Hervey Bay is recognised as one of the best destinations in the world to watch, experience and interact with whales. Often called the “Whale Watch Capital of the World”, several geographical and physical conditions align to present optimal conditions for humans and whales to interact.
Platypus Bay is bounded by Fraser Island and the mainland creating almost 450 square miles of relatively shallow and mostly calm waters for the whales and their newborn calves to stop and play. These protected waters in the lee of Fraser Island offer the whales a natural sanctuary to pause on their way back to Antarctica in order to teach, feed and prepare their young.
Whales migrate north in the winter to give birth (and then mate), as their young are born without the insulating blubber that protects them from the frigid waters of the Antarctic. They travel north until they encounter water warm enough for the birth of their calves (somewhere close to the Whitsunday Islands). Gestation period for a whale is a perfect 11 – 12 months, allowing them to birth and then mate in the warmer northern waters. They then bring their newborn young into the sheltered waters off Hervey Bay in order to feed them and build their strength for the long journey back to their feeding grounds in Antarctica.
Why Whale Watching in Hervey Bay?
There are many whale watch tours on offer on the east coast of Australia, however in all destinations other than Hervey Bay the whales are in transit – they are on a mission heading north (to give birth and mate) or south (to get home to feed). They do not stop, pause or rest anywhere else on the east coast other than Hervey Bay, and as a result the whale “watching” and “sightings” in other destinations are often only a series of misty “blows”, surface humps and dorsal fins.
The prevailing south-easterly to north-easterly winds put the whale watching grounds of Platypus Bay in the lee of Fraser Island, offering comfortable and calm waters for visitors to be amazed by up-close encounters with humpback and sometimes minke whales.
Whales are naturally inquisitive creatures, and the newborn young are fascinated by boats and the attention of viewing “humans”. Off Hervey Bay it is just as much “people watching” by the whales as “whale watching” by the people!
While the whales are pausing to rest, holiday and feed their young they put on a great show for visitors! Lunging, breaching, tail slapping and spy hopping are regular experiences on EVERY cruise in Hervey Bay (rather than a treat for other destinations along the coast). The playful young trying out their new aerial skills coupled with the huge male bulls trying to impress the females in their competition for mating partners provides amazing action-packed experiences for whale watchers, often only metres from the boats.
The whale watch vessels travel out into the Bay until they encounter whales and then turn off their engines. The calm waters mean the boats can sit comfortably while the whales come over and often spend hours playfully circling and engaging with their newfound friends. Guests have regularly been “snotted on”, as whales blow so close to the boat you can experience that “special” connection that cannot be had anywhere else but Hervey Bay!
Another unique Hervey Bay experience is whale karaoke! The boats all have hydrophones that they can drop into the water to listen to the whales sing, which is an awesome experience! (Only the males sing, and they only sing in warm shallow waters. It is thought this is a mating ritual.)
When to come and what trips are best?
The Hervey Bay Whale Watching season runs from late July to the end of October. The boats begin ¾ day “whale search” trips from July 20th, however the whales can be a long way up the top of the Bay (up to 40 miles) in the early days, and whale sightings are not “guaranteed” until 1st August. The absolute best time for the most whales and the best action is from the middle of August to the end of September.
There are half day (morning or afternoon) trips that run for 4 hours, ¾ day trips (6 hours) and full day trips (8 hours) on offer, with prices ranging from $110 – $125 for adults, and $300 – $370 for a family of 4. For the half day trips, as far as action is concerned there is not really a preference for morning or afternoons, however it is often calmer in the mornings, particularly in October.
For a half day trip WhaleSong offers a great small group experience, with a meal included in the ticket price (breakfast or lunch, $120 / adult). The boat is licensed to carry 100 passengers but limits this to 60 to ensure optimal viewing for all. WhaleSong launched a new purpose built vessel in 2012. (Wheelchair and pram accessible)
Spirit of Hervey Bay also offers a half day experience and is the biggest boat in the fleet. Licensed to carry 300, the Spirit has 3 viewing decks and underwater viewing windows. If you are concerned with motion or sea sickness, Spirit is the most stable of the vessels. Morning or afternoon tea is included in the ticket price ($110 / adult).
QuickCat rounds out the recommended half day fleet with a wide bodied power catamaran that carries up to 95 passengers. Quickcat has underwater viewing, includes morning or afternoon tea, and is wheelchair and pram accessible. As the morning cruise travels via Kingfisher Resort on Fraser, I would recommend the afternoon trip if travelling with QuickCat. ($115 / adult)
Freedom III offers a fantastic ¾ day experience with morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea included in the ticket price ($125 / adult). This 6 hour cruise departs at 9:30am and returns at approx 3:30pm, allowing a casual start to the day and a sleep-in for those that relish a rest while on holidays!! Freedom is a small group trip (45 passengers) on a spacious 58ft power catamaran with plenty of comfortable viewing space.
For those that love the water and want as much time as possible with the whales Blue Dolphin offers a magnificent full day and small group experience (24 passengers). Blue Dolphin is the only sailing catamaran in the fleet and departs at 7:30am retuning at approx 3:30 – 4:00pm. Meals and refreshments are included in the ticket price ($120 / adult).
All trips offer complimentary transfers from your accommodation and all boats have licensed bars on board.
Whale Watching, Fraser Island and Accommodation Packages
We have some great accommodation and tour packages available for the 2013 Whale Watching Season. If you haven’t visited Fraser Island previously, you should definitely consider adding a full day trip to your plans for another totally different natural experience.
Check out the following great packages for this season …
2 Nights Accommodation plus Whale Watching (for 2 adults) – $440
2 Nights Accommodation plus Whale Watching plus Full Day Fraser Island Tour (for 2 adults) – $700
Add a 3rd nights accommodation for only $70!!
Hervey Bay is without doubt the Whale Watching Capital of the World, and being able to experience these magnificent creatures so close and in such a personal manner is definitely a bucket-list experience you will NEVER forget!
by Rob Lennon Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge, Hervey Bay