The Best Whale Watching in Australia
A guide to the best spots, seasons and destinations for whale watching in Australia including Sydney, Brisbane, Hervey Bay, the Sunshine Coast and more.
Encircled by as much water as it is, Australia is one of the world's best whale watching destinations due not only to its many prime coastal regions but also due to its location directly in line with the annual migration patterns of the many whales who head North to warmer waters during their breeding process and back down again once the seasons and temperatures change. Whale watching season in Australia typically lasts from around June to November, with slight variations dependent on the region. This provides a great window of opportunity for whale watching enthusiasts to witness these majestic creatures up close with the many whale watching cruise operators that are available in many of the key destinations around the country. The main destinations that provide the best whale watching conditions in Australia, along with tours, prices and their peak seasons, are outlined below:
New South Wales
New South Wales has two major destinations that deal with whale watching - Byron Bay in the north close to the border with Queensland, and its capital city, Sydney, in the south - both of which provide distinct and enjoyable whale watching experiences.
When looking for a whale watching experience in the Northern NSW/South East QLD region, Byron Bay makes for an excellent choice as visitors will be able to witness the magnificent humpback whales as they migrate past Australia's most easterly point at Cape Byron and its surrounds. Many of the tours offer daily departures from Brunswick Heads Boat Harbour and set out into the nearby waters for a whale watching extravaganza. As the mainland at Byron already juts out fairly prominently into the Pacific Ocean, the distance needed to travel to typically encounter the first pod of migratory whales is typically far less than many of the other whale watching locations throughout the country.
Sydney Harbour forms the perfect gateway to the open waters beyond, and the experience of whale watching in Sydney also gains the benefit of the added beauty of the landmarks that surround it. The core season for whale watching in Sydney typically lasts from mid-May to to mid-November as the Northern and Southern migrations of the mighty humpbacks occur, providing ample opportunities to take a cruise and see them up close while departing directly from Australia's busiest hub. These magnificent giants of the deep travel north along the East coast to breed and give birth before making their way back south, bound for Antarctica after spending several months in the warmer waters to the north. Common species spotted during whale watching season in Sydney are not only the Humpbacks but also the Southern Right Whale, False Killer and Pilot Whales, Orcas and the endangered Blue Whales - the largest living animal on the planet. Other marine creatures are also regularly spotted including Common and Bottlenose Dolphins, pelagic birds including a range of Albatross and various other aquatic birds, making the "watching" experience not exclusive only to whales in the Sydney region and its surrounding areas!
The temperate to tropical waters of Queensland, as well as the state's coastline being lined with numerous protected areas that provide shelter for marine life, make the state a veritable hotbed of whale watching venues. From Port Douglas in the north and continuing on down the coast of Queensland to Hervey Bay, then the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and down to the Gold Coast in the South-East corner, there are multiple locations where visitors and tourists can both enjoy a holiday and a whale watching experience for the majority of the year. All of these factors combine to give Queensland the informal title of "Whale watching state of Australia". Each of the main regions of Queensland's whale watching seasons can be summed up as follows:
Brisbane provides a surprisingly good springboard as a whale watching venue due to the nearby whale watching haven of Moreton Bay, when pods of humpbacks commence arriving from the beginning of June for a rest and a frolic. The Brisbane whale watching cruises typically continue until November, observing the whales returning on their southwards journey to Antarctic waters with their calves. In addition, Tangalooma Island is also close by, which provides another port of call for whale watchers, with trips that begin their annual cycle lasting from June through to October. The pursuit of the humpbacks - the most surface-active whale of all - off Brisbane's coast will leave you both inspired and in awe as you witness them in their natural environments and get a close-up view to see them breach, tail slap and spy hop with displays of surprisingly acrobatic behaviour for such massive creatures. Guests who participate in day cruises from the mainland will typically have time prior to the launch departure to visit Tangalooma Island Resort where they can access additional information on both whales and dolphins.
The Gold Coast has a well-deserved reputation as a tourist destination with a flair for the aquatic, and the wide range of marine activities on offer in Queensland's tourism capital also includes whale watching due to its unique geography, large quantity of whales that pass through annually, and extensive five-month whale watching season. There are a wide range of tour options and operators that provide whale watching trips on the Gold Coast to choose from, with departure points ranging from Coolangatta in the south to "The Spit" at the northern end of Surfers Paradise/Main Beach. A true winter playground for Humpback Whales, the Gold Coast seems over 10,000 whales pass by its shorelines every season. With a large, shallow bay that borders most of the area, it serves as an ideal location for whales to rest and mingle with one another during their annual migration from feeding grounds in the Antarctic to their breeding grounds at the Great Barrier Reef to the north. Many whale watching tour operators on the Gold Coast offer a money back guarantee, meaning that if you do not see a whale, they will either offer a return trip for free or provide a refund - reflecting their confidence in the quantity of whales in the waters. Whale watching season on the Gold Coast typically starts towards the end of May and continues on until the end of October.
Hervey Bay owes a great majority of its bustling tourism industry solely to the fact that it is one of the - if not THE - best whale watching venues in the entire country of Australia. Between the months of July and November, Hervey Bay offers one of the best locations to view the humpbacks and other species of whale on their annual migrations due to its great balance of crystal clear waters, shallow bays that provide shelter, and warm waters that encourage these magnificent, graceful giants to frolic and play. The waters off the coast of Hervey Bay are also famous for being traditionally calm, making for stable conditions for whale watching vessels of all sizes to grant a quality experience. In Hervey Bay, the Whales do not simply pass by as in many other destinations - they enter the Bay itself and stay for several days to both rest and play; many of the most iconic images of whales - humpbacks in particular - have been taken by photographers capturing the whales in action at Hervey Bay. Around 20 separate operators offer whale watching tours in Hervey Bay, with all vessels departing from the Urangan Boat Harbour - some of which come equipped with sound systems to enable passengers to hear the whales sing, while others offer educational videos on the journey towards the Hervey Bay Marine Park.
For more information on whale watching experiences and booking tours, click through to each region's specific Whale Watching section. In addition, stay tuned for more whale watching experiences in other major cities throughout Australia including Perth, Adelaide, Cairns, Port Douglas and the Whitsunday Islands which will be added shortly!