The Ultimate Guide to Whale Watching in Hervey Bay

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During their annual migration of up to 10,000 km, humpback whales attract thousands of visitors to towns along Australia’s east coast. You can see whales right along the coast but the place that has earned the moniker of Whale Watching Capital of the World is Hervey Bay on the Fraser Coast. Even if you are used to seeing whales from ashore, whale watching in Hervey Bay offers a level of interaction with the humpback whales that will amaze you.

whale watching hervey bay
Humpback whales are curious and seeing a spy hop is not unusual while whale watching in Hervey Bay.

Curious humpback whales in Hervey Bay swim alongside, around and under your boat.

They spy hop (stick their heads above the water) for a closer look at the humans on board. They roll on their backs and playfully slap their pectoral fins across their bodies and on the surface of the water.

The annual humpback whale migration has become part of a natural cycle that is only too easy to take for granted.

But we should not forget that only 40 years ago, humpback whales were hunted almost to extinction by commercial whaling operations.

It’s actually a miracle we are able to see humpback whales at all.

If you haven’t seen a humpback whale up close, go to Hervey Bay this season. Whale watching in Hervey Bay is an experience you won’t forget.

Whale watching in Hervey Bay

Why go Whale Watching in Hervey Bay?

whale watching tours
Hervey Bay is the “Whale watching capital of the world” because of the number of humpback whales that hang around the calm waters between Hervey Bay and Fraser Island.

The calm and protected waters between Fraser Island and Hervey Bay are a playground for the humpback whales.

Researchers believe that the humpbacks zero-in on their breeding and feeding grounds in response to cues such as current and temperature changes, and fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field.

Where is Hervey Bay? 

Hervey Bay is an easy drive north of Brisbane (about 3.5 hours) and there are enough other things to do in Hervey Bay and the Fraser Coast to make a weekend trip worthwhile.

Don’t be surprised if you enjoy whale watching so much you might want to try more than one whale watching boat tour.

For a longer stay, other places to visit on the Fraser Coast are the historical city of Maryborough, which has a new Walk with the Anzacs memorial and a number of impressive museums.

Fraser Island is a World Heritage-listed destination that attracts visitors from around the world. 

Visit Fraser Island as a day trip or combine activities on Fraser Island with a whale watching trip from Hervey Bay.

Humpback whale migration

whale watch
The annual humpback whale migration brings large numbers to Hervey Bay, where you can see them up close.

Southern Hemisphere humpback whales live in Antarctica, where krill and plankton are available in abundance.

A humpback whale can consume 2500kg of krill and plankton a day.

The humpback whale migration of the Southern Hemisphere humpback whales starts in April and May when they swim north from Antarctica to warmer waters to mate and breed.

They arrive at their breeding grounds in the Whitsunday Islands in June or July.

From July onwards, the humpback whales begin to make their way back to Antarctica.

Pods of humpback whales choose to stop and rest in the waters between Hervey Bay and Fraser Island.

Well over 1000 humpback whales arrive at Hervey Bay between late August and early September.

They hang around these waters, resting and playing for anywhere between five to 10 days before continuing their journey to Antarctica.

When is whale watching season in Hervey Bay?

whale watching season Hervey Bay
During whale-watching season in Hervey Bay, there’s a good chance of encountering a pod of whales that are interested in your whale watching boat.

Hervey Bay whale watching season starts in July and continues until the whales leave, around November. The best times to go are:

July – The Hervey Bay Ocean Festival is a festive time to be in Hervey Bay and to celebrate the start of the season.

Key events worth attending are the Hervey Bay Seafood Festival, the Blessing of the Fleet and the Paddle Out for Whales in support of conservation where hundreds of people paddle out into the bay on surfboards, kayaks and bright inflatables to raise awareness for whale welfare.

August – for curious whales that are not involved in the breeding cycle.

Mid-August to mid-September – the peak time for the largest number of whales in the bay

September – for mothers with calves

Swimming with humpback whales in Hervey Bay

swimming with whales
For those who want to swim with humpback whales, there are several boats in Hervey Bay to choose from.

Swimming with humpback whales is a new experience recently introduced by several boat operators in Hervey Bay.

You don’t have to be a strong swimmer to go swimming with whales as most of the time, you’ll be floating beside the boat wearing a snorkel.

10 people are allowed to enter the water at a time attached to a mermaid line secured to the vessel.

The opportunity to go swimming with humpback whales depends on the weather and the whales.

As swimmers are required to enter the water when the humpback whales are at least 100m away, hanging around in the ocean waiting for the whales to approach (water temperature varies from 19C to 23C), can get a bit cold, even if you’re wearing a wetsuit.

If you strike a curious pod, they may come close to you.

The sight of a large humpback whale floating in front of you is an experience you’ll be telling all your friends about for the rest of your life.

There’s a better chance of being in the water with the whales between July and early September before the mothers and calves arrive as swimming with calves is not allowed.

Some operators provide wetsuits. The minimum age for the swim with whale experience varies with each operator as follows:

Hervey Bay Whale Watching Boat Tours

whale watching season hervey bay
Each year, the whale watching season in Hervey Bay starts in July and ends when the whales leave (usually November)

In Hervey Bay, whale watching tours fall into a number of categories that would suit different types of whale watchers. 

Being on a boat with 12 or 24 passengers is a different experience to cruising with 200 passengers.

Most whale watching cruises either offer guaranteed whale sightings offering you your money back of a replacement cruise. However, during peak whale watching season in Hervey Bay, there’s little chance that you will need to use this guarantee.

Whale watching boats run one, two or three cruises a day.

Most serve morning or afternoon tea and some provide lunch. A typical lunch on board might consist of chicken pieces, cold deli meats, salads, bread rolls and dessert.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a whale-watching cruise in Hervey Bay:

humpback whale facts
Whale watching Hervey Bay: There’s a range of whale watching boats to choose from.

1- If you’re travelling with young children, the bigger boats like Spirit of Hervey Bay and Tasman Venture have kids corners and are more likely to run activities to keep young children occupied in between whale sightings.

2- A bigger vessel is more spacious and you can walk right around the decks comfortably but bigger boats also carry more passengers.

3- Some whale watching boats offer discounts for afternoon cruises. Check when you make your booking.

4- Smaller whale watching catamarans provide a more personal experience. Also, the whales might seem bigger (and more impressive) when you’re on a smaller boat.

5- If your focus is on finding out more about the latest research studies on humpback whales the Pacific Whale Foundation research boat is the one to choose.

Here’s a handy table to compare Hervey Bay whale watching tours at a glance.

Whale watching boatMax pplTour timesWhale watching cruise featuresCost
Island Venture20730am to 430pm-Morning tea, buffet lunch and afternoon tea
-Combined Fraser Island west coast tour and whale watching
-Landings on Fraser Island
-Kayaking, swimming, bush walking
Swim with whales
-Advanced Eco Accreditation
$195 (adult)
$185 (child)
$185 (concession)
$760 (family)
Blue Dolphin24730am to 330 pm-Hydrophone
-Morning tea, buffet lunch and afternoon tea
-Licensed bar
-Eco Certified
-Immersive platform
$160 (adult)
$130 (child)
$500 (family)
Pacific Whale Foundation387am to 10am (swim with whales)
11am to 2pm
230pm to 530pm
-Advanced Eco Accreditation
-Led by research team
-Profits support whale research
-Advanced Eco Accreditation
-Snacks and drinks
$89 (adult)
$59 (child)
$79 (concession)
$250 (family)
Not suitable for under children under 6
Freedom III49930am to 4pm-Hydrophone
-Morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea
-Licensed bar
-Eco Certified
$140 (adult)
$100 (child)
$120 (concession)
$400 (family)
Tasman Venture80830am to 1230pm
130pm to 530pm
-Underwater viewing windows
-Morning or afternoon tea
-Licensed bar
-Advanced Eco Accreditation
$115 (adult)
$60 (child)
$105 (concession)
$310 (family)
Whalesong608am to 1pm
2pm to 6pm
-Morning tea and buffet lunch for am cruise
-Light lunch and afternoon tea for pm cruise
-Wheelchair friendly

$125 (adult)
$65 (child)
$115 (concession)
$340 (family)
Discounts for afternoon cruise

Quick Cat II957am to 1230pm
1pm to 5pm
-Disabled Access
-Morning or afternoon tea
-Swim with whales (optional -$95)
-Licensed bar
-Eco Certified
-Swimming with whales
$110 (adult)
$55 (child)
$90 (concession)
$300 (family
$95 (whale swim)
Spirit of Hervey Bay200830pm to 1pm
130pm to 530pm
-Underwater viewing windows
-Morning or afternoon tea
-Souvenir whale DVD
$100 (adult) am
$90 (adult) pm
$60 (child) am and pm
$95 (concession) am
$85 (concession) pm
$280 (family)
Amaroo70830 am to 1230 (daily)
130pm to 530pm (Friday to Monday)
-Morning or afternoon tea
-Licensed bar
-Eco Certified
$95 (adult)
Free ticket for 1 child under 14 with each adult ticket
Hervey Bay Dive Centre12730am to 1130am
130pm to 530pm
-Snacks and coffee
-Includes use of wetsuits, snorkel for whale swim
-Eco certified
$150 (adult)
$110 (child 4 to 14)
Family ($420)

Half-day Whale Watching Cruises

Tasman Venture

tasman venture hervey bay
Tasman Venture has the capacity to carry up to 90 people on their whale watching tour.
  • Advanced Eco Accreditation
  • Underwater viewing room and water-level platform
  • Kids’ corner

A highlight of Tasman Venture is their water level viewing platform, where you can stand at the water’s edge, and air-conditioned underwater viewing rooms to spy on the inquisitive humpbacks in the water.

There’s a hydrophone, kids’ corner and free Wi-Fi.

The company holds Advanced Eco Accreditation certification, which requires businesses to operate with minimal impact on the environment as well as provide opportunities to learn about the environment.

Tasman Venture operates two cruises a day (830am to 1230pm and 130pm to 530pm) for up to 80 people each cruise.

There are several two-day whale watching and Fraser Island packages to choose from also.

Cost: $115 (adult), $60 (child), $105 (concession), $310 (family), free for infants under three years old. Price includes morning or afternoon tea.

There’s a fully licensed bar on board.

Book a four-hour Tasman Ventures whale watching tour


whalesong whale watching
Whalesong is 15m long and has a three-level front deck
  • Front deck with three levels
  • Wheelchair access
  • Lunch included on half-day tours

Whalesong has two whale-watching cruises a day (8 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 4 pm) and can carry up to 60 people.

The boat is wheelchair friendly with a front deck that has three levels of viewing. There’s comfortable seating inside and bar facilities.

The company also has a two-day whale and Fraser Island tour.

Cost: $125 (adult), $65 (child), $115 (concession), $340 (family). Price includes morning tea and a buffet lunch for the morning cruise. Discounts are available for afternoon cruises, which include a light lunch and afternoon tea.

Quick Cat II

quick cat II
Quick Cat II has five decks over three levels.
  • Five decks over three levels
  • Wheelchair access
  • Morning trip can be combined with Kingfisher Bay resort visit on Fraser Island
  • Swimming with whales

With five viewing decks on three levels, Quick Cat II has several vantage points that offer a good view of the humpback whales.

The foredecks offer amphitheatre-style seating and the boat can accommodate up to 95 people.

The design of the boat makes it a comfortable boat to walk around on and there’s easy wheelchair and pram access to the front of the boat.

There’s a hydrophone onboard and they run two whale-watching cruises a day (7 am to 1230pm and 1 pm to 5 pm).

Quick Catt II also has a one-day whales and Kingfisher Bay resort visit available on the morning trip and a two-day combined whale watching and Fraser Island tour.

Cost: $110  (adult), $55 (child), $90 (concession), $300 (family). Prices include morning or afternoon tea. Swimming with whales (minimum age 15) costs $95 extra.


amaroo whale watching tour
Amaroo is a 20m catamaran with three decks.
  • Free for one child with each adult
  • Hydrophone and underwater camera
  • Amaroo is a 20m catamaran with three viewing decks, hydrophone and underwater camera.

Amaroo offers morning whale watching cruises (830am to 1230pm) every day of the week and afternoon cruises (130pm to 530pm) from Friday to Monday.

Cost: $95 (adult), Free (child under 14) with each paying adult. Price includes morning or afternoon tea.  A discounted meal is available at the Hervey Bay Boat Club.

Mid-sized boats

Freedom III

  • ¾ day cruise offers more opportunities to be out on the water longer with potentially more humpback whale sightings.
  • Morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea is included
  • Three levels of viewing decks

Freedom III is a luxury catamaran with three levels of viewing decks offering 360-degree viewing.

Owners Keith and Sue Reid bought the 177m Queensland-built vessel from underwater documentary producer Ben Cropp in 2009 and sailed it from Port Douglas to Hervey Bay.

Freedom III’s daily whale watching tour is a ¾-day experience (930 am to 3 pm), which allows a bit more time to squeeze in extra whale sightings.

It’s a perfect day out if you’re after easy cruising with the comforts of a mid-sized catamaran (with a maximum of 49 people), good service, a friendly crew and good food, including home-baked treats for morning tea and a cheese and fruit platter for afternoon tea.

Cost: $140 (adult), $100 (child), $120 (concession), $400 (family) includes morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. There’s a licenced bar on board.

Small Boat Whale Watching Tours

For an intimate experience on the bay with your skipper, crew and fellow passengers, choose one of the smaller whale watching boats.

Island Venture

island venture
Island Venture has a full day experience whale watching between Hervey Bay and Fraser Island plus time on land on the western side of Fraser Island.
  • Low passenger numbers of up to 20
  • Exploring Fraser Island’s western coast on land
  • Swimming with whales

The Fraser Island Remote Experience (730am to 430pm) is an adventure tour that combines whale watching with two or three landings on the western coast of Fraser Island.

During whale-watching season, the itinerary is focused around whale watching and swimming with the whales. And the crew works hard to provide the best whale watching experience possible on the day.

The remote and relatively untouched west coast of Fraser Island is a pristine destination that is visited by few.

The tour includes kayaking, swimming, bushwalking, tubing and landings are made possible with the use of a Sealegs amphibious craft.

Cost: $195 (adult), $185 (child), $185 (concession), $760 (family) includes Fraser Island west coast tour and whale watching, water sports, immersive whale experience, morning and afternoon tea and buffet lunch.

Book your Remote Fraser Island and Whale Watching Tour

Blue Dolphin

blue dolphin whale watching hervey bay
The Blue Dolphin offers a personalised whale watching experience with up to 20 people on board.
  • Low passenger numbers
  • In water platform experience

The 10.5-metre catamaran, the Blue Dolphin can carry up to 24 people.

Whale watching with a small group makes it easy to make friends with the crew and other passengers.

Skipper Peter Lynch has been whale watching for over 30 years and is passionate about humpback whales.

It’s also a good choice if you’re planning a whale watching tour with a group of friends.

The ¾ day out (730 am to 330pm) means you have more time on the water.

As an alternative to swimming with the whales, Blue Dolphin has an in-water platform that allows our guests to be in the water with the whales.

Blue Dolphin also offers a two-day Whales and Fraser tour, which combines whale watching with a tour of Fraser Island and hummer tour.

Cost: $160 (adult), $130 (child), $500 (family). Prices include morning and afternoon tea, buffet lunch and a complimentary beverage.

Book your Blue Dolphin whale watching tour

Hervey Bay Dive Centre

mv utopia
MV Utopia is the smallest whale watching vessel in Hervey Bay.
  • A small boat with 12 passengers
  • Swimming with whales

Wetsuits, snorkelling gear and safety equipment provided.

Hervey Bay Dive Centre has two trips a day (730am to 1130am and 130pm to 530pm)

Cost: $150 (adult), $110 (child 4 to 14), $420 (family). Prices include snacks, coffee and swimming with whales if conditions are right

Best Educational Whale Watching Cruise 

Pacific Whale Foundation

pacific whale foundation ocean defender
Ocean Defender is a fast boat with forward-facing seats on one level that can get you to the humpback whales quickly.
  • Junior Naturalist Programme on board
  • Swim with the whales as part of a research project at 7 am
  • All profits go to ongoing whale research in Hervey Bay

The main difference between Pacific Whale Foundation’s whale-watching cruise and the others is the focus of their cruises are on educating passengers about humpback whales and whale behaviour.

Pacific Whale Foundation is a non-profit research, conservation and education organisation operating in Hervey Bay, Hawaii and Puerto Lopez (Ecuador).

Onboard, you’ll get the opportunity to learn about humpback whales from a whale researcher and commentary is provided by certified marine naturalists.

The information provided is based on the latest facts and ongoing research studies conducted by their marine biologists are communicated in a personable and easy to understand way.

The junior naturalist programme is designed to inspire with fun and educational activities led by the foundation’s marine naturalists.

Guests can take part in their newest research programme in Hervey Bay, which is a scientific study to assess the impact of swimming with whales tourism on the behaviour of the humpback whales.

Ocean Defender is a fast boat built specifically for whale watching and research. It seats up to 39 people with forward-facing seats on one level and hydrophones that allow you to listen to live whale songs.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s water-level viewing allows you to see the humpback whales almost at eye level.

Three whale watching cruises (7 am to 10 am, 11 am to 2 pm and 230pm to 530pm).

Cost: $89 (adult), $59 (children over 6), $79 (concession), $250 (family) includes free snacks and soft drinks.  A discount is available on 1430 departure

Book your spot on Ocean Defender

Largest Whale Watching Boat

Spirit of Hervey Bay

Spirit of hervey bay
Spirit of Hervey Bay is the largest whale watching boat in Hervey Bay.
  • Six viewing decks
  • Hydrophone and underwater viewing room
  • Kids activities

Spirit of Hervey Bay is the largest whale watching boat in Hervey Bay.

With six viewing decks, there’s plenty of space and you can walk right around the boat to see the whales as they swim around.

Being a larger boat also means there will be more people on board (up to 200 passengers).

It has a hydrophone so those on board can listen to the whales singing, underwater viewing windows and free Wi-Fi onboard.

Spirit of Hervey Bay is suitable for families with younger children and the cruise caters for kids with activities like colouring in and toys.

There are morning (830 am to 1 pm) and afternoon (1.30 pm to 530 pm) whale watching cruises each day. If you’re not keen on being on board with a lot of kids, try an afternoon cruise.

The company also has a combined whale-watching and Fraser Island tour.

Cost: $100 (adult), $60 (child), $95 (concession), $280 (family of two adults and two children), $320 (two adults and three children), free for infants three years and under. Prices include morning or afternoon tea and a souvenir whale DVD.  Prices for the afternoon cruise are $10 less for adults, concession and family.

Humpback whale facts and research

10 humpback whale facts

  • The scientific name for the humpback whale is Megaptera novaeangliae
  • The humpback whale is a large mammal. An adult humpback whale can weigh up to 50 tonnes and is 14 to 18 m long.
  • Female humpback whales are bigger than the males.
  • The average life expectancy of a humpback whale is believed to be about 30 to 40 years but it’s possible that humpback whales can live up to 80 years.
  • Humpback whales are highly intelligent
  • Humpback whales travel in pods
  • The humpback whale diet consists mainly of krill and plankton but they do eat other small fish.
  • Female humpback whales give birth every two or four years
  • Male humpback whales can sing and humpback whale songs are unique to each population of humpback whales. Songs can last for about 20 minutes and the singing whales can repeat the same song for hours.
  • According to the IUCN, there are around 60,000 humpback whales in the wild.

Humpback whale behaviours

Behaviours vary from whale to whale.

Some individuals are breachers and others are more vocal. 

Some of the whale behaviours you are likely to see on a whale watching tour in Hervey Bay are:

Tail slap

A tail slap is when the humpback whale raises its tail flukes out of the water and slaps them on the surface.

Spy hop

The humpback whale slowly raises vertically out of the ocean, usually until its eyes are out of the water. Many people believe that the humpback whales do this to get a closer look at the boats.

Pec slap

Humpback whales like to roll onto their side or back and slap the surface of the water with their fins.


When a humpback whale blows, air is exhaled through the whale’s blowholes. The blow of a humpback whale is unique to each whale.


humpbaack whale breaching
Humpback whale breaching in Hervey Bay.

An impressive acrobatic display when the humpback whale launches its entire body out of the water. They use their tails to propel themselves into the air and land on the surface with a splash.

Humpback whale conservation

There’s good news in 2018 is that scientists believe more than 33,000 Southern Hemisphere humpback whales will make the migration this year. It’s encouraging to hear that the humpback whale population is recovering from being declared endangered in the 1960s.

According to the CSIRO, the Southern Hemisphere humpback whale population is at around 33 percent of pre-whaling numbers and is predicted to make a full recovery by 2050.

The whaling industry brought many whale species to the brink of extinction, killing whales to produce oil and baleen.

Australia banned the hunting of humpback whales in 1963 and is a global advocate for the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans), which are protected by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

Unfortunately, other nations continued to hunt whales until 1986, when the whale population was so depleted that a moratorium on commercial whaling was put in place by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Today, commercial whaling is not allowed but whaling under the scientific-research and aboriginal-subsistence provisions of the ICRW is still allowed.

Also read:

Whale watching packing list

Whale watching season in Queensland is usually in winter to spring. Mornings and evenings can be a little chilly but it can warm in the afternoons.  You won’t need to worry about going hungry while out at sea in Hervey Bay. Most cruises morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea or all three.


What to wear for whale watching in Hervey Bay:

  • waterproof jacket
  • Polaroid sunglasses
  • long travel pants or a pair of shorts
  • flat shoes
  • camera gear(a long lens is helpful to capture breaching whales in the distance but when the whales mug the boat a smartphone can get excellent photos and videos. If you’re on a smaller boat, bring a Go-Pro and a stick).

If you’re planning on swimming with whales these are the things to bring are:

  • Towel
  • Underwater camera with wrist strap
  • Spare set of dry clothes

Hervey Bay Accommodation

When choosing a Hervey Bay resort, Urangan Marina is the most convenient place to stay for whale watching as all boats leave from here. An apartment with a balcony view of the Hervey Bay marina at Mantra Hervey Bay is our top pick.

Check out the latest prices for these hotels:

Other luxury Hervey Bay hotels:

If you’re on a budget, there is a range of Hervey Bay hotels, motels, apartments and lodges from $50 a night:

Compare prices of hotels in Hervey Bay under $150 a night here

For more things to do in Queensland, read:

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Christina Pfeiffer Travel Writer
Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.