Whale watching in Hervey Bay, approximately 5 hours from Brisbane, is a popular activity for those traveling north from Brisbane to Cairns, or the other way round, along Australia’s east coast. Having experienced Hervey Bay whale watching ourselves, we now know why. Here’s how it went.
On a whale watching tour
Jump aboard Hervey Bay Whale Watch’s QuickCat II for a whaling adventure with Brian Perry, the man who pioneered whale watching in Hervey Bay around 25 years ago.
Free pick up from your accommodation (we stayed two nights at the conveniently located Friendly Hostel) is early, around 7 am, but you will have light breakfast on board the QuickCat II vessel, just as you cruise out of the harbour.
QuickCat II is a vessel built for a gentle experience for both the watchers and the whales, and the company has been ecotourism-certified for many years.
Cruising along the Fraser Island coast, Brian soon spots the first whales, youngsters by the look of it. Curious creatures, those Humpback whales swim right next to us and underneath the boat, giving us plenty of time to take pictures and to marvel at their massive size.
It is around noon when we are back at the harbor, our cameras filled with pictures of whales next to and below our boat, dolphins playing nearby, with the picturesque Fraser Island in the background. We have learned to understand and to appreciate those very special mammals.
A word about whales
Whales are amazing and peaceful creatures. Did you know that they have a thick layer of blubber below their skin which acts as insulation in cold water? Whales must keep their body temperature between 36 and 37 degrees Celsius. They are also voluntary breathers (yes, voluntary!) which means that they can breathe whenever they wish and hold their breath for extended periods. They spend most of their times below the surface, usually only surfacing to breathe. The ‘blow’ is produced when they breathe out, making a whooshing sound as the warm air of their breath meets with the cold air outside and condenses.
The whales you will see in Hervey Bay are Humpback whales, 7,000 of which migrate along Australia’s East Coast every year, on their 12,000 kilometers long journey. There is a strict swimming order, with “adolescent” whales first, followed by females with their calves, and older whales at the rear.
No one really knows how whales know where to go to but they obviously have a direction finding technique that enables them to return to the same place year after year.
Whale watching in Hervey Bay: how it all started
Brian, Jill and their three-month-old daughter Sarah had no idea that whales would become their livelihood when they came to the little fishing village of Hervey Bay in 1986. Looking for a business opportunity and a more relaxed lifestyle to their previous occupation in construction, the young family bought a charter-fishing vessel.
Then, on 25th August 1987, Brian decided to head for calmer waters in Hervey Bay around Wathumba creek in the lea of Fraser Island. As the vessel Tasman pulled up a mile or so off the creek what was thought to be a large log was noticed drifting a few hundred metres away. Another log was noticed in another direction but this one seemed to be moving.
Taking the Tasman in for a closer look it was soon realised that they were watching whales not logs and the same length as the 12 metre Tasman Venture. While not sure what type of whales they were watching, Brian could sense that the whales were very approachable and even seemed interested in the boat. The other thing he noticed was that all of his 12 passengers and the other crew members all seemed awestruck at what they were experiencing. Even after spending an hour with the whales and then steaming away the feeling on the boat was something that Brian had never felt before.
All the way home Brian had this feeling that people may be interested in seeing these whales. Arriving home he told his wife, Jill about the experience and the idea about a “whale watching trip”. “Don’t be silly” was the prompt reply “who would want to see whales”? Sticking to his guns Brian asked to have a whale watching ad put in the Hervey Bay local paper. Whale Watching in Hervey Bay was born!
Check tours and prices here.
Where to stay: Hervey Bay offers accommodation for all purposes and wallets. We chose the Friendly Hostel for its location near shops and restaurants, its good reviews and electric bikes available for hire.
How to get there: Greyhound bus leaves Brisbane at Roma Street Station and drops you at the Hervey Bay Transport Centre. It is a bit out of town, but most hostels and hotels offer courtesy pick-ups (let the accommodation know you’ll need a ride beforehand). Hervey Bay is a main stop on the bus route along Australia’s east coast, which connects Sydney in the south with Cairns in the country’s tropical north.
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