From late July to early November, visitors flock to Hervey Bay in southern Queensland to watch pods of humpback whales as they migrate north to warmer waters for winter. Regular visitors to the area, the whales are on their way from the Antarctic, passing the South Island of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia on their way to the tropics for calving.
Whale watching is one of the most important visitor attractions in Hervey Bay, and many choose to head out on boats which carefully approach the whales’ playground with the hope of seeing these magnificent creatures and their spectacular displays of breaching and tail flapping.
With so many tourists vying to catch a glimpse of these beautiful gentle giants, the best way to get the most from your trip is to plan ahead. Here are our top tips for making your visit memorable for all the right reasons.
1. Choose a licensed tour operator
There’s no lack of choice when it comes to tour operators willing to give you an up-close-and-personal experience with the humpback whale pods, but all licensed operators are able to provide a top-class experience. All licensed vessels have an experienced and knowledgeable crew who are on hand to provide information and an interpretation of the behaviour of the whales.
Some vessels will even have a sound system on board that lets you listen to the whale song as it happens under the water! Most importantly, all licensed tour operators are required to operate in line with the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, which ensure the whales are protected, safe and continue to come back to Hervey Bay each year.
2. Keep an eye out for other wildlife
With 3,000 of these mammals making their way through the waters during the season, many whale watching tours in Hervey Bay will offer ‘guaranteed sightings’ at certain times. But don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for other marine wildlife, who often put on equally impressive behavioural displays. We’ve heard reports of visitors seeing dolphins, turtles, porpoises, seals and even a dugong – a cow of the sea!
3. Don’t forget the binoculars
While your tour operator will strive to offer you the best possible vantage point to see the whales, they must adhere to strict rules about how close their boat can be to the animals. This is as much for your own protection as the whales – humpbacks are the third most endangered species of big whales, but they are incredibly powerful creatures and must be treated with a healthy respect. Some adult whales breach between 20 and 30 times in five minutes! Take a pair of binoculars so that you’re able to see the whales as they move through the water even from a distance.
4. Be prepared for the weather
If there’s one thing sure to ruin your whale watching experience, it’s the cold!
Tours often leave the harbour very early in the morning, so it’s a good idea to book a hotel close to Hervey Bay. You can expect to spend a few hours on the water, so you should be prepared to rug up, bringing plenty of jumpers and wear enclosed shoes. It’s also worth taking a wind or water-proof jacket to help keep you warm and dry.
Most tour operators will allow you to bring your own food and hot and cold drinks on-board, as long as they do not contain alcohol or are in glass containers. If you choose to take food on-board, make sure you dispose of any rubbish in the bins provided and do your bit to protect the marine environment.
5. Stave off seasickness
As you’ll be out on the boat during the winter months, you might find the waves get choppy and you start to feel queasy. Luckily there are ways to stop seasickness or at least alleviate some of the symptoms. The most effective way to prevent seasickness is to stay outside in the fresh air and take lots of deep breaths.
Keep your gaze on the horizon to help give yourself a sense of equilibrium. If that doesn’t work, try spending a bit of time on the lowest deck, closest to the sea, where you’ll feel less of the boat’s motion. While you might not feel like eating, lining your stomach with some plain crackers and ginger ale can help, so if you think you might be prone to seasickness, make sure you’ve got some packed in your bag.