay for a few days to weeks during their annual migration between Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef. The female whales need to be in the tropical waters to give birth as baby whales are born without the layers of blubber that they need to survive in the freezing Antarctic waters. Some older whales remain in Antarctica year-round but most accompany the females on the migration.

The gestation period for a whale is 12-months so the migration is also the breeding period, a combination of the shows of dominance between the large bull whales, the curiosity and playfulness of the juvenile whales born in previous seasons who are along for the experience and the mums with calves teaching them the skills they will need for the long trip home make it a fantastic time to observe these incredible creatures.

Mum and bub humpback whale
Humpback whale mum alongside this seasons calf

The boats all announce as you leave the marina that it could be up to 45 minutes before we are out around our first whales, there are no guarantees but they head out towards Platypus Bay off Fraser Island where other sightings have been reported and are one of the most likely spots to see them.

Back in 2018, a humpback whale came right in around Urangan Wharf but that is incredibly unusual, they normally stay normally well out in the bay. If you are in the area though make sure you walk the wharf, we’ve seen dolphins and turtles from it reasonably often and dugongs have also been sighted occasionally.

Whale exhaling on surface
Exhaling whale mucus onto camera lenses and phones above, pretty sure he’s smiling – we sure were

We’d not long left the marina when a dolphin popped up in front of the boat, then a few others came into view and jumped around in front of the bow for a while. If you watched the air above and the navigational buoys marking the channel you will also see a variety of seabirds. We spotted osprey, brown boobies, pied and little pied cormorants, darters and pelicans.

During the course of the morning, we spotted around 15 whales, some came in very close around the boat others, like the mum with her young calf, we watched for a while but they were a little further off.

Humpback whale on its side with fin up
Humpback whale doing rollovers with its fin up

Three younger whales stayed with us for quite a while, coming in very close and spy-hopping to get a good look at us too.

Whale spy hopping next to Spirit of Hervey Bay
Humpback whale spy hopping alongside the boat

Another pod of three whales included an adult male and female who were chasing each other around close to the boat but paying very little attention to us. The juvenile in that group also stayed with us for a while checking us out until we move on.

Why choose the Spirit of Hervey Bay

We’ve done a wide range of whale watching tours in Hervey Bay and across the wider South East Queensland region. As there are quite a few different operators in Hervey Bay we have always purchased our own cruise tickets so we can be as neutral as possible in our reviews and recommendations.

We would be very happy to go out with several of the different companies and in future seasons we will probably change it up but this year we choose to head out with the Spirit of Hervey Bay again because we’ve always had such a great time with them and we also got out for a day with Whalesong Cruises that we shared earlier.

So who would choose the Spirit of Hervey Bay and why? Firstly it is a well-established cruise company and its founder was one of the first to operate in the region. We’ve been heading out with them to see the whales in the Great Sandy Strait ourselves since 2011 and have recommended them to many friends and family over the years.

Whale underside
Backstroke under the boat is a sure way to get some attention

That experience and knowledge mean the commentary is excellent both on the region as you head out and the whale behaviour once you are amongst them. There’s a good amount of information shared without it feeling like you are in school and I think most people would learn something interesting.

It’s a family-owned business which is nice to support and the boat was purpose-built for whale watching locally in Hervey Bay. As a bigger boat, it will generally be more stable which can be a consideration if you are concerned about motion sickness and there is space to move around the range of decks on different levels that wrap around the boat. There is also a water level platform that can be lowered if conditions are suitable.

2 young whales swim next to the boat

The Spirit’s size and power mean it moves faster than some of the others in the fleet so it spends less time getting out to the whales and more time with them. It can also move quickly to new sightings as they are shared between the operators.

There is a large lounge inside with tables and the crew are good at entertaining the younger kids with colouring and other activities on the way in and out. Personally, we only seem to find ourselves in the lounge if we are passing through or want to grab a hot drink and snack for morning tea.

Humpback whale head
Often so close you need a smaller lens

The meals, drinks and snacks are one of the differentiators between boats and honestly, that’s not the strength of this one, the coffee was drinkable and the blueberry cupcake was fresh but on a half-day cruise it’s not part of the decision criteria for us. If it is important to you, some of the other boats like Whalesong and Freedom Whale Watch include lunch and a different level of snacks. As it’s either a morning or afternoon tour we prefer to sit down for lunch at the Marina or along the Esplanade afterwards.

The Spirit is well suited to families heading out with children or older family members due to stability and design but that doesn’t make it less suitable for couples. The biggest factor for me is our consistent experience, that we’ve always spent a good amount of time with the whales with really memorable encounters. The crew’s ability to find the whales and the whales interest in interacting with the boat will vary by day but it’s what has kept us coming back to this one.

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Whale cruise with the Spirit of Hervey Bay
Whale cruise with the Spirit of Hervey Bay

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