More than 1.6 million tourists head out for a close encounter with these magnificent giants of the sea in Australia every year ensuring the $300 million whale watching industry continues to thrive. There is no shortage of tour companies nor destinations from which to enjoy this very special experience. This range of choice means that prices stay competitive but can seem overwhelming. We have put together below an outline of ten of the best destinations for whale watching in Australia as well as some recommended tour companies that are proven to offer great deals on price, excellent whale spotting guarantees as well as top quality service onboard. Keep in mind that whale seasons do vary and its best to always contact the tour provider in advance to confirm their operating dates.
10 Best Whale Watching Destinations in Australia
Photo courtesy of Whale Watching Sydney
Running from mid May to mid November, the whale season lets you get up close and personal with a variety of whales. Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales are the most common but you may also see Minke, Pilot, Orcas, False killer, Pygmy or Blue Whales if you are lucky. We recommend the team at Whale Watching Sydney who have Minkes on the spot list twice already this season so they know what they are doing. Their tours depart from Circular Quay and Darling Harbour up to twice per day every day.
Details of shore viewing spots can be found here if boats aren't your thing. Sydney has an abundance of marine life including green turtles, seahorses and seals. Suss them out up close on a scuba diving trip with Abyss. For locals looking for an adventure out of the city then consider heading south to Jervis Bay. June is Whale Festival month!
Where to stay: accommodation in Sydney
Hervey Bay, QLD
Photo courtesy of Freedom Whale Watch
Hervey Bay, QLD
Affectionately known as "Home of the Humpback" by locals, Hervey Bay really gets into the whale watching season. The Hervey Bay Whale Festival runs for the entire month of August and includes live music, workshops, a parade and carnival rides (plus heaps more). Whales start to visit the region in June but the season really kicks off mid July.
Once there hop aboard the Freedom Whale Watch catamaran anytime from mid July to November to check out these beauties up-close. Their tour is smashing. It runs for 7 hours and includes morning tea, afternoon tea, lunch AND whale viewing. The Hervey Bay area is home to an array of marine life: dugongs, dolphins, turtles, stingrays and many species of tropical fish. If you get yourself on a marine adventure with Dive Hervey Bay you can see just how much is going on under the warm deep blue sea up there.
Where to stay: accommodation in Hervey Bay
Gold Coast, QLD
Photo courtesy of Whales in Paradise
Gold Coast, QLD
The Gold Coast has a huge selection of whale watching tours on offer but the gang at Whales in Paradise say theirs is the best and it is hard to argue with them. They have the most up close and personal viewing decks going around and offer a 100% sighting guarantee or you go again for free! The season runs from June to November and Humpbacks are your whale. Whale in Paradise also offer transfers from Brisbane if you are staying in the city.
If getting cuddly with the marine life is what floats your boat then maybe go hang out with the seahorses and groupers on a shore dive with the Dev Ocean Dive team. If you want to see more marine life but don't fancy diving then get on the Dolphin Wild Cruise around stunning Moreton Bay. There's snorkeling and dolphin viewing and boom net riding - BOOM! So. Much. Fun.
Where to stay: accommodation in Gold Coast
Port Stephens, NSW
Port Stephens, NSW
The folks at Imagine Cruises are so good at what they do that they have been awarded a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor and they're also an Ecotourism Australia Eco Certified Tour Operator. A big congrats to the team! So what are you waiting for? Tours for whale watching run from May to November and include a free dolphin watch too! You might also see sea turtles, little blue fairy penguins, albatross, sea eagles and Australian fur seals. Tours depart from Nelson Bay or Tea Gardens/Hawks Nest so easily service the whole Newcastle/Hunter Valley/Port Stephens region.
Humpbacks are the whales known to this region and if you don't see one then you can go again for free! Port Stephens is also known as one of THE premier diving spots in Australia. Feet First Dive will give you a great day out if you are keen.
Where to stay: accommodation in Port Stephens
Victor Harbour, SA
Photo courtesy of The Big Duck
Victor Harbour, SA
If you'd like a bit of adventure in your life then you simply MUST go see the majestic Southern Right Whales on The Big Duck. It looks like a big inflatable rubber ducky with a motor but is perfectly safe and LOADS of fun. Whale tours run from June through to September and will most likely include some dolphin, sea lion and seal watching too. Small group sizes of less than 10 people are guaranteed!
If you are visiting the region for more than one day and marine life is your thing then you should definitely pop over to the nearby beachside suburb of Glenelg and take a dive with Adelaide Scuba. There are loads of dive sites and a variety of marine life including stingrays, grey nurse sharks, and of course, fishies! Keep an eye out for the cute fairy penguins in the area. Spotting them will make your day!
Where to stay: accommodation in Victor Harbour
Byron Bay, NSW
Photo courtesy of Byron Bay Whale Watching
Byron Bay, NSW
Standing at the lighthouse on the most eastern point of the Australian coastline and looking down into the ocean to see a humpback whale breaching is truly an amazing experience. On a good day you will see the trio: dolphins, turtles AND whales. If you'd rather get out on the water and see them up close though then we recommend you get on board with Byron Bay Whale Watching. Whales are so aplenty that they promise you will see them or you can go again for free until you do. All vessels are equipped with hydrophones so you can hear live humpback whale song and they keep their group sizes to a maximum of 12 people.
Byron is also home to one of Australia's top ten dive sites: Julian Rocks Marine Reserve. The Reserve is home to 3 different turtle species, rays, friendly wobbegong sharks and 400 species of fish. Dive Byron Bay can hook you up.
Where to stay: accommodation in Byron Bay
Eden, located on the NSW south coast, is a little whale crazy. Believe it or not there is a killer whale museum! And for one weekend each year the town has a massive whale festival to celebrate these beauties of the sea. The festival includes market stalls, live music, marine presentations, local food and wine (YUM!) and plenty of entertainment for kids. Your first choice in Eden for whale watching at sea should be Cat Balou. Cat Balou is a family owned and operated business so tours have that personal touch sometimes missed by big companies.
Whale watching tours with Cat Balou run from mid September through to late November. You can expect to see predominantly humpback whales but sperm whales and orcas are occasionally seen further off the coast near the continental shelf.
Where to stay: accommodation in Eden
Photo courtesy of Reef Magic Cruises
Whale season in Cairns runs from July to September and the fantastic team at Reef Magic Cruises have a 99% success rate for sightings. If you miss out, you can go again for free so there is no way you are going home without seeing a whale. You will mostly be seeing Humpbacks but there is also the chance to see some Dwarf Minke whales too!
Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Reef is a marine life mecca. You simply cannot visit the area without exploring the reef and snorkeling or diving is the way to do this. Dive companies are a dime a dozen up there. Tusa Dive won Best Regional Dive Operator 2013 in Dive Log Australasia so they are a quality choice. You can choose to snorkel instead on all the dive trips (price is amended accordingly) and day trips include an amazing buffet lunch, morning and afternoon tea and all equipment. Take a waterproof camera for pics!
Where to stay: accommodation in Cairns
As the home of the last operating whaling station in Australia, Albany is steeped in whale history. You can find out all about it with a visit to Whale World but not before you hit the open water with Albany Whale Tours to spot some of those magnificent Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales. They operate tours from late May to early October every year. Don't miss the homemade scones provided free for morning or afternoon tea. So tasty! Once you get back from seeing these creatures in real life you will all feel like buffs and be dying to head to Whale World and check things out.
You can often also see whales from the lookouts in Albany so if boats aren't for you then you don't need to miss out. And if whales aren't enough to satisfy your appetite for marine life then head out for a scuba with Dive Albany while you are in town.
Where to stay: accommodation in Albany
Exmouth / Ningaloo, WA
Exmouth / Ningaloo, WA
Balmy Exmouth has a nice long Humpback Whale watching season making it almost impossible to miss out. Whale watching takes place out at the Ningaloo Marine Park, home to an amazing variety of marine life. Tours run daily with Ningaloo Whale Sharks for the entire season and include refreshments for the journey. The boat comes equipped with hydrophones so not only can you see the whales but you can also hear them frolicking away. Delightful!
Given the balmy winter temps (about 28 C during the day) you'd be mad not to stay on and do some more exploring. Exmouth is home to the enormous Whale Shark and visitors are crazy about swimming with them. Ask the folks at Kings Ningaloo Reef Tours to hook you up. Or you can check out the turtles, manta rays and over 450 species of fish with the Exmouth Diving team.
Where to stay: accommodation in Exmouth
Looking for a quick overview of all the top whale spotting destinations in Australia and what you can expect to see? We've put together below a detailed infographic to give you all the necessary information on destinations, whale species, whale behaviour, all the important facts about whale watching in Australia and our most commonly sighted whale - the humble Humpback.
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