Last year we went whale watching at Hervey Bay with Freedom Whale Watch aboard Freedom III and literally had a whale of a time. We recently also had the opportunity to try whale watching tours in Alaska and Canada. Juneau with humpback whales and Victoria with a pod or two of orcas, to be exact. Whilst these experiences were thoroughly enjoyable and memorable, I had forgotten how they compare with whale watching in Hervey Bay.
Well, I am sorry to report that there is no comparison. Hervey Bay eclipses all our previous whale watching experiences around the world.
It truly is the Whale Watching Capital of The World. And for good reason, read on…
- 1 Freedom Whale Watch Review September 2018
- 2 Freedom Whale Watch Review July 2017
- 3 Discover Fraser Coast
Freedom Whale Watch Review September 2018
With interstate visitors still with us from our recent overseas trip, we decided to make the 2.5 hr trip (205km) to Hervey Bay from our home on the Sunshine Coast in SE Queensland.
Last year we went slightly earlier in the whale watching season Hervey Bay in mid-July.
Going with what we knew, we booked this trip with Freedom Whale Watch again, for the sake of fun and familiarity with the great boat and crew.
Freedom Whale Watch Hervey Bay
It was a perfect day.
A cloudless blue sunny day, 23 degrees, with a southeasterly wind. This meant we would have relatively protected waters in Platypus Bay where the humpbacks congregate.
After saying goodbye to a local curious pelican on Freedom III’s pontoon in the Great Sandy Straits Marina, we headed out to Platypus Bay.
The Bay is in the lee of heritage listed remote Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world.
It is also home to the humpback whales during their migration from Antarctica.
Whales show different behaviours during the whale season from June to October.
Early in the months of June and July, they are more playful and curious, often approaching boat craft (‘boat mugging’).
As this was September, we were not very sure what activity we would experience.
But, Captain Keith and his merry band of helpers, aka Dave and Natalie, delivered a once-in-a-lifetime memory.
Freedom Whale Watch cruise – humpback whale encounters
During our full day whale watch cruise, we were witness to more than two dozen whales.
From distant spouts and breaches to more closer tail and fin slapping behaviours and flukes from diving humpback whales.
We could even see a ‘heat run’ or ‘whale chase’ in the distance where amorous males are chasing a female on heat. This is a very impressive a sight to see.
They can reach speeds of 25km/hr, no mean feat when you can be 12m long and weigh up to 30,000 tons.
A few curious whales, noticeably two juvenile males (teenagers), came right up to the boat in the morning and had us doing ‘whale aerobics’.
We ran from side to side of the boat, and front to back as both whales circled Freedom III or went under us.
One juvenile humpback had a personal habit of breaching sideways and crashing down with a huge splash.
At one point he surprised everybody by unexpectedly launching less than 10m from our boat whilst everyone at the bow got soaked by his not too perfect landing!
Freedom Whale Watch – Mother and Calf
But the piece de resistance occurred in the late afternoon.
A mother, calf and protector humpback whale caught our interest.
Initially asleep or ‘bifurcating’ as Captain Keith described it (did he just make up that word?), we approached to the legal distance to view them.
As they woke up they became very curious, especially the calf.
Both humpback mum and protector seemed quite chilled and allowed the baby whale to play near us but under their ever watchful eye.
For nearly an hour we were ‘boat mugged’ by these three humpback whales.
There were fin slaps, body rolls, tail flukes, and lots of head lunging showing their barnacle ridden noses or ‘pickles’.
Their overall behaviour was quite astounding.
Many times they just rested right next to our boat, their noses almost touching our side.
I wasn’t sure as to who was watching who? And at one point the baby just rolled over and looked right at us with its eye.
What a glorious moment, hopefully, caught on camera during one of my many hundreds of burst shots!
In all of Keith and Dave’s many years of watching humpback whales, neither had ever seen behaviour like this.
This truly was a one-off experience, and one most of us will never forget.
There are many whale watching experiences offered along the eastern coast of Australia.
A few commercial operations offer the ability to swim or snorkel with the humpbacks. But, in my opinion, there is nothing to compare with what you will see on a whale watch at Hervey Bay. And come away with your very own whale selfie – go figure!
The female humpbacks are here to mate in the shallow waters of Platypus Bay.
Whilst mature males are chasing down females to mate, juveniles humpback whales are often playful and curious.
After giving birth, females will rest with their calves, protected from amorous males by one or more female protectors.
So much goes on in these waters near remote Fraser Island.As the humpback whales are no longer travelling north, they are more numerous, settled and thus easier to see.
The many classic humpback whale behaviours which delight whale watchers and wildlife photographers can be witnessed every day.
All I can say is make the effort to come here for a Hervey Bay whale watching tour.
If you are looking to spend a day whale watching, you will not be disappointed, I can promise you that.
Freedom Whale Watch Review July 2017
From June through to the end of October or early November, humpback whales frequent the eastern Australian waters.
This makes whale watching the premier thing to do in Hervey Bay.
Platypus Bay in Hervey Bay is one the favourite stops for the humpback whales during their 5000km migration back to Antarctica.
Freedom Whale Watch
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 northeast 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 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.
Freedom Whale Watch – humpback whale encounters
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 whitewash and footprint as it dives into the deep.
Freedom Whale Watch – food and service
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 dishcloth 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 goodwill on board humorous anecdotes boom over the loudspeakers throughout the day.
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 good time to visit is during the Hervey Bay Ocean Festival.
A 3/4 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.