Australia is one the best places in the world to see whales, often right from accessible beaches and cliff-faces of our vast coastline. The most commonly sighted whales are southern rights and humpbacks, which make annual migration up both the west and east coasts of Australia from Antarctica, to breed and mate. From late April, southern right whales journey to temperate breeding waters off Southern Australia and Victoria. Meanwhile the energetic humpback whales continue north to warmer waters along the west and east coasts. This means between May and November, you can spot whales from many scenic spots along Australia's coastline from the warm waters of Victoria's Warrnambool to Tasmania's picturesque Great Oyster Bay.
From May, you can see humpback and southern right whales coasting through the clear, blue-green waters of Great Oyster Bay off the Freycinet Peninsula. With scenery that includes forests, pink granite cliffs and secret white beaches, you can see why the southern right whales often stay here for extended periods. You might spot some with calves in Mercury Passage, off Maria Island. Or head to wild and beautiful Bruny Island, just a short drive from Hobart. Every year both humpback whales and southern right whales travel past Bruny Island, with some stopping to take shelter in Adventure Bay. The whales can be spotted between May and July, and September and December, with some whales staying for as long as five weeks.
Key times: May - September
In Western Australia,the south coast is the best place for spotting whales. Humpback and southern right whales frolic in Augusta’s Flinders Bay from early June and rare blue whales and calves join bottlenosed dolphins in Geographe Bay in Dunsborough in September.
Further south, Albany’s rugged coastline makes another scenic grandstand. Humpback whales travelling north-west to Broome can be seen travelling across Albany's bays between June and November, and the Southern right whales take shelter in Albany's southern bays to mate and give birth before returning south. Visitors to Albany can also learn about the whales at Whale World, the interactive museum which was previously a whaling station.
Key times: June - November
New South Wales
Cruise out of iconic Sydney Harbour and into the heads, where gracious humpbacks make their way up the east coast. From land, Sydney’s best-based vantage point is The Gap at South Head. You’ll also see the same huge, graceful creatures from June in Byron Bay. Look out from Cape Byron lighthouse – the whales play within a hundred metres of here which means you can get a really great look at them. South of Sydney, you’re almost guaranteed a whale-sighting in the calm, clear waters of Jervis Bay Marine Park, and in the coastal town of Merimbula.
Key time: May - late November
The best place to base yourself in South Australia is Victor Harbour and Granite Island. Stand atop the steep cliffs around Victor Harbor’s Encounter Bay and watch the southern right whales come to breed. Or take a cruise from Granite Island jetty to see them play with their calves further out in the waters of the Fleurieu Peninsula.
From Ceduna, further along South Australia’s jagged coastline, you can watch the whales do slow-motion somersaults from the viewing platform or beach. They often come within hundreds of metres from the towering Bunda Cliffs. You’ll also spot Australian sea lions and great white sharks. For a closer peek, take a boat out into the protected waters of the Head of Bight whale sanctuary.
Key times: June - September
They key whale watching hot spot in Queensland is Hervey Bay. Hervey Bay is around 300 kilometres north of Brisbane, an aquatic paradise and one of the best places in Australia to experience nature in the wild. Humpback whales travel along the Queensland coastline from Antarctica to the warm waters of the Whitsunday Islands, stopping in the calm waters of Hervey Bay to breed and nurse their young. Hervey Bay is one of the best places in the world to go whale-watching. See their playful antics with one of the accredited cruise operators around Urangan Pier. You might also see dolphins, dugongs and turtles. The arrival of the humpback whales each year is celebrated at the Hervey Bay Whale Festival, during July and August with concerts, street parades and educational displays.
You can also see the playful dwarf minke whales in Queensland, and keen snorkelers and whale-watchers can venture out on live-aboard minke whale tours to the Ribbon Reef, north off Cairns, and swim with the whales for a truly unforgettable marine experience.
Key times: June - November (for humpback whale migration)
May - August (for dwarf minke whales)
Stand on Logans Beach in Warrnambool where the southern right whales calve in the nursery close to shore. They stay here for several weeks, helping their babies build strength for the long journey back to sub-Antarctic waters. You can capture the mother-and-calf interactions from the viewing platform on the sand dunes, or head to Lady Bay, where the new mums often come close enough to spray you with breakwater.
Or, take a boat tour to get even closer and see these amazing creatures in action. Typically the tours take in Logan’s Beach, Warrnambool and Port Phillip Bay. You'll get the chance to see Humpback Whales, Southern Right Whales as well as Bottlenose Dolphins and Australian Fur Seals.
In May, you might even be able to catch rare blue whales in their last feeding month at Cape Nelson near Portland.
Key times: June - September
More Aquatic Holiday Ideas
Explore the tropical islands near Cairns
Off the coast of Cairns you’ll discover an array of tropical islands – each with their own ecosystems. There are Vlasoff Cay and Michaelmas Cay; the coral wonderlands of Green Island and the Low Isles; the more substantial, densely forested, Fitzroy Island; and the five tiny islands that make up the Frankland group.
5 unique ways to dive into the Great Barrier Reef
David Attenborough described a visit to the Great Barrier Reef as an “unbeatable experience”. To celebrate the release of the three-part documentary that shares his experiences on the world heritage-listed site, here are the top 5 ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas and the Daintree Rainforest.
10 day coast to coast
Discover white beaches, coral reefs and World Heritage Listed sites as you spend ten days exploring Australia’s coast. This itinerary will have you crossing the country to take in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia’s iconic reef in Queensland, before heading to Western Australia to see the breath taking Ningaloo Reef, one of Australia’s best kept secrets.