Have you been whale watching in Hervey Bay? We’ve taken a number of whale and dolphin trips over the years out of different places and while they have all been great in their own way the Hervey Bay experiences really stand out. Hervey Bay is about a 4 hour drive north of Brisbane on the Fraser Coast and from July through to October each year its whale season.
The whales you see en-mass on the Fraser Coast are Humpback whales and they can migrate over 5,000 km each year from the Antarctic into tropical waters to mate and give birth to their young. While you can see the Humpback migration from many places on the east coast of Australia, Hervey Bay is special because they seem to treat the sheltered bay as a stop over on their journey often staying for extended periods. During this time they are more relaxed and are often seen in bigger groups. During the peak months when we’ve been there they were often getting 200+ whales in the bay each day.
Smaller groupings of whales are known as migratory pods but there are 7 main breeding populations around the world and it’s the E1 group that we see from Australia’s east coast. They generally travel within 200 km from shore but often much closer making them regularly visible from coastal vantage points and sometimes even the shoreline. Our personal observation has been that they seem to travel much closer to the coast on their return path and you are therefore more likely to get frequent sightings from the beach later in the season, this behaviour has also been scientifically documented.
We love August for a trip out in the whale watching boats in Hervey Bay. We’ve been twice at that time in different years and we’ve experienced a large number of whales that are really inquisitive and playful. At one stage on our last trip we had 9 whales playing alongside and under the boat at the one time. The boat we were in has a glass bottom and the whales seem to find it quite amusing to turn on their back and swim under the boat with their tummy up for a different perspective. We actually got a longer trip than planned because of their playtime, the boats have to wait for the whales to leave to a safe distance before they can start the boat again and these ones did not want to go. Bonus!
In August you are seeing plenty of juveniles making one of their first migrations. Some of these will have been calves in Hervey Bay in the previous seasons learning the skills they need as newborns to make that long journey home to Antarctica. Later into September you’ll likely see more of the mothers and the current seasons calves, the babies stay close to their mother learning to breach and other skills they need so that’s a very special time to see them. Later in October the big bulls come through putting on quite a show as they fight for sominance and the attention of the females. With a gestation period of 11.5 months many of these whales will give birth in the bay the following year. This adult males put on quite a show and from them you’ll see the most impressive breaching and body slams.
There are a number of operators on in Hervey Bay but so far we’ve always been with the Spirit of Hervey Bay. With think they’re great and friends and family who have followed our recommendation have also had memorable experiences. They’ve simply been so good each time that there’s not been a reason to try one of the other boats so far although I know other tours are also excellent and we’ve shared plenty of great stories with other excited whale watchers over a coffee in the nearby cafe’s after a trip.
The boat is quite large and we were initially concerned that it would be too crowded for our tastes as we generally prefer a small group activity but that’s never been the case. We’ve been able to move around easily and get great views although there’s often activity happening off all sides so you don’t have to constantly move from one side of the boat to the other. The bonus of the boats size is that although I do get motion sickness I’ve never had a problem in the bay and the extra height can give a great perspective when the whales are so close.
At the other extreme you will also want to make sure you get down onto their special waterline viewing platform at some point. It gets lowered to just above water level when you’re stopped and we have had some incredibly close encounters with the whales from it. The whales seem almost as curious about us as we are about them and do find a bit of amusement from splashing you with a tail slap and spy hopping to get a better look. Watch out for the whale spray though, when they expel air from their lungs it’s very wet and sticky, it’s not water they’re breathing out and it needs a bit of effort to get that off the front of the camera lens. Of course when you’re close enough to get whale breath stuck to your camera lens who’s going to complain!
Hervey Bay is well known by many as THE Whale Watching spot in Australia but it also has a heap more to offer in the region. First and foremost are the beaches, unlike most of the east coast it’s a protected bay so provides safe relatively flat water for swimming and other water sports. Providing that protection is Fraser Island, another great reason to visit the area, you can stay out there or visit on a day trip. Then there are a multitude of parks, Arkarra Lagoons and the Botanical Gardens that are worth spending a few hours at if you want to enjoy the natural environment, the local wildlife or just a walk in a slightly shadier spot on a hot day.
Have you had the chance to go whale watching in Hervey Bay or have you had a great whale experiences somewhere else in the world? Please share you’re experience in the comments!