A humpback whale breaches from the ocean, flipping backwards.
Road trip

The seven best spots to whale-watch this season

Each autumn, whales start their annual journey north from Antarctica to warmer Australian waters. These seven spots, within driving distance of capital cities, are among the best places to glimpse these gentle giants.

By Shell on May 17, 2022

Every year come April, a staggering 60,000 whales begin their migration from Antarctica north to feed, breed and give birth – that’s around 25,000 up the east coast of Australia, and another 35,000 along the west. They head back in the other direction in November and December, meaning that you often have two chances to glimpse these gentle giants throughout the 2022 season. Here’s where you can spot them – and the enjoy the road trip to get there.

Great Oyster Bay, TAS

Getting there: 100 – 150 kilometres north-east of Hobart
When: May – July, September – December

Oyester Bay

Tasmania is home to some of the cleanest water in the world. It’s a natural playground for humpbacks and southern right whales as they make their annual Australian ascent from Antarctica. Many linger in sheltered Great Oyster Bay on the state’s east coast to give birth, which means you can glimpse mammas with their calves from all manner of land lookouts. As an added bonus, your backdrop is the dusty pink Hazards mountains that colour the Freycinet Peninsula. As if you needed another reason to visit.

Exmouth, WA

Getting there: 1,200 kilometres north of Perth
When: June – October

Exmouth

The World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Coast may be best known for its giant whale sharks – which are not actually whales, but rather the world’s largest species of fish – but the waters off the Exmouth coast also attract the highest density of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere during their annual 11,000 kilometre migration. We can understand why they want to hang out here. Strap on a mask and snorkel, and flipper over the brilliant reef with ethical operators like Live Ningaloo , which offers the chance to swim with humpbacks during their seasonal sojourn.

Jervis Bay, NSW

Getting there: 200 kilometres south of Sydney
When: May – November

Jervis Bay

You don’t have to leave central Sydney to spot whales breaching and blowing – they’re a common sight along the Bondi to Maroubra coastal walk, and also draw crowds to The Gap ocean cliffs on the South Head peninsula. To maximise your chances of seeing a pod in the wild, however, motor south toward the warm waters of Jervis Bay Marine Park. This protected playground is like paradise for mature whales and their newborn calves. And because it’s right in the middle of the east coast’s whale migration path, the giants tend to hang out here for longer than other pockets of Australia. Spot them from shore, or join a cruise.

Victor Harbor, SA

Getting there: 80 kilometres south of Adelaide
When: June – September

Victor Harbor

Whales are not the only marine creatures that favour the gin-clear waters off the coast of South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula. Whether on land (try The Bluff and Encounter Bay lookouts) or aboard a boat, you’ll also likely spot seals, sea lions and dolphins, keeping southern rights company on their annual visit through the warm waters of Encounter Bay. Visit the South Australian Whale Centre here and you’ll learn that a whopping 29 species of whales have been recorded in this part of the world, including the largest animal to have ever lived, the blue whale.

Hervey Bay, QLD

Getting there: 300 kilometres north of Brisbane
When: May – November

 

Hervey Bay

Protected by K’gari (Fraser Island), Hervey Bay is the stuff of legends among whale-watching enthusiasts – in fact, it was the planet’s joint-first Whale Heritage Site, as named by the World Cetacean Alliance. The mammals travel here along the ‘humpback highway’ to breed and nurse calves, and they flock in such plentiful numbers that they’re celebrated at the annual Hervey Bay Whale Festival (from 29 July 2022). Just to the south, you can swim safely with humpbacks around Mooloolaba, 100 kilometres north of Brisbane.

Cairns, QLD

Getting there: 1,700 kilometres north-west of Brisbane
When: June – July

Cairns

There’s only one place in the world you can swim with dwarf minke whales, and its off the coast of Cairns for two months every year. These highly intelligent, curious creatures descend on the Great Barrier Reef for a bit of annual play time. And you can join them somersaulting through the water – they’re highly acrobatic – with ethical operators like Mike Ball Dive Expeditions or Divers Den. Nothing quite prepares you for an underwater glimpse, but if you’d prefer to keep your head above water, minkes are also notorious breachers and love to create a splash.

Warrnambool, VIC

Getting there: 250 kilometres west of Melbourne
When: May – September

Warrnambool

The Great Ocean Road dazzles whatever time of year you visit. But it’s particularly alluring over the cooler months, when southern right whales drop in to nurse their calves off the coast of Warrnambool. They’re in this natural nursery for a couple of weeks before venturing south to Antarctica, and they put on quite the show while in town – head to Logans Beach or Lady Bay for close encounters. Another 100 kilometres west and you’ll reach Cape Nelson, where rare blue whales refuel before joining other pods on their journey south.

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