Have you travelled half-way around the world at great expense to tick an amazing experience off our bucket list? Sometimes, that mind-blowing bucket list experience might be right on your doorstep. For those of us who live in Southeast Queensland, there’s world-class whale watching in Hervey Bay, the Humpback Capital of the World. And the Hervey Bay Ocean Festival provides the perfect excuse to go to Hervey Bay.
Anything to do with the ocean will be celebrated at the Hervey Bay Ocean Festival from 27 July to 11 August 2019.
A couple of years ago, the whale and seafood festivals merged to form one big celebration of all things to do with the ocean.
Attending the festival is one of the fun things to do in Hervey Bay as you can enjoy a range of the whale-watching experiences, a vibrant atmosphere, fun events and a positive vibe.
- Hervey Bay Ocean Festival
- Hervey Bay Ocean Festival 2019
Hervey Bay Ocean Festival
The Hervey Bay Ocean Festival pays homage to the importance of the ocean, promote the conservation of the marine environment.
The migratory journey of the humpback whales can be experienced from numerous spots along Australia’s coastline.
It’s an annual event in nature’s cycle that occurs right on the doorstep of Southeast Queensland.
You can see the humpback whales from numerous spots along the coast but there’s no other place in Australia that compares to the whale-watching encounters you’ll experience in Hervey Bay.
Close encounters with humpback whales
In Hervey Bay, up-close encounters with the humpback whales happen regularly and are truly astonishing.
From July to November, thousands of Humpback whales travel along the “Humpback Highway” on their way back to Antarctica.
The whales arrive in Hervey Bay, where they stop and spend up to 10 days.
The humpback whales rest, socialise and play before continuing back to the Antarctic for the summer.
Australia has a range of aquatic habitats that attracts all kinds of aquatic creatures.
At least 45 species of whales, including 30 types of whales, 14 types of dolphins and porpoises are found in Australian waters.
However, the migration of humpback whales is a significant event in nature’s cycle. It’s one of the longest of any mammals on Earth.
Humpback whales migrate around 5000km from Antarctica north.
Hervey Bay Ocean Festival 2019
So, head to the Hervey Bay Ocean Festival and have a whale of a time at these exciting events.
Blessing of the Fleet
Saturday 27 July 4 pm to 8 pm at Great Sandy Straits Marina (free entry)
Live music, market stalls and ocean-themed craft workshops for children are some of the fun things you’ll experience at the Blessing of the Fleet.
The highlights are watching the sail by of the vessels and being in the crowd to watch local ministers perform the blessing.
The Blessing of the Fleet is a 16th-century Mediterranean tradition adapted for sunny Hervey Bay.
While the Mediterranean version was done to ensure a safe and prosperous season to all vessels, the Hervey Bay event is a fun family night out to celebrate the excitement of the whale season. It ends with a bang and a fabulous fireworks display.
Hervey Bay’s Blessing of the Fleet is an event that raises the profile of humpback whales and acknowledges the importance of humpback whales to the region.
Blessing of the Fleet Experience
By Irene Isaacson.
Part of the Ocean Festival is a special ceremony based on century-old Mediterranean traditions where the whale watching fleet and all related boats are blessed by local ministers of many denominations to ensure a safe and prosperous season.
The Blessing of the Fleet is held on the first Saturday evening of the festival spanning two weekends in August.
It is a free-entry event held in the Great Sandy Straits Marina with dockside cafes, restaurants, shops and stalls open into the evening during the sail past.
I was curious to witness this event given my strong but reluctant Catholic upbringing.
Perhaps my attendance would appease my long deceased, converted Catholic (previously Lutheran) mother, who never quite came to terms with my turning agnostic by the time I was 20 years old.
The festivities for the Blessing commence in the late afternoon.
Live music, amusement rides for the little ones, as well as food and craft stalls are for everyone’s entertainment.
As the sun goes down, the happy mood and fun atmosphere build as the crowd eagerly await the formal proceedings.
The Aloha Mai E Chant is followed by the Town Cryer, introducing an ear-splitting firing of a historic time cannon, which precedes the sail past.
The blessings are given by 12 local clerical staff who stand on a pontoon in front of the Urangan Boat Club.
Dignitaries are flanked by two neat rows of youthful Australian Navy Cadets who also pay homage to the fleet.
As the beautiful setting sun casts a soft glow over the start of the event, the boats line up in order.
Then one by one they make their approach towards the pontoon.
The clerics have their own boat or boats to bless.
Blessings are quite individualised to the craft they are assigned.
Gerry, the Hervey Bay Coast Guard’s Chaplin, told me he had five special blessings all ready to go depending on which vessels he was given.
A blessing for every occasion, I thought. How awesome and organised is that?
I was soon to find out that not all the clerics came as well prepared as Gerry, who had 5 years of experience behind him.
One cleric quite new to the proceedings confessed to having come totally unprepared and didn’t even know which vessel he was there for.
I could sense a moment of fun down the track.
One by one, led by the beating drum of rowers on the Hervey Bay Dragon Boat, they slowly motor through.
It seems like Christmas with many lit up with fairy or LED lights.
Party music blares from some, including the sound of a didgeridoo onboard Milibi of Eco Marine Tours, the party atmosphere builds.
The MC gives a little précis of who or what they are and their history in Hervey.
As a blessing is cast over the speakers, each boat attempts a 360-degree twirl in front of the dignitaries, to the great delight of the crowd before moving on for the next vessel to come in.
I laugh as I hear one softly spoken, ad-libbed blessing punctuated by a number of mmm’s and aaas.
I instantly know who the cleric is. But bless him as he finishes with a resounding confident “Bless them all and the whales too, as they are why we are here today!”
I thought Amen to that, as the now well-lubricated crowd cheer and clap him on enthusiastically.
One captain near the end of the line gets a little carried away.
He roars up to the pontoon, does a frantic boat twirl and shoots out of the marina before his appointed cleric even got to the microphone.
I chuckle imagining he probably has a beer getting warm back on land and can’t hang around!
And so the blessing comes to an end.
Everyone is invited to board the docked whaleboats to meet and greet captains and crew.
Hervey Bay Seafood Festival
Sunday 12th August 10 am to 4 pm at Fishermen’s Park, Urangan Boat Harbour ($5 for adults; free for under 18)
Seafood lovers will enjoy wandering around the stalls at the Hervey Bay Seafood Festival tasting salt and pepper calamari, chilled banana prawns, Moreton Bay bugs and oysters. Or for a more formal experience, book a table at the Tastes of the Bay long lunch event.
The festival has a local flavour and is the place to get out and chat with local chefs who will inspire you with delicious recipes.
Hervey Bay Seafood Festival Experience
By Irene Issacson
The Hervey Bay Seafood Festival is the place to gorge on seafood.The fabulous Hervey Bay Seafood Festival is where families and friends can get together and enjoy a day in the glorious Fraser Coast winter sun.
For a small notional entrance fee, there is so much on offer with something for everyone.
For the little ones, amusement rides, a bouncy castle and tunnel slide, face painting and of course, ice cream, to keep them occupied for hours.
Budding young environmentalists can learn the history of fishing, or talk to the boys from Marine Rescue or eco-warriors from Fraser Island Save The Dingoes.
All things marine is celebrated in the form of souvenirs or crafts.
Choose from seashells, bright zippered beach bags, UV protective clothing for fishers and even the coolest of reef walking shoes and ‘orthotic’ thongs.
Hervey Bay Seafood Festival in August 2017. Photos: Irene Isaacson.But let’s not forget the reason why we are really here. The serious business of the day is to enjoy the best tucker the region can offer – fresh local seafood washed down with wine.
Take the opportunity to meet and greet local chefs and wine buffs, or watch seafood cooking classes taught by local experts.
As for food, there is plenty of variety to choose from.
Freshly shucked oysters, salt and pepper calamari, prawn balls or even bbq tiger prawns marinated in chimichurri sauce (yum!) can entertain most palates.
And if seafood or alcohol is not your thing, bubble waffles (google them, I dare you!) or freshly made juices may tickle your fancy.
And for the true seafood ‘foodies’, booking ahead can get you a seat in the Tastes of the Bay tent where you can gorge in relative privacy and comfort over a prolonged lunch.
Hervey Bay in August is known for its beautiful sunny days, with temperatures in the low to mid 20’s.
The Festival is at Fisherman’s Park on The Esplanade, right by the Great Sandy Straits Marina and commercial Urangan Boat Harbour.
It’s a perfect spot, with the warm sun sheltered by tall Australian eucalypts and cooled by a gentle sea breeze.
The venue offers live music from local bands and buskers, with the main stage area being a great spot to set up a picnic rug or chairs, sit back, relax and enjoy the ambiance.
Hervey Bay Whale Parade
Saturday 3 August 2 pm to 830 pm at Seafront Oval (free entry)
Join the excitement of a fun beach party-themed parade along the Esplanade. The fun starts at 2 pm, with live entertainment, stalls and rides.
It’s one of the most exciting events of the year in Hervey Bay and a chance for local teams to show off their creativity.
Judging by last year’s crowd, the Esplanade will turn into a sea of people cheering on the floats and jostling for the best spot to watch the fireworks finale over the ocean.
Tip: For the best view of the parade, look for a spot between Frank Street and Seafront Oval.
Hervey Bay Whale Parade Experience
Everyone loves a parade, don’t they? Well, the community of Hervey Bay certainly does.
The Whale Parade commences at the eastern end of the Hervey Bay Esplanade in the suburb of Scarness and proceeds along the Esplanade to end at the Seafront Oval.
The festivities begin in the afternoon at 2 pm, with a fabulous free all-day concert with leading Australian and local artists.
There is even an Aloha Ohana Hawaiian Dancing workshop to participate in.
Stalls of food and local crafts are in abundance, with a fairground including amusement rides for every one of all ages.
“Dagwood dogs” may be a great Aussie icon at showgrounds, but we believe the “Tornado Potatoes” may take over that title – boy, are they delicious!
The highlight of the day’s event is the float parade.
After attending the Blessing of the Fleet, Hervey Bay Seafood Festival and a whale watching cruise onboard Freedom III the previous weekend, I have returned to Hervey Bay with my marine naturalist husband Tony to see whether the parade is as much fun.
As dusk proceeds, the excitement builds.
Throngs of people begin to arrive and line the roadside.
Parents, children and officials all take their place with great expectations. And then, the parade begins, to everyone’s delight.
The crowd cheers and claps. Huge illuminated floats, marching bands, cars and utilities make their way slowly along the Esplanade.
The whole community is involved.
School groups include the Hervey Bay Special School, Fraser Coast Anglican College and Star of the Sea Primary school.
Children of all ages are dressed in fancy costumes with colourful painted, grinning faces. Even Elvis and Marilyn Monroe joined in!
The Hervey Bay Surf Lifesaving Club and Fraser Coast Outriggers are all costumed up.
The Hervey Bay Dragon Boat Club upstage other floats by having their own dragon weaving its way alongside their dragon boat float.
People in the crowd recognise friends and family in the parade and shout them on.
It’s the perfect event for those of you travelling to Hervey Bay with kids.
A crowd favourite, the Dunga Derby cars honk their presence with fabulously funny air horns (squawking chickens and bleating sheep…, seriously?!!) as the Sparks Dance Centre troop energetically dance and jig their way along the parade.
The parade is a hit. Everyone is smiling and laughing as the last float goes past.
Then everyone heads over to the oval to continue the evening’s festivities.
Bring on the amusement rides and finally, yes, the fireworks!
Seven minutes of non-stop, spectacular fireworks.
I look on as a local tv crew wrap up their on-the-spot recording just as the final fireworks light up the sky.
Paddle out for whales
Sunday 4 August 12 noon to 4 pm Ernie Organ Park, Torquay (free entry)
If you have a stand-up paddleboard, kayak or any floating vessel, the paddle out to the ocean is the event to join.
The aim is to encourage whale conservation and to recognise the importance of the ocean and whales to the world.
It’s an event that anyone who cares for marine life should not miss.
The highlight is the minute’s silence to honour the whales when everyone is out on the water.
It’s also a fun family day with environmental speakers, races and live entertainment. The kids will love the sand sculpting workshop.
Paddle Out For Whales Experience
The Paddle Out For Whales occurs on Sunday morning on the second weekend.
It is the final event of the Festival and in particular, supports the connection with the ocean that Hervey Bay’s local community has with humpback whales.
From approximately 600 whales in the 1960s, there are now over 25,000 humpback whales, due to conservation and awareness efforts of people who care about these magnificent mammals.
The Paddle Out event runs from 8 am to 2 pm and is based at Scarness Park in the seaside suburb of Scarness.
The Scarness Pier is the main attraction of the park, offering stunning views of the bay and local beaches.
The Paddle Out commences with the Aloha Mai E Chant, performed on the main stage.
This haunting chant leads hundreds of people on kayaks, ourselves included, as well as stand up paddle boards, surf skis, in fact, anything that floats.
We all head out into the cold ocean to pay our homage to the humpback whales.
I chuckle as people on blow-up whales and other amusing inflatable crafts join in to form a circle, about 100m from the beach.
Once we’re all in places, a one-minute silence is called over the speaker system.
A drone whirrs high above, recording the event. We all bow our heads in respect, desperately trying not to bump into each other as the gentle current sweeps us off our positions.
My bottom is starting to get cold sitting in our sit-on-top kayak, semi bathed in cold sea water.
Thank god I put extra layers on this morning! Despite the glorious blue sky and sunny day, there’s still a chill in the air.
When the minute of silence is over, we all cheer and clap to celebrate the start of the activities back on shore.
The floating crowd slowly dissipates to the beat of the Hervey Bay Dragon Boat crew and hum of the engine of the Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours vessel, as we all head back to shore to warm up.
There is a full schedule to be enjoyed over the rest of the day. It’s a fun programme for kids of all ages.
The Aloha Ohana Hawaiian Dancing troop entertain and encourage people from the crowd to join in and there’s plenty of live music.
We are fascinated by an interactive talk from environmental speaker Dr. Gayle Mayes from the University of Sunshine Coast (USC).
She expounds the beauty and wellbeing benefits of personal interaction and experiences with animals, in particular, marine mammals such as dolphins and whales, which was the subject of her own Ph.D.
I know from personal interactions with the feeding of stingrays in Tahiti and dolphins in Tangalooma, as well as swimming with sharks in Fiji and humpback whales in Tonga, how life-changing this can be.
It is truly amazing how these events change your perspective on animal and environmental conservation forever.
Hervey Bay is within driving distance of Brisbane and a 2.5-hour drive from the Sunshine Coast.