The Humpback Freeway – where to go whale-watching in Queensland, Australia

From huge water spouts to full breach leaps from the ocean, the Queensland coast around Hervey Bay is a humpback playground. The perfect place for whale-watching. Here’s who to sail with, when to go and what to expect.

Whale-watching Fraser Coast QLD

As the peaceful waters of the Fraser Coast erupt for the first time into white foam and sudden waves, the beautiful monstrous culprit emerges black and white and barnacled. 

There’s a collective gasp from our little group of whale-watchers aboard the Freedom III – a 17m catamaran formerly owned by documentary maker Ben Cropp – and whose son Adam we happened to sail with on the National Geographic Orion. 

It’s a small world.

But few things make you feel smaller than when you see your first humpback whale in the wild. 

Book your whale-watching trip with Freedom here.

Whale-watching Fraser Coast QLD

In fact, it’s hard to describe how you feel when you first see a whale.

The sensation begins as a glow inside you. It starts in your chest, works its way to your stomach and tingles spread out through the rest of your body and ends in the biggest grin you’ve ever worn. It’s… amazing.

And because of an annual culmination of perfect conditions, Hervey Bay on the Queensland coast is one of the best places in the world to experience this ‘whale glow’.

Check out our video of our day out on the water with Freedom III and the amazing humpback whales:

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 here because of the calm, warm waters off the Fraser Coast. They use the area as a training ground for their newborn calves, so they hang around for quite a while before starting their migration south again.


What do you see?

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!

Whale-watching Fraser Coast QLDWhale-watching Fraser Coast QLDWhale-watching Fraser Coast QLDWhale-watching Fraser Coast QLDWhale-watching Fraser Coast QLD Whale-watching Fraser Coast QLD

So, you’ll definitely see humpbacks. We weren’t sure if we’d see anything, but at one point we were surrounded by about four pods of whales. It was amazing.

You’ll also probably see baby whales! We were lucky enough to see a mother teacher her calf different behaviours, which was very special.

There’s also a good chance you’ll see dolphins and turtles, and there are sharks in the area too.

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. They often only offer half-day trips, so they’re quite cheap.

On the other hand, for a bit more money, we’d recommend Freedom Whale Watch & Charters leaving 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 always see as a good sign of quality and comfort, and Captain Keith Reid is an ex-chef, so the food’s great.

Freedom Whale Watch is also a family-run outfit, which is the sort of thing Jim and I love to support.

Whale-watching Fraser Coast QLD

How long does it take?

A lot of tours are half-day cruises and can feel a bit rushed. One of the things we liked about Freedom Whale Watch was it does three-quarter day tours. This means you get more time on the water 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 tells us our trip was one of the roughest he’s done – and I see what he means when he shows us some photos from previous trips. 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 but 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 mothers and calves. We also saw a mother, her calf and an escort. This is where a large male swims with the two to protect them. Very impressive.


The addiction of whale watching

Aboard the Freedom III is Sue, who’s been coming back to see the whales every season – and every day of each season – since 2007. 

Her addiction started from her very first whale-watching trip: she asked Captain Keith 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 was no surprise to us. If we could go out there every day, we most definitely would.

The funny thing is Sue lives in Port Stephens, a popular whale watching spot in NSW. But she still visits Hervey Bay every year between July and October to see the humpbacks on their migration. 

Sue stays in town for one to two weeks and goes out on the Freedom III every day she’s there. That’s how good it is.

The humpbacks are in town for about 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.

We travelled as media with Tourism & Events Queensland.

BUCKET LIST - Freedom III Hervey Bay whale watching


  • Reply September 16, 2014


    I went whale watching in Hervey Bay on a primary school camp – it was fantastic!

    • Reply September 16, 2014

      Mr Romance

      It certainly makes its impression on you, doesn’t it, Vanessa? Such an amazing experience.

  • Reply September 20, 2014

    Nick Deane

    Fantastic photos of the whales! This is something I want to witness and is on my bucket list as well. By the way, which camera are you using to get these amazing photos?

    • Reply September 21, 2014

      Mr Romance

      Thanks Nick. Those whales were amazing – you should definitely do it if you get a chance. The photos were taken by Mrs Romance with her Nikon D90 DSLR and the video was just on my iPhone 5s.

  • […] Bucket List: the best whale watching in Hervey Bay, Queensland […]

  • […] Bucket List: the best whale watching in Hervey Bay, Queensland […]

  • Reply September 30, 2014


    How many profiteroles did you eat? I gobbled down four in between the peduncle and the tail slapping action. Both good.

    • Reply October 1, 2014

      Mr Romance

      Ha ha! And that was the same whale, Shelley! I knew I liked you for a reason! I’m claiming the fifth amendment on disclosing my utter greed. Also, I seem to remember having a box of those delicious pastry balls of heaven ‘forced’ on me while we were in the cabin… oh ok, I ate five.

  • […] It’s like north-eastern Australia rigged a raffle for all the most beautiful or unusual things nature can create. The Great Barrier Reef? The Whitsunday Islands? Humpback whale migration route? […]

Leave a Reply