Having a whale of a time
Last week I headed north to Hervey Bay, home of the best Humpback whale watching experience in Australia.
There are still a few weeks left until these gentle giants return enmasse to our warm waters, but there’ve been a few offshore sightings to whet the appetite already. Talking to the operators about the coming season reminded me how breathtaking a close-up encounter can be with our Antarctic visitors.
In a few weeks time I’ll be heading north for another totally unique but slightly different experience – swimming with the Dwarf Minke Whales onboard Mike Ball’s expedition vessel Spoilsport.
Hervey Bay’s not far from Brisbane. Jump in the car on a Friday after work, book a late table at a restaurant (my favourite in Queensland has to be Coast) and wake up bright and early ready for a day on the water. Simple.
The Queensland coast has been gifted two natural breakwaters from the rolling Pacific swell; the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island. Hervey Bay takes full advantage of these with sheltered, shallow waters behind Fraser Island offering the most comfortable whale watch cruising in Australia.
Our whales know it too! Between July and November every year the migrating Humpbacks stop off with their calves to jump, spy-hop and cruise for a while in their crystal clear underworld. They’re more curious of us humans than we are of them, often spending hours swimming around the whale-watch fleet grabbing a peak of what life’s like in our world.
The official start to this year’s season starts on June 23rd with the Paddle Out For Whales taking place on the main beach at Hervey Bay outside Enzo’s cafe. Last year over 600 people attended the event, which brings awareness to the plight of whales around the planet. This year they’re aiming to have closer to a 1000 people there, so if you own any form of paddle craft, be it a kayak, SUP or outrigger head to the bay for a superb day on the water. I would love to have been there but I’ll be in the UK.
As the season approaches there are some cut-price deals to be had. If you’re thinking about it, stop it! The time to book is now. Visit the Queensland Holidays website to find out more.
At the other end of the Great Barrier Reef, 1400kms to the north, another incredible underwater spectacle is about to take place. From June through to August Dwarf Minke Whales head into the tropical waters around the Ribbon Reefs in North Queensland. They don’t hang around for long though, spending only a few weeks here before disappearing from sight, to date there is no record of where they go.
To witness this fascinating encounter you need to travel further out than a standard reef trip allows. The Ribbon Reefs stretch over 400kms along the outer edge of the reef, and it’s here these eight metre beasts enjoy hanging out. They’ve only been sighted here since the late 1990s but interact with snorkellers and divers in a very special way.
Mike Ball Dive Expeditions run a specific trip over seven days that heads to these waters and offer the chance to socialise with these gentle giants by hanging from a line secured to the back of the vessel.
The last three years of diving on the Great Barrier Reef have provided me with the chance to witness some remarkable creatures from tiny, brightly coloured nudibranchs up to immense, agile Manta Rays. But the upcoming trip at the beginning of July has to be one of my most anticipated adventures yet. I’ll be taking a full video and photographic rig with me to capture the escapades and bring them to you on this blog.
The Australian television program 60 Minutes featured the Minkes back in 2010, this clip gives you some idea as to how special the experience really is:
If you’ve never witnessed any of these marine creatures up close and personal like this then there’s no better time to start planning your adventure. Whether you choose to hop onboard with one of the operators in Hervey Bay for an experience tailored to your needs, or on a serious dive trip deep into the Coral Sea you can be guaranteed an adventure that will change your perspective of our world.
Now it’s time to read Jonah and the Whale or watch Whale Rider… whilst I’m in the mood for massive mammals!