“Hello. I’ve been waiting for you”.
You can see whales migrating at many places along the Australian coast throughout the year. There is nothing like the spectacular of seeing them breaching and playing in Hervey Bay, Queensland, the world’s first Whale Heritage Site. If you have the opportunity to see these majestic creatures in the wild at Hervey Bay, I would highly suggest you do so.
Hervey Bay Location in Queensland and How To Get There
Hervey Bay is located just under 300km north of Brisbane, refer to map 1. It is about a 3 and a half hour drive or a quick 45 minute flight. If you don’t have your own vehicle to get you there you can always rent one. Check out availability and pricing here. Hervey Bay is the stepping off point for many whale watching tours to take you into the bay sheltered by Fraser Island, refer to map 2.
Why Whale Watch in Hervey Bay?
Every year humpback whales follow a migration pattern. They spend the summer months feeding on Krill in the Antarctic before heading north to warmer waters to give birth and to mate during the winter (July-October). A favourite spot for the whales is Hervey Bay, well Hervey Bay is actually the town, but it is Platypus Bay sheltered by Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, providing calm waters for whales and their newborns. The calm waters allow the baby whales to get ready to migrate south. The area is often referred to as a baby whale nursery and kindergarten. The waters also provide some protection from their natural predators – sharks and killer whales.
Just an interesting fact here: The gestation period for a whale is 11.5 months, so this is why they mate and give birth in Hervey Bay. And with all the courting comes serenades and breaching rituals which you can experience on your whale watching trip. There can also be lots of fin slapping of the waters and blow-hole spurts as the whales enjoy the area.
The best time to go Whale watching in Hervey Bay
You can tell I’m a regular by my flukes
Whales start arriving in Hervey Bay about mid-July and can stay up until late October. Now even though it is winter time in Australia, in Queensland the weather and the waters are a lot warmer than the southern parts of the country. This is because Queensland is close to the Tropic of Capricorn. And if you know your geography, the closer you are to the Tropic of Capricorn you experience tropical warm weather in the winter months. So, if you want to see the whales up close in Hervey then visiting between mid-July until late October is the ideal time. But specifically, August and September are the best months.
Whales return each year to Hervey Bay
Locals know the same whales return each year by their flukes. What is a fluke you ask? Well, a whale’s tail has two lobes, each of which is called a fluke. Where the two flukes meet a V-shape forms and the flukes have a black and white pattern on them that identifies them.
Choose a boat to see the whales in Hervey Bay
Urangan Harbour – home to many Whale Watch Tour Operators
There are a number of whale watch operators that can take you out on their boats to see the whales. They include: Spirit of Hervey Bay, Blue Dolphin Marine Tours, Tasman Venture, Boat Club Whale Watch, Pacific Whale Foundation, Whale Song Cruises and Hervey Bay Whale Watch.
So how do you choose a boat to go on? Well, ask yourself: What is my time frame? Do I want to go for a few hours, half a day or a full day? Would I prefer a big or small boat? Is a gourmet lunch required? What extras do the boats offer? Are there viewing platforms, underwater viewing windows, through-hull cameras, hydrophones for listening to the whale’s singing? If I am prone to sea sickness would I be better off doing a trip of only a couple of hours? Once you have asked yourself these questions find out which operator may suit you.
By the way, if you want to swim with the whales there were rule changes in 2014. Operators are now allowed to offer ‘immersion’ experiences. Basically, you can get in the water with the whales.
Regardless of the boat you choose your experience should be world class, after all, they call Hervey Bay the whale watch capital of the world. And the vessels team up, making radio calls to each other to identify where the whales are giving you a better chance to see the whales. So confident are the whale watching tour operators you will see whales, they usually offer a money-back guarantee if you don’t.
Book your Whale Watch Trip
After choosing the right boat for your circumstances, you can book directly with the tour operator online, your hotel or check out some of these options.
My Experience Whale Watching in Hervey Bay
I decided to go on a day trip to see the whales. My tour started from the Urangan Harbour wharf. As we left, myself and most people onboard walked around the boat, inside then out just checking out the best vantage points. As we sailed along Fraser Island we were provided with loads of information about the island and the whales. After morning tea was served, I sat and looked around – looking for whales.
Sailing along Fraser Island you discover just how long it is
After lunch still no whales. Then we were advised a sonar had been lowered into the water in search of whale sounds. Contact was also made with other vessels and then voila – whales. They were worth the wait. And as one of them surfaced to look at us, it seemed as if he or she was saying ‘hello, where have you been?’. I’ve been playing in these waters just waiting for you. And what a show they put on. Breaching. Swimming around the boat. Fin slapping. Tail slapping and general playing. They were of varying sizes with some I would say about 4 metres long with barnacles on them. Then after a couple of hours it was time to sail back to Hervey Bay.
Where to stay in Hervey Bay to Whale Watch
Though some people visit Hervey Bay on a day trip, it is best to stay overnight, or longer as the whale watching tours are either half or full day long. And maybe you might also want to visit Fraser Island. There is plenty of accommodation available for your visit. You can either stay on the mainland around Hervey Bay or on Fraser Island.
On Fraser Island check out Kingfisher Bay Island Resort or camp at one of the 45 camping areas on the island.
Time to head back
Hervey Bay is without doubt one of the best places in the world to experience seeing whales in a natural habitat. Growing up in a coastal Australian town I saw many whales and dolphins at play in the ocean. But I had never experienced them so up close and personal as I did whale watching in Hervey Bay. And I am so glad I did.
Tips to enjoy your day whale watching in Hervey Bay
You won’t want to sit inside all day particularly when the whales arrive so wear good shoes with plenty of grip as you don’t want to slip in any water. Wear long casual pants – ladies, don’t wear a skirt as it can get windy and you don’t want to be holding a skirt down. Take a waterproof jacket to wear outside as it can get cold and windy on the water. I would tie any long hair up with a hairband. Ensure you have a camera or GoPro to get those memorable shots.
Sharyn McCullum has travelled all of her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. She is the creator of Live Work and Play in Australia. She loves coffee, chocolate and parmas and currently calls Melbourne home. Read More.