Alright, folks, here’s a brain-teaser for you: Is it Hervey Bay whale watching, or are the whales giving us their version of ‘Humans Watching’ reality show? Imagine this: a young, dashing whale decides to spice up our lives with a one-of-a-kind Hervey Bay whale watching extravaganza! The experts might call it a ‘mugging,’ but let’s be honest, these whales are just checking if we brought snacks. Our young aquatic superstar, along with his trusty sidekick, clearly had their binoculars out as they cruised over to our boat for a sneak peek. And hold onto your captain’s hat, because one bold whale even pulled off the classic ‘pop-the-head-up’ maneuver, like a game of marine hide and seek. You’re not just witnessing a spectacle, my friends, you’re right in the middle of the world’s original Whale Heritage Site, where whales know how to steal the spotlight and leave you grinning from ear to fin!

Hervey Bay whale watching

Our whale watching cruise with Hervey Bay Whale Watch started by heading north from Kingfisher Bay Resort on K’gari (Fraser Island) for 30 minutes to Moon Point and Platypus Bay on the eastern side of K’gari, where the whales play. Picture this: as we’re leisurely cruising along, out pops the party-starting first whale! Not once, not twice, but three times it graces us with its presence. Talk about a marine triple-take!  The captain, being the diplomat of the sea, decides it’s time to take our leave. No pressure on the whales, after all. You see, these waters are like the VIP section of the ocean, and we wouldn’t want any whale stressing out about sandbanks – it’s like their version of high heels on cobblestones!

Finding where the whales play

The boat keeps cruising north to find more whales. It’s early morning on a winter’s day and this is the cold part of the trip, and I wish I had a thick puffer jacket. My spray jacket just isn’t cutting it.  The captain says you can’t spot whales on the radar, so he wants plenty of eyes on the water to help find them.  We are on the front of the boat looking out on the water, trying to find a little sun on our backs.
whale Heritage Site Hervey Bay

Hervey Bay whale watching. IMAGE: Kevin Gordon

How do you spot a whale?

Spot a whale, and the captain will cruise over for a look. We want to find a ‘mugger’, says the captain. One that is curious and hangs around. To help passengers find the whales, the captain gave us a few tips –

  • Look for the whale blow. It can shoot up to five metres in the air.
  • They may be relaxing in the sun like a log, so you see the sun glinting on its back.
  • Whale breaches make a big splash look for them.
  • Watch for whale footprints in the water.

We see plenty of whales in the distance. They seem to like a small yacht and one does a spy hop to check it out better. That’s when their head comes right out of the water to check you out. Then we are running from one side of the boat to the other as this young whale circles the boat. The crew laugh and call this whale watching aerobics! I can see him under the water with his white belly and tail. He’s really looking at us and brings his head close to the boat, and I can see all the barnacles on his skin.

But wait, there’s more! It’s a double feature! Another whale shows up, and now we’ve got a whale dance party going on. They’re circling, playing peek-a-boo with a side of ‘whale-ly’ selfies. Our passengers? They’ve turned into cheerleaders, waving and whistling – like a real sea-celebration! The swimmers quickly hop into the water, snorkels on, ready for a close-up encounter. However, the whales have other things on their mind and take off to the west.

All too soon, and we are heading back to Kingfisher Bay. Four hours that felt like a single ripple in time. This, my ocean-loving pals, is like finding the ultimate treasure in Hervey Bay – a whale wonderland where these gentle giants are just chillin’, soaking in the good vibes, and reminding us all that life’s a splash when you’re having a whale of a time!

whale watching Hervey Bay

Hervey Bay whale watching. IMAGE: Kevin Gordon

The World’s First Whale Heritage Site

Hervey Bay in Queensland is where the whales stop and play on their route north. It was announced as the first Whale Heritage Site in the world in October 2019, declared by the World Cetacean Alliance at its international conference in Hervey Bay. A Whale Heritage Site has to show active engagement by their communities and tourists with marine life through art, music, science, education and celebratory events while simultaneously recognising the culture and heritage surrounding cetaceans in the local habitat.

Strawberry roulade

Quirky whale facts

World Whale Heritage Hervey Bay is a top whale watching destination in Australia, not only for tourists but also for researchers who have revealed some quirky facts about the giant mammals. Did you know humpbacks may sleep with one eye open, can stop blood flow to certain parts of their body, that sound is a more dominant sense than sight and that survival and gravity play a part in them growing to the size of a bus?

My previous Hervey Bay whale watching tour was in September when the whales have birthed their calves. Captain Phil told the 50 or so people aboard that the tip of the island is where we will see the whales, and he is right. Our first mother and calf were a little shy at first, keeping the boat at a good distance but I could clearly see the much smaller calf swimming strongly beside its mother.

Mother and baby whale enjoying a swim.

What are whale footprints?

I’m fascinated by the large circles of calm water that float past us, and Phil tells us these are whale footprints. “They break the water tension when they flick their tails to swim down resulting in the clear circles on the water,” Phil says. Sailors used whale footprints to track whales back in the bad old days when whales were valued more for their blubber than their beauty.

Our next mother and calf are a little more playful, and the little one flaps his flippers in the air as he rolls onto his back. He might just have finished feeding on some of the litres of milk the mother whale produces and releases a day. The baby filters the fat-laden milk, which has the consistency of yoghurt, from the water.

Whale brains

Experts say that whales’ brains are much larger and more complex than humans, and sound is a more dominant sense for them than sight. Whales can make sounds at frequencies higher and lower than humans can hear and could also emit incredibly loud sounds – equivalent to a rock concert! Whales have ears but not an external ear structure, just tiny openings which are difficult to see. Heavy wax inside the ear canal keeps water out, and researchers can count dark and light rings in this ear wax plug, like a tree trunk, to estimate how old a whale was when it died.  I’m glad my job does not involve counting the rings in whale ear wax,

Freshly picked strawberries

The Whale Heritage Site at Hervey Bay is a whale nursery

The waters around Fraser Island are known as a whale nursery where mothers birth and build up their babies for the long swim back to summer in Antarctica. Humpback whales like to holiday around Fraser Island and Hervey Bay from August to October. Experts estimate around 4,000 humpbacks spend anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks sheltered in the waters, taking time out from their migration.

Storm brewing around Fraser Island.

Dive into Delight with a Hervey Bay Whale Watching Extravaganza

Hervey Bay in Queensland’s southeast is about a 3.5-hour drive or 35-minute flight from Brisbane and a 90-minute direct flight from Sydney. The broad sweep of the World Whale Heritage Site in Hervey Bay is protected from ocean swells by the 123km length of Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, forming a naturally calm playground for the whales.

For the second trip, we left the jetty at K’gari / Fraser Island around 7.45 am and returned at around 1 pm, a little later than planned. Cloudy skies and the threat of rain made for some dramatic scenery on the way home. We didn’t see any tail slapping or breaching behaviour, but I probably wouldn’t be doing that if I had a three-week-old baby.  Friends who went out the next day saw a group of young males making plenty of splashes.  It was a great day out on the water.

Late July and August are the best times to swim with the humpbacks in Hervey Bay, but the whale watching season continues until early November. You can also see K’gari / Fraser Island from the air with a Fraser Island joy flight or enjoy a walk through Pile Valley on Fraser Island.

If you are in Brisbane, try whale watching in Moreton Bay.

Best tips

  • Going in July? Wear a warm jacket as it can get cold on the boat when it is cruising.
  • Take a camera with a long lens so you can get close-up photos of the whales but be prepared to change lenses if they come in close, which they most likely will.  I got some fabulous shots on my iPhone.

Otherwise, just enjoy the show.

Disclaimer: Ed+bK was a guest of Kingfisher Bay Resort