From June through to the end of October or early November, humpback whales frequent the eastern Australian waters. Platypus Bay in Hervey Bay is one the favourite stops for the humpback whales during their 5000km migration back to Antarctica. Follow my journey on board Freedom III on a full-day whale-watching cruise.
PLATYPUS BAY WELCOMES WHALES
Platypus Bay is part of the Great Sandy Marine Park and to the west of Fraser Island, which is the world’s largest sand island and UNESCO heritage listed.
Platypus Bay is about an hour’s sail north east from Urangan Marina in Hervey Bay, past Pelican Banks, Woody and Little Woody Islands and Moon Point on Fraser’s west coast.
There are 13 whale-watching charters currently operating in Hervey Bay and some are starting to offer swimming with whales. Freedom III is a 58-foot catamaran that offers a relaxed whale-watching experience.
FREEDOM III WHALE WATCHING
Freedom III is an Eco Certified whale-watching tour captained by Keith Reid and assisted today by family members Louie and William, and Peter, who recently migrated to Hervey Bay from the Greek islands.
I am eager to see how a totally male crew copes with a full boat of passengers, especially as this cruise is renown for its tropical lunch buffet, popular home-made scones and profiteroles served at morning tea.
As we cruise along to get to our destination, Keith introduces everyone to the science of whale watching. We learn about classic whale
We learn about classic whale behaviour and terminology like breach, blow, spy hop, pec, tail or head slap, round out and fluke up. I try to memorise those terms, which I’m sure will impress friends and family later.
But it’s not just the whale behaviour that warrants a mention. When the whales appear, guests break out into a frenzy of ‘whale aerobics’, running from one side of the boat to the other, or forward then aft.
It isn’t long before someone spots a blow and we cruise towards a pod of whales swimming along the surface.
According to the Australian National Guidelines for whale watching, it is against the law for swimmers or boats to approach humpback whales closer than 100m. Jet skies and aircraft are not allowed closer than 300m and helicopters are required to maintain a distance of 500m.
Fortunately for us, the humpback whales can’t read.
Humpback whales have a reputation for being curious and they often approach boats to actively interact.
Platypus Bay is unique in that it is sheltered and shallow, so whales tend to congregate here to relax and play, sometimes staying for a week or more before moving on.
This lends itself to frequent shows of play behaviour and interaction. Today was no exception. We see whales, whales and more whales.
Various pods are in the bay, many coming over to us or other boats nearby. There are breaches and pec slaps galore. Spouts of blow are all around us.
One whale, in particular, approaches Freedom III and continues to circle the boat for 15 mins, diving under our hull a number of times. Yes, here we go, whale aerobics.
The humpback whale was playing with us for sure. I run from one side to another, then race up top to get a bird’s-eye view for better photos as it dives under our boat.
After a while, I cotton on to the fact that the whale is having fun with us. But when it finally loses interest, there is a splash behind me. Yet another humpback whale joins the party, with an impressive three-metre breach at the back of our boat.
I’m unprepared for this spectacular display and all I manage to capture on camera is its white wash and footprint as it dives into the deep.
We barely have time to enjoy our food and drink, as there is too much action around us. I need a coffee to help me cope with all this physical exercise, so I head down into the cabin to help myself. William and Peter are manning the bar.
Peter’s friendly banter has kept me entertained during the cruise but I keep my distance as Peter tells me he spies my “female aura” hovering near his bar (and a sink full of used lunch plates). He looks as if he is about to throw me a dish cloth as I hurry away laughing!
The day is glorious. It’s a perfect cloud-free blue sky, with warm winter sunshine and a day’s whale count of at least 40 humpback whales. Keith is the ultimate captain and host, as is his loyal experienced crew.
Keith, the ultimate captain and host, and his experienced crew are fun to be around. There’s plenty of good will on board humoresque anecdotes boom over the loudspeakers throughout the day.
WHALE LOVERS AND LOYAL RETURN CUSTOMERS
On board are a few customers who would qualify for a Platinum frequent whale watcher card, such as Sue Brown. Sue from Port Stephens is on her annual trip to Hervey Bay to whale watch. She confesses to visiting Hervey Bay almost every year for the last decade and always chooses to go whale watching with Keith and his crew.
I can see why. The weather is perfect. The boat is a great design with its three-tiered front area that easily copes with up to 50 passengers without obstructing the people’s view.
The crew is outstanding in their service, friendliness and humour. And Keith just oozes customer loyalty and satisfaction as his main priority.
And of course, the whales. Let’s not forget the whales, as we love them as much as they seem to love us.
Hervey Bay is truly a place for extraordinary whale watching. This just has to go on your bucket list.
Discover Fraser Coast
Hervey Bay is located on Queensland’s Fraser Coast. Brisbane to Hervey Bay is about a three-hour drive. QantasLink and Virgin Australia have flights to Hervey Bay.
A full-day whale watching tour with Freedom costs $140 and includes morning tea and lunch.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Hervey Bay?
Find out more information about visiting the Fraser Coast here.