Hervey Bay is one of the best places to go whale watching in Australia – if not the world. Thousands of humpbacks pass through and rest in the sheltered waters of Hervey Bay on their annual migration to and from Antarctica. During winter, from July onwards, the whales hang out on their way south having had their calves in the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
The whale-watching season officially kicks off on 1 August, with a month-long whale festival in Hervey Bay featuring a host of whale-themed activities and events. One of the most important of these is the Blessing of the Fleet, when all the town’s whale watching vessels cruise around the bay together before returning to the harbour to be blessed. Then there’s a big party with fireworks and general merry-making.
The main challenge facing visitors to Hervey Bay is which whale watching operation to choose. Prices are more or less consistent, but the length of trip and size of boat can vary widely.
We chose Freedom because it’s a fairly small vessel, which carries just 49 people. We were free to move around the boat – and there was plenty of room to do just that – important when the whales are circling the boat (called “mugging”) and you want to see as much of them as possible.
Freedom’s three-quarter day trip was just the right length – we were collected from our hotel at 8.30am by the free shuttle bus and taken to the harbour to board Freedom III. With near perfect weather conditions – calm, flat sea, blue sky, warm sunshine – we motored out of the harbour. Morning tea – delicious warm home-baked scones and fresh cream profiteroles – was served while we took the hour-long journey to Platypus Bay, the prime whale watching area.
Top row: Spy hopping; plenty of space to walk around the boat; some flipper action
Bottom row: An uninterrupted view; humpback whale blowing
By law, boats are not allowed to motor any closer than 100m to the whales – though if the whales then choose to come closer themselves, that’s absolutely fine. The whales did come closer. Five whales joined us, swimming around and under the boat and treating us to a fantastic display of various whale behaviours: tail slapping, blowing and spy hopping – which is when a whale raises its head right out of the water to take a look around. We all got covered in whale spray a few times – there’s nothing like being sneezed on by a whale to make you feel alive!
Lunch was served (a super buffet spread of meats, cheeses, salads and bread) and the whale action just kept going – dinner and a show.
After lunch we moved on to a different spot, and it felt as though there were whales everywhere. We must have seen at least 20 humpback whales, with three or four different pods interacting with the boat during the trip and whales breaching and blowing in the distance, as well as a pod of bottlenose dolphins.
Throughout the trip there was a lively, amusing and informative commentary from skipper Keith. As we cruised back to the harbour, platters of tropical fruit were presented for afternoon tea.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip – but one that we’d love to do again some day. We’d choose Freedom again without hesitation – the profiteroles alone would warrant a repeat trip!
Whale watching season starts in July. Book at Freedom Whale Watch.