When we boarded Freedom III from Hervey Bay’s marina, we were hoping to see perhaps one whale, maybe even two… what we got instead was way beyond anything we could have hoped for.
It’s hard for me to describe the sensation of seeing a whale up close in the wild. Especially when said whale is quite a bit bigger than the boat you’re on! And especially when I don’t want to drown you in hyperbole – sorry not drown (don’t say drown).
After all, a whale is just a big fish, right? I’m kidding. For some reason, when you see these magnificent creatures, you feel a glow inside you. It starts in your chest, works its way to your stomach and the spreads tingles out through the rest of your body. It’s… amazing.
And because of an annual coming-together of perfect conditions, Hervey Bay on the Queensland coast is one of the best places to experience this ‘whale glow’ in the world!
When’s the best time to see whales?
Between mid-July and late October, around 3,000 humpbacks cruise around the Hervey Bay area with their newborns.
The humpbacks that breed and birth in this part of the world all congregate because of the calm, warm waters off the Fraser Coast. They hang around for quite a while before starting their migration south again. And they like to use this area as like a training ground for their calves.
What do you see?
You’ll see humpbacks. We weren’t sure if we’d see anything, but at one point we were surrounded by about 4 pods of whales. It was amazing.
You’ll also see baby whales! We were lucky enough to see a mother teacher her calf different behaviours, which was very special.
There are several different whale behaviours to watch out for – I think we were lucky enough to see all but one of them on our day out there!
? Breach – whale throws itself out of the water
? Pectoral slap – whale lies on its side and slaps the water with its pectoral fin
? Tail slap – whale slaps the water repeatedly with its tail
? Peduncle – a threatening move where the whale throws itself sideways out of the water with force
? Chin slap or lunging – whale surges forward out of the water and splashes back face first
? Spyhopping – whale bobs around in the water looking at you!
Who do you go with?
There are lots of whale watching cruises all up the east coast of Australia. A lot of them are huge, glass monsters crammed with people, with not much room to move, and only half-day trips; so they’re quite cheap.
On the other hand, for a bit more money, we’d recommend Freedom III going from Hervey Bay. It’s a smaller boat, it’s only got two levels and the deck all the way round is open, it’s popular with the grey nomads (which I think is a good sign of comfort!), and Captain Keith is an ex-chef, so the food’s great!
Freedom III is also a family-run outfit, which is the sort of thing Mrs Romance and I love to support.
How long does it take?
A lot of tours are half-day runs, and feel a bit rushed. One of the things we liked about Freedom III was it does three-quarter day tours, so you get to spend more time spotting for these amazing animals… and eating Captain Keith’s profiteroles!
We left Hervey Bay at about 10am and returned at about 4.30pm.
Captain Keith told us our trip was one of the roughest he’s done – and from the look of his Facebook and website, I see what he means. More often than not the waters around Hervey Bay are mill pond still and clear as glass.
The water was a bit choppy at times by we still saw something like 25-30 whales. Some came within about 2 metres of our ride.
We saw two huge adult humpbacks – both breaching. We saw lots of calves and mothers. We also saw a mother, calf and an escort, where a large male swims with the two to protect them. Very impressive.
Whale watching really is one of those bucket list experiences you can’t not do. When I told my mum we’d done it, she told me my nan had always wanted to go but she never did. Now that’s a sad thought.
On a happier thought, on board we met the lovely Sue, who’s been coming back to see the whales every season – and every day of each season – for about 7 years. Her addiction started from the first time she went: she asked how she’d know if it’d been a good day. Keith told her she should come back tomorrow, so she did. And that was her hooked.
This is no surprise to me. If I could go out there every day, I most definitely would.
Funny thing is Sue lives in Port Stephens, a popular whale watching spot in NSW. She still visits Hervey Bay every year between July and October to see the humpbacks on their migration. Sue stays in town for 1-2 weeks and goes out on the Freedom III every day she’s there. It’s that good.
The humpbacks are in town for only 100 days so book in early with Freedom III for one of the most amazing experiences you’ll ever have.
Have you ever been whale watching? What’s the closest encounter with nature you’ve had? Tell us in the comments.