Sponsored by Tourism Queensland
Hervey Bay, Queensland, is a spot that is well known as the whale-watching capital of Australia.
The Hervey Bay whale watching season runs pretty much the same as the rest of Australia, from June to October.
This is when you’re most likely to see thousands of humpback whales migrate up and down the east coast of Australia to give birth to their calves in the warm waters.
Since the ocean along the Fraser Coast has protected, calm waters, it’s a favourite transit stop for them as they rest and play.
According to 20 years of research by marine naturalists, the Fraser Coast is the only genuine stopover along the migration route where up to 10,000 whales deviate from their annual journey back to the Antarctic.
It’s the first whale heritage site in the world.
But what is the best way to see these whales? This guide will tell you everything you need to know about whale watching Hervey Bay.
Where is Hervey Bay?
Hervey Bay is approximately a three-and-a-half-hour drive north of Brisbane or a 45-minute flight.
Best Time for Whale Watching Hervey Bay
The best time for whale watching is in the winter months (July – October). This is when the whales are starting their migration back to Antarctic from Australia.
August and September are the times when you are more likely to see mothers and calves together.
Our Experience Whale Watching Hervey Bay
Whale watching is one of the top things to do in Hervey Bay, so we were eager to get out there and see these majestic mammals in their natural habitat.
Waking up to a stunning sunrise over the Urangan jetty set the stage for our whale-watching Hervey Bay tour.
We jumped on the early morning whale-watching tour with the folks from Hervey Bay Whale Watch and their boat Quick Cat II.
We were in good hands, owners Brian and Jill Perry are the pioneers having started the industry back in 1987.
As we departed Urangan Harbour the water was calm and the lighting soft, and whilst the sky was a little overcast we could hardly complain. I remember saying out loud, “hey, not bad for the middle of winter!”
It wasn’t long before our kids got their first treat for the day. Hot chocolate and pancakes were on offer and every child on board receives a Children’s Activity Booklet as souvenirs. Winning so far!
Caz and I enjoyed our coffee and a light breakfast as we cruised towards the open bay, enjoying the fresh air and the serenity of the girls sitting still for fifteen minutes.
Kalyra loves to learn about wildlife and the world around her and within no time had read through her whale booklet whilst little miss Savannah was enjoying her games, puzzles, and pictures.
Captain Brian increased the speed as we headed towards the open bay with the sun starting to poke its head through the breaking clouds. His crew was providing expert commentary and tips on photography and the morning was getting better by the minute.
The only other time we’d been whale watching was in the open ocean and trying to take a photo in the choppy and windy conditions was like stumbling around trying to pin the tail on the donkey blindfolded.
I could already tell why these gentle giants enjoyed spending up to 10 days on their migration back to Antarctica in Hervey Bay using the time to socialise and rest.
Unfortunately, our Hervey Bay whale-watching tour didn’t initially go to plan.
Our boat came into engine trouble, we lost electrical power to one engine shutting it down which meant we sat idle for 90 minutes in the bay, just hanging out.
Teasingly, we could see some whales way off in the distance and for a moment we thought the only ones we would be seeing up close were those in our Lonely Planet guidebook.
We used this time to take photos (including a few selfies) and enjoyed the rare moment of doing nothing, surrounded by glimpses of Fraser Island off in the distance.
But never fear, after a slow start there was a happy ending in store for us…
Whale watching in Hervey Bay means you need to practice your patience. These are wild animals we’re talking about living in the open and they come and go as they please.
Captain Brian and crew did an excellent job of getting us going again and as soon as our boat was fixed, we sped off, quickly discovering why Hervey Bay is known as one of the best whale-watching areas in the world!
We first saw them breaching from a distance and I quickly grabbed my camera and shot some pics on my 70-200 lens.
The exciting thing is you never know when or where they are going to breach, and even if it’s not right next to your boat it’s still an incredible sight.
And then the day got better!
The whales came to play right alongside our boat, waving hello with their tails slapping the water and swimming right by. How’s this for a close-up of a humpback whale’s tail? Our kids were, of course ecstatic!
They are so majestic. Cruising around flicking their tail. Seeing the humpbacks up close in their element was like nature at its best. Needless to say, our return trip to the harbour was spent in quiet, gleeful wonder.
We shared photos with other passengers over more coffee, fresh fruit, toasties, and fruit cake.
How’s this for a guarantee
During whale watching season in Hervey Bay, there can be hundreds of whales within the sanctuary on any given day.
However, in the unlikely event, you don’t encounter humpback whales on your tour, Hervey Bay whale watching allows each guest a further whale-watching tour to use with no restrictions or give away to someone else.
They were the first whale-watching operators to offer this guarantee, almost 30 years ago.
And being the great operator that they are, because our tour was delayed for 90 minutes, everyone on board was also offered this condition, even though we saw whales. I thought that was awesome!
Hervey Bay Whale Watching Tours
If you’re on the look out for whale watching experiences, you can find a few companies that offer half-day or full-day tours during the annual migration season.
Each tour offers something different, so here are some of the most popular tours and what they have to offer.
Hervey Bay Whale Watch Cruises
Hervey Bay Whale Watch were who we selected for our whale watching Hervey Bay experience and they offered us a great day out.
You can choose between half day tours in either the morning or afternoon, between the months of July and October.
One of the main reasons to take this 4-5 hour tour is for the additional option of a whale swim, which costs an extra $100 AUD. You can also get discount tickets for families of four.
The Hervey Bay Whale Watch Cruise is one of the few companies with approval to offer the once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with these incredible giants, which is certainly a unique experience.
If you’re looking for a four-hour whale watching experience that gets you up close to the whales, then the Whale Watch Encounter tour by Tasman Venture is a popular option.
This tour gives you a close encounters to the majestic humpbacks on a luxury catamaran boat.
The boat has plenty of viewing decks, plus underwater viewing windows so you can see them swimming beneath the ocean.
Departing from Hervey Bay Marina you’ll pass through the Great Sandy Strait and past remote islands before heading to a popular playground for whales.
They also serve a morning tea or afternoon tea with pastries as well.
Blue Dolphin Marine Tours
If you’re looking for a morning cruise, consider sailing with the Blue Dolphin Marine Tours who have been offering marine and adventure tours in Queensland for more than 30 years.
You’ll cruise through the Great Sandy Strait on a multi-award-winning sailing vessel, where you’ll head to the humpback whale playground. You may also see dolphins and other marine life.
It’s not uncommon to see pods of bottlenose dolphins, Australian humpback dolphins, and if you’re really lucky, dugongs and turtles too.
The owner and skipper, Peter Lynch, will offer expert commentary throughout as you watch these animals in their natural home.
Whalesong Cruises is a family-owned business that offers smaller cruises than the usual boat tours and operate in the morning.
The cruises are about 5 hours long and come with a buffet lunch at the end.
Some other perks of a Whalesong Cruise is free WiFi onboard, a hydrophone to listen to the whales singing (hence the name, Whalesong), and a low number of passengers. In fact, they only carry 70% of the actual capacity on the boat, to ensure everyone has a more comfortable experience.
The tour also includes an expert commentary on the whales and other local marine life.
The boat has several viewing decks and wide open space, so it feels much more private.
Pacfic Whale Foundation
The Pacific Whale Foundation whale watching tours in Hervey Bay are a little more adventurous than the others we’ve shown you so far.
They use a rigid hull inflatable boat called Ocean Defender, where everyeone is sat in rows of four facing forward. There is no getting up and moving around, as it’s only a 12 meter boat.
However, it does have the luxury of a bathroom.
These boats can carry up to 40 people and is stopped every time a whale is seen.
Other Things to Do in Hervey Bay
We didn’t have long in the town itself, but here are a few things we got up to.
Walk the Hervey Bay Esplanade at sunset
We arrived late Friday afternoon and took a gentle stroll along the Esplanade just before sunset.
The 14km long shared pathway stretches all the way from the Urangan Harbour at the eastern end of the city to Gatakers Bay in the west, making it a great cycle path or long-walk. We did the section along Scarness Beach and enjoyed the sunset at the jetty.
It’s also a great spot for BBQ’s and fishing off any one of the small jetties along the way.
Walk the Urangan Pier
Taking a morning stroll at sunrise is best here at the Urangan Pier. This is where I took my sunrise photo before our whale watching tour.
Tip from one of our readers:
“Just across the road from Urangun pier is a fish and chip shop, small, and looks a bit dodgy even (no offense to owners), but it has THE BEST fish I’ve ever tasted. Only been twice with six years between visits and the quality was the same, melt in your mouth!”
Breakfast at Enzo’s on the Beach
Enzos on the Beach is a local’s favourite cafe.
Step off the Esplanade and into the relaxed atmosphere of Enzos with uninterrupted ocean views of Hervey Bay and Fraser Island. The style is beachy, you’re right on Scarness Beach and set in a cute little cottage with a charming patio overlooking the sands.
We loved the beanbags under the umbrellas and our kids enjoyed the playground next door that entertained them whilst we zoned out – winning again!
Eat & Drink at Dan and Steph’s
We came to Eat at Dan and Stephs for some good coffee. We didn’t get to eat here though as we arrived after the kitchen closed at 3pm.
It’s popular, with Dan and Steph being the local celebs as previous winners of My Kitchen Rules in 2013, and you can expect to find some contemporary dishes. They work onsite, serving and cooking for their customers.
Dan is famous for his sausages, and we also heard their Kadek Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice with braised ham hock scotch egg, and fried shallots) was one of their winning dishes on the TV show.
Hervey Bay Accommodation, The Bay Apartments
Our Hervey Bay accommodation was a lovely self-contained apartment, The Bay Apartments, which is right on the Esplanade with water views, and if you don’t feel like cooking, you’re an easy walk to several restaurants and takeaway food outlets along the strip.
Final Thoughts on Whale Watching Hervey Bay
If you’re going to visit Hervey Bay, why not time it to coincide with the migrating whales. It’s one of Queensland’s best natural holiday destinations and we had a whale of a time (sorry couldn’t resist!)
You’re also within easy access to World Heritage Listed sand island, Fraser Island, so it’s definitely worth visiting if you’re heading to Queensland.
Our whale watching Hervey Bay experience was one of the highlights of our trip around Australia. We have no doubt that a whale watching day out will be a highlight of your trip too!
Disclaimer: Our trip to Hervey Bay was hosted by Tourism Queensland, but all thoughts, ideas, and opinions in this guide are our own.
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Have you been on any Hervey Bay whale watching tours? Did you spot any whales? What else did you do in town? Please share any tips in the comments below.