It makes sense to take your family holiday cues from a mammal with a brain at least seven times bigger than your own, which is why whale watching in Hervey Bay has officially been recognised as one of the world’s best ways to witness this heart-stopping phenomenon.
Holiday like a humpback with a family migration to the warm waters of official Whale Heritage Site Hervey Bay next winter, and guarantee your family a display of nature that rivals any documentary on the National Geographic channel.
WHERE TO GO?
Hervey Bay is to whales what Hotel California is to its guests in that famous Eagles song. In fact, it’s the only known destination on their migration from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef where they check-in, but don’t really leave.
Humpback whales use the calm, protected waters around Fraser Island as a calf kindergarten to teach their young how to adult. From flip slaps and blowhole spurts to full, 40-tonne out-of-water aerial displays, Hervey Bay is where you come for Cirque du Soleil of whale behaviour. It’s this phenomenon, along with the region’s dedication to research, cultural and celebratory ties to these majestic creatures that saw it crowned as one of the world’s first Whale Heritage Sites by the World Cetacean Alliance at the World Whale Conference in 2019.
Best still, Hervey Bay is an easy drive north of Brisbane (about 3.5 hours) and can be discovered in a weekend (check out this 48-hour guide). Although to make it worthwhile, we’d recommend you take a long weekend and add a day trip to Fraser Island to your whale watching adventure.
WHEN TO GO?
These mammoth mammals time their visit each winter (July to November), and so should you. So confident are the whale watching operators that you’ll see the whales, most even offer a money-back guarantee over the winter period.
To celebrate the whales’ arrival, Hervey Bay hosts a celebration worthy of a whale welcome – Paddle Out for Whales – just one of the many events under the annual Hervey Bay Whale Festival umbrella.
Paddle Out for Whales sees hundreds of people float into the bay on surfboards, kayaks, bright inflatables and SUPs to raise awareness for whale welfare and the conservation of the marine environment.
Some of the other big events that make up the August festival include the Whale Parade and Concert, Kite Karnival, Hervey Bay Seafood Festival and the Blessing of the Fleet.
WHERE TO STAY?
Humpback highway cuts through the entire Fraser Coast real estate, so you can stay island-side or on the mainland for a whale watching weekend.
On the mainland, Mantra Hervey Bay, Ramada Hervey Bay and Akama Resort are stumbling distance from the marina, which will afford you the best chance of a sleep-in.
While island-side, Kingfisher Bay Island Resort is the take-off point for a day of sailing the calm seas.
If you don’t want to stay at the resort, you can camp at one of the 45 camping areas on Fraser Island and travel to the Kingfisher Bay Island Resort’s jetty if you don’t mind the early start.
WHICH BOAT TO CHOOSE?
At first glance, it might appear like there’s not much difference between the whale watching tours in Hervey Bay, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see it’s a nuanced decision.
The Spirit of Hervey Bay, a larger cruiser with six different viewing decks, takes a full day to motor around the bay. It’s perfect for folks who came to the region to see what runs out first – your SD card or the time on the water.
For something smaller, there’s the sailing catamaran, Blue Dolphin, which caters for up to 24 people and is the most intimate experience on the bay.
Quick Cat II, Tasman Venture and Hervey Bay Dive Centre offer a once-in-a-lifetime swim with whales experience, with Whalesong allowing marine fanatics up-close encounters with both humpbacks and dolphins. As does Pacific Whale Foundation, whose water-level ‘whaleseye’ viewing deck allows you to eyeball these giants of the deep.
Boat Club Adventure Cruises’ four-hour adventure takes you into the whales’ domain and Tasman Venture’s remote Fraser Island tour allows you to see the unique and untouched side of stunning Fraser Island.
Are you the type to book with your stomach? There’s Freedom who serve profiteroles worthy of a place in Paris, or Tasman Venture who serve a spicy potato salad you’ll remember nearly as long as the whale-watching itself. As you can see, there’s no shortage of spot the difference.
Regardless of which boat you choose, the experience is world class – and whale watching vessels team up like a gang of cattle dogs out on the water, making radio calls to one another to identify where whales are playing to ensure their vast aqua-playground is covered.
HOW TO BOOK?
After choosing the right boat for your circumstances, you can book directly with the operator online. If you find yourself on the Fraser Coast, in winter, and the sun is shining, your hotel will be able to arrange a tour for you too.
If you’d prefer an absolute expert’s opinion in the region, we’d encourage you to make tracks to the Hervey Bay Visitor Information Centre, where the volunteers will help book the right tour for you.
WHAT TO WEAR?
Be sensible – we’re talking whales + winter + water. And while the cabin inside the boat will be toastier than a marshmallow slow-roasting on a campfire, outdoors can be windy and wet.
We recommend a waterproof jacket or windcheater, long pants and grippy shoes – after all, you’ll want to be as close to the boat’s balconies as possible, not indoors, when the whales come out to play.
WHAT TO PACK?
You definitely don’t need to worry about staying well-fed on a day at sea in Hervey Bay. Depending on your trip you’ll be served morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea (or all three!)
A camera is an absolute must. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to buy the latest GoPro after reading this blog post, now is the time, because whales don’t know the strength of their own splash and you’re likely to get a bit wet.
WHERE TO EAT?
After your tour, we promise there’s more than just a smorgasbord of krill and plankton to eat in Hervey Bay. We’ve rounded up the best cafes and restaurants for you to peruse.
Sure, you’ll be travelling with experienced guides on board your vessel, but the kids aren’t going to ask them for whale answers, are they?
Prep for your whale watching trip with the kind of facts that would get David Attenborough excited:
- The humpback whale’s scientific name is: Megaptera novaeangliae
- An adult humpback whale can weigh up to five times more than five adult elephants
- Humpback males seduce humpback females with their song
- Whale songs are an example of nurture, not nature – and all whales learn and perfect their tunes throughout their life
- Whale excrement plays a large role in offsetting carbon
- Humpback whales are very social. While they live solo, they often form temporary pods during migration
- Whales are highly intelligent (in the top five smartest animals on the planet) and can self-recognise, which is something few animals can do
- Whales play an important role in the food chain. A humpback whale can eat 2500kg of krill and plankton each day, which gives you an idea what would happen if humpback whales were to become extinct
- Females bear a calf each season
- A calf can weigh up to 907kg at birth and measure 3-4.5m.
- The average humpback lifespan is believed to be around 50 years (though due to whaling this is yet to be fully understood as they may actually live even longer!)
- Whales cruise along humpback highway at a speed of 5-15km per hour
- Humpback whales don’t have teeth. Instead, they have baleen plates for chomping plankton
- Looking for more answers? We bet you didn’t know these six things about humpback whales