It really doesn’t seem like a year ago I was stood on the balcony of the Blue Pearl on Hamilton Island watching the first of the year’s Humpback Whales pass by!
There’s something extremely special about witnessing these enormous, magnificent creatures up close and personal as they effortlessly cruise past. Akin to gigantic black islands that appear temporarily in our oxygen-filled bright world before diving down deep to the safety of their watery one.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness whales in different parts of the world before coming here to Australia and can honestly say (and not just because I’m being paid to say so!) that here in Hervey Bay is where they do it the best. There are chances to get out on the water in a variety of ways suiting all people, budgets and your ability to stomach sea-sickness! This time I’ve come here to help launch the ‘Return of the Whales‘ festival that celebrates the annual return of these gigantic, placid, krill eating Rorqual’s
Flying in a day before the festival was the plan and Robbie from Fraser Coast Tourism was there to meet me at the airport, it was getting late so he dropped me at my accommodation for the weekend, Akama. My beautiful apartment looked right out over the town with the marina, the base for tomorrow’s events, just off in the distance. With loads on the cards for the weekend it was time to grab an early night.
No resting in bed this weekend! We were out of the door by 7 a.m. and made striaght for an early breakfast at Aquavue which advertises the ‘Best coffee, best cafe and jetski hire’. That’s quite a statement you know and being a great lover of the simple, dark, strong espresso I had to try it out. An Eggs Benedict and a coffee later and I was ready to take on the first activity of the day – a jetski ride across from the mainland to Moon Point out to the east of Torquay. Now I had hoped to see some whales over the course of the weekend but getting onboard a jetski probably wasn’t the best way to do it.
There’s a great webcam showing you the beach in front of the cafe right here.
Humpbacks use sonar for communication and having the noise of a jetski engine doesn’t do a huge amount to make that job any easier so they dive and disappear from view, but it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning exploring the waters of Hervey Bay.
Once I was back onshore and warmed up (people talk about white knuckle rides – my fingers were pure white by the time I got back from the cold) it was onto a much more serene and relaxed means of transport – a Hobie Cat. The last time I was on one of these superb fast little boats was back on Lindeman Island and then my whale experience was truly incredible – would the same happen today?
We cruised out into the bay for a 20 minute sail but that’s not even enough time to get into the waters that are deep enough to hold whales! Oh how will I get to see one this year – they are there as the boats are reporting the first pods came through around ten days ago. With the morning’s hectic activitites out of the way it was time to do some real work and head down to the festival…
Around this time every year the Humpback Whales are migrating north from the cold, nutrient-rich Antarctic waters down south. Their migration brings them up the Queensland coast and into the area between Fraser Island and Hervey Bay offering the females welcome respite from the open ocean with perfect conditions to mate, give birth and bring up their newborn calves away from aggresive sharks and rampant males seeking further attention.
The Return of the Whales festival allows people to come and see the entire whale watching fleet in the marina. All of the operators allow people onboard to walk around and have a good look at their vessel and talk about the experiences on offer whilst bands play, face paintings happen and Hervey the Whale walks around for photo opps!
I take the chance to head out for a quick spin around the bay with Sarah whose family run ‘That’s Awesome’ – a 12.5 metre, 1200hp RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat). This is THE quickest way to the out and see the whales, with a cruising speed of between 30 and 40 knots they operate three times a day from the marina and the boat is pure madness. At full tilt it travels at nearly 100km/h and it’s an amazing rush being on board.
There are eight different companies offering different ways of getting out on the water from the wild to the mild. Personally I prefer to cruise out there on a yacht…but that’s just me!
Quickcat and That’s Awesome: www.herveybaywhalewatch.com.au
Tasman Venture: www.tasmanventure.com.au
Freedom III: www.freedomwhalewatch.com.au
Blue Dolphin: www.bluedolphintours.com.au
Shayla Cruises: www.shaylacruises.com.au
Spirit of Hervey Bay: www.spiritofherveybay.com
With another four months of perfect whale watching to come there will be plenty of other opportunities to get back up to Hervey Bay to see the Humpbacks on their long trek north. Today was all about getting the message out there that Hervey Bay is THE best place to get ‘up close and personal’ with our underwater friends. Have YOU experienced it yourself yet? Well it’s going to be a bumper year so head down there!