‘Tis the season for whale-watching! The annual migration sees thousands of majestic mammals glide up and down both the east and west coasts of Australia, first in late summer and then again between May and November. Southern right whales, humpback whales and orcas can be spotted all over the country, and there’s nothing quite like the giddy thrill of witnessing one in the wild. In these state-by-state guides, we’ve compiled a list of free and accessible (on-land) vantage points, though each region will also offer up boat trips and tours so you can get out on the water – or even in the water – with these glorious gentle giants.
When: May to November; note that from September to November southern migration whales move more slowly, are often with their calves and travel closer to the coastline – so this is prime time to catch a glimpse!
Best vantage points: These locations span from Shoalhaven and Jervis Bay (three hours south of Sydney) down to Eden on the Sapphire Coast (six hours from both Sydney and Melbourne).
Penguin Head at Culburra Beach
Crookhaven Heads Lighthouse, Culburra Beach
Booderee National Park viewing platform, Jervis Bay
Burrewarra Point Lookout, Guerilla Bay
Broulee Island, Broulee
Toragy Point, Moruya Heads
One Tree Point, Tuross Head
Marka Point, Potato Point
Dalmeny Veiwing Platform, Dalmeny
Carters Beach Headland, Kianga
Bar Rock Road Lookout, Narooma
Eden (which hosts the Eden Whale Festival each October and has a self-drive Killer Whale Trail)
When: May to November.
Best vantage points: The NSW north coast is dotted with whale-sighting spots, from Newcastle and Port Stephens to the most easterly point in Australia, Cape Byron…
Shepherds Hill Lookout, Newcastle
Fisherman’s Bay/Boat Harbour, Port Stephens
Tomaree National Park / Tomaree Head, Port Stephens
Stockton Beach, Port Stephens
Perpendicular Point, Port Macquarie Coastal Walk
Tacking Point Lighthouse, Port Macquarie Coastal Walk
Coffs Coast Regional Park
Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve
Iluka Bluff (viewing platform)
Ballina Head lookout, Ballina
Black Head lookout, Ballina
Cape Byron Lighthouse
When: May to November. But according to the experts, the true peak season is just two weeks in late June and early July (often colliding with winter solstice). In early September, mother whales and their calves will meander back past the harbour city.
Best vantage points:
Bondi to Coogee coastal walk (if you’re lucky you may spot humpbacks travelling north. Go in the last week of June or first week of July).
The Gap on the South Head Peninsula / South Head Heritage Trail, Watson’s Bay
Barrenjoey Headland, Palm Beach
Cape Solander, Kamay Botany Bay National Park
For more information on whale watching in NSW, head to www.visitnsw.com.
When: July to November. In July and August, the arrival of humpback whales is celebrated at the Hervey Bay Whale Festival; the first week of September is the best time to see baby whales; and in October, the bulls (male whales) arrive.
Best vantage points: Hervey Bay (a three-and-a-half hour drive north of Brisbane) has been dubbed the whale-watching capital of Australia – but this is one region where you’ll want to book a boat tour. You’ll be rewarded by getting up close and personal with humpbacks as they stop to feed, train and play with their young.
When: May to September.
Best vantage points: As with Hervey Bay, a boat tour is recommended to catch a good glimpse of the ocean giants.* You may get lucky at one of the following land locations too…
Kewsick Island (Basil Bay, Keswick Kiosk, Basil Bay or any of the nearby headlands)
Hamilton Island (Catseye Beach, Passage Peak or even from your accommodation)
*If you’re heading out on a tour and want a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounter, try swimming with dwarf minke whales (they’re hardly dwarfs, measuring up to nine metres long). The Whitsundays is the only place in the world where people can interact and swim with these highly intelligent, curious creatures – try Eye to Eye Marine Encounters or Mike Ball Dive Expeditions.
Great Ocean Road
When: June to September – during these months the female southern right whales flock to the protected shores of the Great Ocean Road to give birth to their calves, and stay for a few weeks.
Where: About three hours’ drive from Melbourne, the stretch between Torquay, Port Fairy and Warrnambool has been dubbed the ‘whale corridor’ and is one of the only places in the world where whales swim within 100 metres of shore. Venture a little further to Portland for a rare blue whale sighting.
Logans Beach (find the viewing platform in the sand dunes), Warrnambool
Lady Bay viewing platform, Warrnambool
Surf Life Saving Club, Port Fairy
Nuns Beach, Portland
Wades Street Viewing Platform, Portland
Cape Nelson / Cape Nelson Lighthouse, Portland
When: June to September
Best vantage points: The entire island – a 30-minute flight from Adelaide – is a wildlife wonderland surrounded by marine life. You might spot a whale from anywhere, but these are the trustiest lookouts….
Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Kingscote and Nepean Bay
Cape Borda and Cape du Couedic
Vivonne Bay and Seal Bay
Pennington and Flourcask Bay
When: June to September
Best vantage points: South Australia boasts three picture-perfect peninsulas – and the Fleurieu Peninsula and Eyre Peninsula are your go-tos for whale-watching.
Victor Harbor, Fleurieu Peninsula
Encounter Bay, Fleurieu Peninsula
Head of Bight, Eyre Peninsula
Fowlers Bay, Eyre Peninsula
When: June to November
Best vantage points: Southern right whales take shelter in the state’s southern bays to mate and calve, so whale-watchers should head to the Margaret River region and down to Albany. That said, up north the Ningaloo Roof (near Exmouth) might be renowned for its population of gentle whale sharks, but it’s also a magnet for humpback whales.
Flinders Bay, Margaret River region
Geographe Bay, Dunsborough
Bremer Bay (a few hours east of Albany, this town is a great vantage point for seeing southern right whales and humpback whales from July to September, but also for orcas from January to March – it’s home to the largest-known congregations of killer whales in the Southern Hemisphere!)
When: May to July and September to December
Best vantage points: Bays on the east coast are your best bet, along with Bruny Island (a short trip from Hobart). As with Queensland, for a guaranteed sighting, get out on a boat.
Adventure Bay, Bruny Island
Great Oyster Bay (off Freycinet)
Frederick Henry Bay