Where to go whale watching in Queensland
You’ve got another reason to book a balcony, beach front unit along the Queensland coast between June and November every year – humpback whales.
Each year, like clockwork, these marine mammals undertake a 5,000km annual migration from Antarctica to have a babymoon followed by birth story in Queensland’s warm waters.
The humpback whale migration is nothing short of something out of a circle of life documentary, as they swim north to birth their calves and teach them life skills, before returning south to chilly Antarctica.
If you’re interested in whale watching in Queensland, we have you covered from south to north with these seven places to go.
Hervey Bay, Fraser Coast
If you’ve read this blog post, you’ll know Hervey Bay is the home of whale watching in Queensland, and one of the world’s first official Whale Heritage sites which sets the benchmark for whale watching across the globe.
It’s not marketing spin, it’s scientific, as the warm waters are where around 7,000 humpback whales and their new calves choose to stop over to rest and play in the bay’s calm and safe waters.
In fact, nowhere else in the world have scientists recorded whales stopping their migration to aggregate and socialise together.
The abundance of whale activity gives these operators confidence to promise guaranteed sightings in whale season, all in Hervey Bay’s calm, sheltered waters.
Wanting to swim with the whales? You better believe you can do it here – join Hervey Bay Dive Centre for the region’s only dedicated swim with the humpback experience.
Best time to go: August – October
The good thing about the humpback whale migration is that they like to pay a visit to the entire coastline – and it all starts with the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast welcomes the first pods and is the best place to watch them at the start and end of the season as they make the way back to Antarctica.
On arrival and on a mission to swim north to their breeding grounds, scientists record plenty of aerial acrobatics as bulls show off with male bravado in these parts.
Join Whales in Paradise for a half day whale watching tour to catch their southern-most migration, before getting back to the mainland before lunch. Don’t see a whale? No worries, Whales in Paradise happily offers a whale sighting guarantee and will take you out again.
You’ll be sharing the three decks with a maximum of 69 passengers, making this an intimate day at sea.
Best time to go: August – September
Brisbane – North Stradbroke Island
As the migration moves north, the capital of Queensland, Brisbane, gets in on the humpback action.
The marine giants come close to North Stradbroke Island, making land-based whale watching from the lookouts possible – a pair of binoculars is all you’ll need for a closer look.
For a better view, join Yalingbila Tours, which depart from Brisbane CBD, Cleveland or Dunwich.
Your day with the yalingbila (whales) will be interpreted by local Aboriginal guides who will share the deep spiritual connection between their community and whales, along with marine scientist facts about humpback whales.
Best time to go: September – November
Humpback whales might be marathon swimmers, but they are not sprinters, clocking up a leisurely 5-15 km/hour on their migration north.
You can be certain once they’re spotted on the Gold Coast and Brisbane, their next stop in their migration movement is the Sunshine Coast.
Hop aboard Sunreef Mooloolaba, the first operator in Australia, who launched swimming with the whales.
You’ll spend four hours on the water after a short 15-minute commute out from the Mooloolaba River to the open water, where the whale spotting and swimming will begin.
If the whales are playing safe, you’ll be allowed in the water for your swim with the whales experience, all within a safe distance, of course.
If you’ve done regular whale watching, coming snorkel mask-to-fin with these marine mammals is completely immersive. Jump over here to see why you need to go swimming with the whales.
Don’t be surprised to share Sunreef’s decks with scientists and researchers. This vessel has a dedicated research project underway to collect knowledge about these gentle giants. You can play Attenborough using a whale watching sheet and collecting information about their movements too.
Prefer to watch the action from above the water? How about on an open deck boat, champagne in hand? Jump on board Sunshine Coast Afloat. You won’t have to jostle for the best spot on deck on these intimate cruises, with a maximum of 23 passengers on each sailing you’ll have guaranteed rail-side views.
Best time to go: October
Southern Great Barrier Reef
Rather than ask where you can go whale watching in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, a better question is where can’t you go.
Keep an eye out for whales when you are transferring by boat over to both Heron Island and Lady Musgrave Island where regular sightings happen – or jump onboard the Lady Musgrave Experience for a whale watching tour that departs from Bundaberg between June – September.
Take to the sea with Freedom Fast Cats where you’ll get lunch and a show as you explore the spectacular Keppel Bay Islands.
Or, get an aerial view of the migration on the scenic flight over to Lady Elliot Island whose whale sightings are well documented.
Best time to go: June to September
Who could blame the humpback whales for choosing the warm Whitsundays waters to end their annual migration?
This destination is the whole reason for their 5000km migration, offering Mother Nature’s nursery with cosy waters and protection from 74 islands and the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s here in the Whitsundays that female whales give birth, and some lucky whale watchers get the chance to watch a whale birth firsthand.
Join Ocean Dynamics for a dedicated whale-watching cruise to watch the humpback play against the idyllic Whitsunday backdrop.
Further north, Paradise Explorer offers whale watching tours that depart from Bowen Marina and cruise out toward Gloucester and Middle Islands during migration season.
Alternatively, why not skipper your own Whitsundays whale watching adventure? Book a DIY sailing adventure and keep an eye out for them playing in the sheltered waters of the Whitsunday Islands and the Whitsunday Coast.
Best time to go: July – September
Tropical North Queensland
While the rest of the coast has humpback whales, Tropical North Queensland has a whale encounter of its very own.
This part of the reef is the only place in the world where you can snorkel with the elusive dwarf minke whales who holiday on the Ribbon Reefs June and July every year.
Their movements for the rest of the year are somewhat of a mystery.
Dr Matt Curnock from James Cook University explains: “They seem to love the northern waters of the Coral Sea for just a few weeks every year and then simply disappear. No one has yet tagged them so they simply disappear off our radar.”
Booking to see them is easy enough, so long as you get in early, simply follow this guide to discovering dwarf minke whales.
Best time to go: June – July