Have you been whale watching in Hervey Bay? We’ve taken many 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 it’s whale season.
Table of Contents
- Why is Hervey Bay so good for whale watching?
- When is the best time for whale watching in Hervey Bay?
- Which Hervey Bay whale tour is best?
- In conclusion – why you should not miss a whale season here
Why is Hervey Bay so good for whale watching?
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 stopover 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.
Video: Things to do in Hervey Bay
When is the best time for whale watching in Hervey Bay?
We love August for a trip out in the whale-watching boats in Hervey Bay. We’ve been frequently during that part of the season in different years and we’ve experienced a large number of whales that are really inquisitive and playful. At one stage on a recent trip, we had 9 whales playing alongside and under the boat at once.
The boat we were in has a glass bottom and the whales seemed 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 move away to a safe distance before they can start the engines 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 season’s 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.
Then in October, the big bulls come through putting on quite a show as they fight for dominance 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. The adult males put on quite a show and you’ll likely see the most impressive breaching and body slams.
Which Hervey Bay whale tour is best?
There are a number of operators on in Hervey Bay we’ve been out with a few but not all of them at this stage and have written detailed reviews on our most recent experience with several that I will link up below. As with most things, no one whale tour is going to be the best for everyone and it will depend both on your personal requirements and the experience on the day but we’ll share below the features of each of the different boats and tours and who each might be best suited for.
Where we have personal experience I’ll include links to those articles, our own photos of the boat and tours where we have them, and I will link up sites that offer bookings and independent traveller reviews.
For many years we stuck with one boat, they had simply been so good each time that for a while there had not been a reason to try one of the others. Curiosity, however, got the better of me and feeling that I wanted to be able to give a more complete and independent review of the different operators so more recently we have been branching out and heading testing out the different boats and operators.
We also like to hang out in the marina cafes after our tours and share stories with other excited whale watchers over a coffee, it’s a great way to hear about which tours people are really enjoying that season, just be aware that from day to day different boats will be in the centre of the action or chasing it. Most of the local industry works together and shares sighting locations so if the whales are out there you are likely to get in amongst them at some point in the tour.
Most of the operators have their own ticket office so it’s not easy to compare the various tours and operators at the time of booking so we’ve put together the information here to help you make your choice. At a high-level view there’s not a lot between the main operators so we’ve included more details, photos and links to our own reviews down below.
|Whale Tour||Tour Length||Best For||Price|
|Spirit of Hervey Bay||Half-day||All-rounder||$130|
|Boat Club Adventure||Half-day||Price||$110|
|Blue Dolphin||Full day||Small group/splurge||$170|
|Pacific Whale Foundation||3 hours||Something different||$99|
Most of the tour operators give a whale guarantee during the peak season, that you will either see whales on your trip out or you can go again for free. While we have never not had good sightings in the bay it is a peace-of-mind deal so watch out when you book to make sure it is included. Early and late season tours are often offered at a slight discount but don’t include the return guarantee.
Let’s take a deep dive on the various tours:
Spirit of Hervey Bay
We have been out with the Spirit of Hervey Bay many times and we have enjoyed each and every trip, you can read our full review with photos here. Friends and family who have followed our recommendation and taken trips out with them have also had really memorable experiences. We rate them as the best tour all round and are happy to put our own dollars behind that as a repeat customer.
The boat is the largest in the Hervey Bay fleet and the business has been family owned for the past 32 year. We were initially concerned that it would be too crowded for our tastes 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 size of the boat is that although I do get motion sickness I’ve never had a problem out in the bay on the Spirit, it’s a purpose built boat and that means it’s both stable and gets out to the whales fast. That extra height from the top deck can also 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 it 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!
The Spirit of Hervey Bay offers expert commentary on the region and the whales, kids activities so they can learn and stay entertained on the trip in and out and a hydrophone to listen to the whale sounds beneath the water. They also have an underwater viewing room so you can see the whales passing under the boat.
The Tasman Venture half day (4 hour) whale watching tours run at 8.30 am and 1.30. It’s a family business that has been run by Lloyd and Robyn Burgess since 1990. Again the boats is a fast catamaran offering a quick trip out to find the whales combined with stability for those of us that don’t have great sea legs.
It also has a wrap around deck, water level viewing platform, upstairs viewing deck and underwater viewing window. The passionate team provide an informative commentary on the whales, other sealife and birds you’ll see out on the water.
For the younger participants, Tasman Venture has partnered up with the Australian Marine Conservation Society to offer the Whale Warriors Program to inspire the next generations fascination with these incredible creatures making this one especially good for families.
The cruise includes either morning or afternoon tea, and an antipasti platter on the return cruise.
Boat Club Adventures Cruise
The Hervey Bay Boat Club is located right on the marina and operates tours from its boat Amaroo which was purpose built for operating on the bay. It’s a fast and stable catamaran with 360 degree visibility from the 3 viewing decks and a larged enclosed cabin.
Tours run for 4 hours from 8.30 am and 1.30 pm and they offer the lowest priced ticket of the four larger cruise boats. You get a discount on food and drink at the boat club on the day of your cruise and members get a small ticket discount.
Tea and coffee is served on the whale cruises and the boat has a canteen and licenced bar onboard. You can also listen to the whales sing over the hydrophone and the experienced local team provide expert commentary on the whales, their behaviours and the Hervey Bay region.
Whalesong Cruises has been owned and run by the Greenshields family since 2018 although the brand has been around much longer than that. There are two cruises a day, the morning cruise from 8 am until 1 pm and an afternoon cruise from 2 pm until 6 pm.
The boat is smaller than the first three with the upper deck being a half deck which makes it a bit more difficult to get around and find a vantage point so we tended to stay in one place more than we usually would. Boat size can also make for a slightly slower and more bumpy ride, our experience was that it did take a little longer to get to our first whale encounter than usual but that can be as much to do with what the whales are doing on the day and weather conditions as the boats speed.
Whalesong stands out from some of the other boats with the inclusion of lunch and dinner within the ticket price. I will fully own here that I can get really engrossed in watching the whales but they were out of cake for morning tea by the time the plate got to us on the upper deck and we missed lunch entirely. By the time we noticed that others were sat down with a full plate and went downstairs in search of some ourselves we were told there was none left, we were also turned down on the ‘complimentary all cruise’ hot drink on the way back in.
We really enjoyed the trip and had some great whale interactions but if you are anticipating having lunch as part of your cruise, which does make it good value for the same ticket price as many of the other tours, then perhaps pick a spot downstairs in sight of what is going on in the cabin.
Pacific Whale Foundation
The Pacific Whale Foundation whale watching tours is a little different. The boat used for these tours is the Ocean Defender, a RIB or rigid hull inflatable boat. Everyone is seated in a forward facing seat, they are 4 across in the centre of the boat leaving standing room at the side when the boat is stopped to watch the whales. It’s a 12 metre boat, can carry up to 40 passengers and in case you were wondering, it does have a full size toilet on board.
They run 3 tours a day that are 3 hours long. You’ll get a cold drink and snack on board and your ticket helps support marine research in Hervey Bay and around the world. There is a marine biologist on board and commentary is provided by expert naturalist guides as you observe the whales from down at their level.
Blue Dolphin Whale Encounters
Also offering an alternative experience for whale watching in the bay is the Blue Dolphin team. Owned and operated by Peter and Jodie Lynch, they bring 35 years of experience with marine mammals, a committment to eco tourism and a sailing catamaran to the local lineup.
This one is a full day tour and with a maximum of 24 passengers it’s a more personalised experience. Departing at 7.30 am it returns around 4pm and includes morning tea, lunch served with your choice of beer, wine or softdrink and afternoon tea. There is a hydrophone onboard to listen to the whales.
Blue Dolphin tours has a very high chance of see whales during the season due to the number of them out there and their experience in the bay, you might also see Bottlenose Dolphins, Common Dolphins, Australian Humpback Dolphins, turtles, dugongs, sharks, seals and sea birds. This is the only tour that does not currently offer a whale guarantee on it’s peak season bookings.
Find out more and book with Blue Dolphin
In conclusion – why you should not miss a whale season here
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 the stunning beaches, 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. Still looking for more things to do in Hervey Bay, read our article for a complete list and head out further afield with our guide to day trips around the region.
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Have you had the chance to go whale watching in Hervey Bay or have you had a great whale experience somewhere else in the world? Please share your experience in the comments!