(Updated 2020) Hervey Bay is often referred to as “The Whale Watching Capital of the World”, a title I can personally endorse having travelled to Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, Norway and Iceland to see whales, as well as spending 3 months swimming and diving with whales in Tonga. To be fair, I am happy to allow Tonga to share the title, as the experience there is also amazing – but it sure is a lot harder to get to!! Whale Watching experiences in other destinations pale into insignificance compared to what is on offer in Hervey Bay.
Humpback whales follow an annual migration pattern, spending the summer months feeding on krill in the Antarctic, then migrating north to warmer climes to give birth and mate during the winter. Whilst there is no food source for the humpbacks in our waters, newborn whale calves are born without the blubber required to survive the icy southern ocean, hence the necessity for the annual journey north.
A big part of the attraction of Hervey Bay for whales is the 800 square miles of shallow and protected waters inside Fraser Island. The largest protected waterway on the east coast of Australia, Platypus Bay (Hervey Bay is the town) provides a calm and inviting playground for the whales and their newborn young, as well as providing some protection from their only natural predators – killer whales and sharks.
As an interesting side fact, the gestation period for a whale is 11.5 months, so all the associated courting and hanky panky also occurs here in Hervey Bay, which adds exciting elements of chase pods, courting serenades and breaching rituals to the experience. No wonder they love coming back to celebrate all those birthdays and anniversaries in our magic waters!
The accolades for Hervey Bay are as much about the quality and consistency of the whale watching experience as they are about the unique aspects of why whales choose to spend their holidays in Hervey Bay’s sheltered waters.
The great advantage for a whale “watcher” is that this whale playground lies in the lee of Fraser Island. The predominantly calm waters allow for open decked vessels with low waterline viewing positions where you are almost guaranteed an up close experience on EVERY cruise. The low and open boats in the fleet have all been designed specifically for local conditions, with many offering drop-down stern platforms so you can literally get eyeball to eyeball with a 15m long 40 ton humpback whale! Many boats also offer underwater viewing windows, through-hull cameras and hydrophones for listening to the whale's underwater singing.
“Whale Search” cruises will kick off this year from July 12th, with a half day trip hoping to spot the early arrivals for the season (the earliest we have seen whales is July 2nd). The majority of the fleet, however, begin cruising from July 16th and18th, a date historically where we have always had whales in the Bay. Once August arrives you are pretty much guaranteed to see lots and lots of whales, with August and September being the best months to see all the action with the best conditions. As you approach October there is a higher chance that winds will swing north, making conditions in the Bay a little rough and the possibility of cancellation due to weather increases. Each year, whale watching finishes in the mid or late October. Occasionally the whales stay until the end of October before heading back to their home in the south. My tip for the best time to visit - between August 8th and September 25th.
There are half, three-quarter and full day cruises on offer by a variety of boats. All our fleet have extremely experienced skippers and crew. Your choice of the length of a trip will depend on your personal preference for being out on the water, month of travel, and travel itinerary. If you are prone to motion sickness you are better with a morning trip before a potential afternoon sea breeze develops.
Rule changes in 2014 have now allowed operators to explore some exciting new "immersion" experiences where passengers can get in the water with whales! There is no doubt that connecting with a 40 ton behemoth from only metres away whilst in their environment would be an unforgettable experience!!
There are 2 operators (Blue Dolphin and QuickCat) offering an immersion experience this year. Be aware that there are a LOT of stars that need to align to present an opportunity for people to get into the water with whales - weather conditions, sea state, whales and water clarity - so I would expect opportunities to be rare rather than regular. As this season progresses (and in future seasons), I would expect the product offerings around "immersion" experiences to develop and mature, so keep up to date via our Facebook page during the season for exciting developments!
The following link summarize prices, attributes and points of difference for the whale watch fleet for 2020 (https://www.emeraldene.com.au/tour/all-whale-watching-tours-at-hervey-bay/). Feel free to drop me a line for my personal advice given your particular circumstances. Visit our website for more information about individual boats, and for all our great Whale Watching, Fraser Island and accommodation packages - www.emeraldene.com.au .
We operate some fantastic packages that include accommodation at the Emeraldene Inn, whale watch cruises, and also Fraser Island and Lady Elliot Island trips if you choose to explore further afield. These start at $390 for 2 nights accommodation and a whale watch cruise for 2 adults. Please see our website for all our great 2 and 3 night Whales and Fraser packages (WW!, WW2, WW3, and WW4).
For all our great packages, visit our Whale Watch Packages Page!
Hervey Bay is without doubt one of the best locations in the world to experience an up close connection with one of earth's biggest and most amazing creatures. This is a bucket-list experience you will never forget, and I can assure you will want to repeat many times in the future!