You don’t need to leave the city to get a good look at a whale. These giants of the deep cruise close to the coast and have even been known to pop up inside Sydney Harbour. There are lots of excellent vantage points, from popular beach lookouts to hidden bush trails, or you can get right in the thick of the action on a boat cruise.
Inside the Kamay Botany Bay National Park to the south of the city, Cape Solander is a top whale watching spot. There’s a covered platform and a large information board swimming in whale facts. If you want to put your whale watching to good use, you can even join the Cape Solander Whale Migration Study as a volunteer and track their numbers along the coast.
At the other edge of the city, Barrenjoey Headland at Palm Beach is where the whales wave farewell to Sydney before continuing on up the coast. Hike up to the lighthouse, just over 100 metres above sea level for sweeping views along the coast – keep your eyes peeled for the telltale burst of spray.
A 30-minute walk from Manly are the untouched bushland and heath-covered cliffs of North Head. The whole sanctuary is so peaceful and pristine that it’s hard to believe you’re still so close to the city. There are incredible views across the harbour and out into the unending swell of the Pacific Ocean, with regular whale sightings during the season.
Very often, curious whales will make their way into the calmer waters of the harbour itself. Catch the ferry out to Shark Island, just offshore from Rose Bay, for a 360-degree view of the surrounding waters. There are plenty of grassy areas and picnic tables to set up camp while you wait for the aquatic acrobatics to begin.
On the water
Whale-watching boats leave from Circular Quay, Darling Harbour and Manly every day during the season. A cruise will take you right out into the whale’s environment, tracking the pods as they move along the coast. Boats range from fast and nimble speedboats to larger ferry-style boats that have extras like bathrooms and kiosks inside. Top operators include Captain Cook Cruises, FantaSea, Bass and Flinders Cruises, Oz Whale Watching and Manly Ocean Adventures.
NEW SOUTH WALES
From late Autumn to early Spring, the waters along the New South Wales coast burst into life as thousands of whales migrate north from the cold Southern Ocean to feed and breed in the warmth of the Pacific.
The Humpback Highway runs right alongside the New South Wales coast and each year more than 30,000 whales make their annual migration from Antarctica to the Pacific (and back again). Nature lovers can watch the show from numerous scenic coastal lookouts and walking tracks.
Spot whales from Cape Byron, Australia’s most easterly point, and on small cruise tours like Whale Watching Byron Bay and Blue Bay Whale Watching. To get a better view, Go Sea Kayak Byron Bay and Cape Byron Kayaks will take you out on the water to observe the much-loved mammals up close.
Grab your binoculars and head to Tomaree Headland, Barry Park at Fingal Bay, Fisherman’s Beach, Birubi Point and Stockton Beach north of Newcastle. At nearby Boat Harbour Headland whale sightings are almost guaranteed.
The second most easterly point in NSW, Port Macquarie’s 9km Coastal Walk connects Town and Lighthouse beaches, and is dotted with frequent vantage points perfect for whale spotting. Cruise on Port Jet Cruise Adventures’ Wave Rider, one of the fastest commercial whale-watching boats around, or get a bird’s eye view with Port Macquarie Seaplanes.
Jervis Bay is halfway along the whales’s 4,000km migration route, and they often stop here to rest and play with newborn calves. Jervis Bay Wild will get you close to the action, or head to Penguin Head at Culburra, Caves Beach or the viewing platform in Booderee National Park to watch from the shore.
For an unforgettable experience, join a whale-watching cruise in Port Macquarie and explore the ocean for humpbacks, southern rights and other whales. Between May and November, these majestic mammals migrate in their thousands along the coast of NSW.
What to spot
Southern right whales
Characterised by their broad backs and dorsal fins, wide pectoral fins and a long arching mouth, southern rights have dark grey or black skin with patches of white around the throat. The slow moving southern rights enjoy shallower water, have two blow holes which produce a distinct v-shaped blow, and are often spotted in surf zones.
Fast facts: Length: 5 to 18 metres; Weight: 1 tonne at birth, up to 80 tonnes in adulthood; Mating season: July to August; Cruising speed: 4km/h; Blow: up to 5 metres
Known for their magnificent aquatic acrobatics, humpbacks are frequently spotted leaping from the water with their fins outstretched (known as breaching). Humpbacks have large pectoral fins, unique black and white markings under their tail flukes, are often dotted with barnacles, and arch their backs steeply when they dive. The males are also known for their long and complex whale songs, which can last for hours, are specific to different groups and can be heard for hundreds of kilometres. Humpbacks make one of the longest migrations, averaging 5,000km.
Fast facts: Length: 4 to 18 metres; Weight: 2 tonnes at birth, up to 50 tonnes in adulthood; Mating season: June to October; Cruising speed: 8km/h; Blow: up to 4 metres.