Hervey Bay in Australia is one of the top spots worldwide to go whale watching. Humpback whales use Hervey Bay as their playground when they take a
Whale watching cruise
A whale watching cruise on the Spirit of Herey Bay is one of the best ways to spot whales in the wild. It’s 8.30am when we go on board of The Spirit for a 4.5 hour whale watching cruise. Although there is no best time of the day to go whale watching, the calm waves of the morning sea make it easier to spot whales. The boat itself is equipped with 6 viewing decks and underwater windows, perfect for whale spotting! Inside there is a dining area and a bar where you can buy coffee and snacks. A small lunch was included in our tour.
The captain welcomes us through the speakers and we slowly set sail towards open water. We learn that besides whales there is plenty of other wildlife to be found in the bay like dolphins and many bird species. The first wildlife we encounter on our cruise are the Pelicans.
Australian Pelicans in Hervey Bay
Pelicans are common along Australia’s East Coast and you will often spot them in Hervey Bay. While we set sail for open water, a group of Australian Pelicans guard the harbor entrance. Australian Pelicans often group together as they prefer to feed as a cooperative group. Together they are able to drive fish into a concentrated mass. Then the fish are herded into shallow water or surrounded in ever decreasing circles. This makes it a lot easier for the pelicans to feed.
Spotting whales in Hervey Bay
It won’t take long before we have our first whale encounter. Within an hour after we left the harbor we see a pod of Humpback Whales spouting water in the distance. Apparently the whales are as curious as we are. While we set sail to the whales, the whales swim towards us. For the first time, we see a whale jumping out of the water. Wooow! We quickly grab our binoculars to have a closer look. Another whale jumps. Now with the binoculars at hand, we can fully see his mighty body reaching for the sky while he jumps backwards. With a huge splash the whale disappears back into the otherwise calm see.
Why is Hervey Bay a great place for whale spotting?
In the meantime, the captain explains why Hervey Bay is a great place to go whale watching. “Every year, the whales make their way from Antarctica all the way up to Great Barrier Reef. They breed there and raise their calves in the warm tropical waters. During their migration they use the Australian coastline as navigation” the captain says. “On their way back down, they follow the land on their right handside, until they come into this back bay. It is like a funnel effect. They can’t go down between the mainland and Fraser Island. So they will be here for a while before they get back to the top and head down southway.
Some of them eventually have, after anywhere between 6 to 8 months of traveling, completed more than 12.000 kilometers during their migration”, explains the captain.
The whales with their new born calves visit Hervey Bay between August and October on their way to Antarctica. “In the arctic ocean waters, the calves will die. It’s too cold. They don’t have enough blubber” the captain says. Whales use blubber as an insulation layer to keep warm while they dive to cool depths or travel to cold waters. The blubber is essential to be able to survive the cold, according to the captain. “So the mother feeds them up. They will spend a few weeks feeding, playing and relaxing before they head south to colder waters”, the captain says.
We are coming closer to the whales. “That’s a Head Lunge manouvre” The captain says enthausiastically. A whale just jumped out of the water and falls forward back in. Humpback Whales are often called the star of the oceans, as they display various types of amazing physical behaviour when they surface. “That’s a twisted breaching manouvre”, tells the captain. The whale twists mid-air while he jumps again. The show is very impressive. All whales have their own style, we learn from the captain.
Now they approach the boat as close as a couple of meters. The sighting is magnificent as they rise from underwater to the surface to “say hello”, spouting a fountain, and then dive back under. Humpbacks are well known for their curiosity and friendliness. They say a Humback even saved a diver from a shark one day.
Then the whales suddenly disappear. “We don’t pick up their signals anymore, which means they dive deeper” the captain says. “It might take a while before they come back up again, so let’s see what else we can spot today”, he continues. In the far distance we see multiple pods breaching and spouting water. While we set sail to them, even some dolphins show up on the surface.
When we move closer to the whale pods we get to see a show we will never forget. Two little fishing boats attracted a curious whale. The whale is now spy hopping inbetween them. Spy hopping is when the whale puts his head out of the water to take a look around, checking surface activity. Then the whale moves his giant body just centimeters from one of the boat, eventually even touching it.
“Normally they never touch a boat, I have never seen this before”, the captain tells us.
We try to move closer, but our huge 6-deck boat scares the whale and he disappears. As a final goodbye, he lifts his tail high above the water before reaching for the ocean’s depth. It’s called a fluke up dive. On the location where the whale just dove under a big circle is visible on the surface. The circle stays visible for quite a while. From the captain we learn that it’s called a whale’s “footprint”.
Sailing back along Fraser Island’s Coastline
Unfortunately, we run out of time and we start sailing back to the harbour. This time we follow the coastline of Fraser Island. The view of its bright sand beaches, tropical forests and clear blue waters surrounding make it look very tempting. We will definitely visit Fraser Island later during our stay in Australia…
On our way back we encounter many fishing birds including Australian Pelicans, Little Black Cormorants, Little Pied Cormorants and Intermediate Egrets. The most remarkable one was the Little Black Cormorant sitting proudly on top of a sign while we arrived back in Hervey Bay’s harbor. Little Black Cormorants are easily recognised by their small, slim and totally black bodies.
When we arrive back in the harbor, the captain offers a second tour for half the price. It’s a great opportunity to see the whales once more. On the first tour many will take loads of pictures. A second tour will give you more time to relax and sit back and watch the show with your own eyes once more!
How did we like our whale watching tour in Hervey Bay?
The whale watching cruise in Hervey Bay was one of the highlights during our visit to Australia’s East Coast. We went with the Spirit of Hervey Bay because this cruise is affordable and the boat is relatively fast. Its speed allows to go deeper in the bay and spot more whales. The tour lasted 4,5 hours, which is enough to see a ot of whales. If you don’t spot the whales, most companies will offer you another trip for free. We went in the morning cruise because the sea tends to be calmer in the morning. This makes it easier to spot whales.
If you’ve got the money we would probably recommend a tour with a smaller boat in a more private setting. Make sure though that if you go with a private tour you allocate more time. 4,5 hours might be to short if you pick a slower boat. We spotted the most whales deeper in the bay.
Whale Heritage Site
Hervey Bay is now officially named the world’s first Whale Heritage Site. The World Cetacean Alliance awarded the status to Hervey in October 2019. It’s going to be a challenge for Hervey Bay to manage the expected increase of the amount of tourists that will visit the bay with respect for the natural and culturale heritage in the region.
When can you see whales in Hervey Bay?
You can see whales in Hervey Bay when they rais their calves between mid-July and the end of October. But it’s hard to put an exact date on it, therefore the last weeks of July are known as the “whale searching” season. Sightnings are almost guarantueed from August and onwards. Most tour opperators offer a refund or free second whale watching tour for the few occasions where no whale has been spotted.
How to get to Hervey Bay for an unforgetable whale watching experience
Hervey Bay is located on the East Coast of Australia, about 300 kilometers north of Brisbane. Drive up the A1 until Maryborough. This historical town, which is the place of birth of the author of Merry Poppins, is worth a visit on its own. Maryborough could be a great stop on your way to Hervey Bay.
Coming from Brisbane, you’ll exit the A1 at the route 86 exit which leads into the center of Maryborough. It’s a scenic drive trough the Historical centre. Turn left at the crossing with route 57 to Hervey Bay. The drive from Brisbane to Hervey Bay will take about three and a half hours without stopping.