State versus state: The best whale-watching experiences

Attempted backstroke: Australia's coastline is a mecca for whale watching.

We know Australia’s coastline is a magnet for whales, and watching these incredible creatures up close is an exhilarating experience.

But where is the best place for whale watching, and why? What are the essential encounters?

To answer these questions, we invited those in the know from each Australian state to tell us why their patch of turf is the leader when it comes to admiring these marine marvels.

Let the whale wars begin…

Now you're just showing off: A humpback breaches near Dunsborough, WA.

Credit: Tash Press

Whale watching in Queensland

Courtesy Tourism and Events Queensland

A tail to be told: The Gold Coast is a magnet for whales.

Why is Queensland the best state for whale watching?

From June through to November, the coastline becomes a whale highway as around 30,000 whales cruise up the coast from Antarctica. Queensland is the only place in Australia where you can snorkel with minke whales and is one of two places in Australia where you can swim with humpback whales.

Queensland’s 6973km of coastline is pristine, and whales can be seen from the Gold Coast up to Tropical North Queensland. There are seven regions to experience a whale-watching tour: Hervey Bay, Tropical North Queensland, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, the Whitsundays, Gold Coast, and the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

What are the essential whale-watching experiences in Queensland?

Between May and August, the minke whales congregate in the remote Ribbon Reefs off Cooktown – and nowhere else. For just a few weeks a year, a handful of tourism operators open their liveaboards to this relatively new natural encounter.

The Fraser Coast is another bucket-list experience for whale watching in Queensland. This is where around 7000 humpback whales and their new calves choose to stopover to rest and play in the bay’s calm and safe waters. Hervey Bay is the whale-watching capital of Australia and the only place on the planet where humpbacks indulge in a genuine rest-stop during their gruelling annual migration.

What species visit Queensland, and when is whale-watching season?

Minke whales can be seen in Queensland from May to August, while humpback whale season is from June through to November.

Whale-watching capital of Australia: According to many, that title goes to Hervey Bay, QLD.

Whale watching in Western Australia


Australian Visitor Centre

Family affair: A mum and her calf in Albany, WA. Oh, and a pod of dolphins, too.

Why is Western Australia the best state for whale watching?

WA is the only state in Australia and one of very few places in the world with the opportunity to whale watch all year. Whale Watch Western Australia is the only company in Australia providing whale-watch experiences year-round, operating from Bremer Bay, Dunsborough, and Fremantle.

What are the essential whale-watching experiences in Western Australia?

Whale-watching opportunities are varied dependent on the time of year and includes some very important ones. Blue whales in the Perth Canyon and orca in the Bremer Canyon are the only places in Australia you can be guaranteed to see these elusive species during their season.

What species visit Western Australia, and when is whale-watching season?

The most frequently sighted in Western Australia are:

  • Blue: March-May – Perth Canyon
  • Humpback (northern migration) late May-August – Augusta
  • Southern right: July-October – Augusta
  • Humpback: (southern migration) September-December – Fremantle
  • Sperm: February-March – Bremer Canyon
  • Pilot: February-March – Bremer Canyon

Wow! You can see why whale watching provides such a buzz. Location: near Busselton, WA.

Credit: David Ashley

Whale watching in South Australia

Courtesy SA Whale Centre

Why is South Australia the best state for whale watching?

South Australia is home to the largest visiting population of southern right whales in Australia. They visit to mate, socialise, and give birth in shallow protected bays at Head of Bight and Fowlers Bay on the Eyre Peninsula and Encounter Bay on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Southern right whales can give birth in as little as 5m of water, meaning they come very close to shore.

Head bobber: Southern right whales love SA's waters.

What are the essential whale-watching experiences in South Australia?

There are excellent whale-watching opportunities on the Fleurieu Peninsula, an hour from Adelaide. Land-based whale watching can be enjoyed from many clifftops, lookouts, and beaches. There are several popular whale-watching locations at Goolwa, Middleton, Port Elliot, and Victor Harbor on the south coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula. And you can also visit the SA Whale Centre at Victor Harbor, which gives access to live whale sightings.

The largest aggregation of southern right whales is at Head of Bight, west of Ceduna. More than 200 whales visit the area on a good day at the peak of the season.

What species visit South Australia, and when is whale-watching season?

Each year there is an annual migration of southern right whales to SA’s coastline as well as humpback whales. The whale-watching season here is from May to October with the best months to view whales being July and August.

On the look out: The Fleurieu Peninsula in SA has loads of viewing platforms for spotting whales.

Whale watching in Victoria

Courtesy Visit Victoria

Why is Victoria the best state for whale watching?

Victoria's spectacular southern coastline provides visitors with a perfect destination to watch humpback, southern right, and blue whales and orcas as they make their annual pilgrimage from the feeding grounds of Antarctica to give birth and raise their calves in Australia's warmer waters.

Whales can be spotted out at sea all along the Great Ocean Road, past Phillip Island, and on to Gippsland's south coast. However, the best viewing opportunities are found in and around Portland, Warrnambool, and Phillip Island.

Now you see me: Warrnambool, VIC is a prime place to spot whales in season, particularly at the dedicated viewing platform at Logans Beach.

What are the essential whale-watching experiences in Victoria?

Victoria offers plenty of options when it comes to whale watching, including idyllic locations to spot pods from the shore, eco boat cruises, and helicopter tours as whales migrate along the coast.

Every year southern right whales return to the sheltered bays of Warrnambool to give birth, which provides visitors the best opportunity to spot mothers and calves from the free whale-viewing platform at Logans Beach (June to September).

Meanwhile, Phillip Island is set to host the Island Whale Festival 6-8 July in 2018 and has a feast of activities that entertain and educate, including the unique experience of climbing inside a 19-metre inflatable whale.

What species visit Victoria, and when is whale-watching season?

Southern right, humpback, and blue whales and orcas have all been spotted along the Victorian coastline. Whales begin arriving in May and stay until early October when they make the return journey to Antarctica.

Backup option: If you don't have any luck spotting whales on Phillip Island, VIC then you could always check out the iconic little penguins.

Whale watching in Tasmania

Courtesy Robert Pennicott, 

Pennicott Wilderness Journeys

Why is Tasmania the best state for whale watching?

Over the last 45 years of my active boating in Tasmania, there has been a noticeable increase in whale encounters. I believe that this has reflected the success of whale conservation globally.

I believe Tasmania’s big advantage now that whale watching is more accessible globally is that our coastline has huge cliffs, caves, blowholes, abundant seals, dolphins and birdlife. We class whales as the bonus.

What whales? Tassie's coastline is so spectacular they simply regard spotting whales as a bonus.

What are the essential whale-watching experiences in Tasmania?

Most of our whale watching is seen from or on the coast in Tasmania’s extremely picturesque East Coast region.

What species visit Tasmania, and when is whale-watching season?

Humpback, southern right, minke, pilot, and killer whales commonly, with blue whales occasional visitors. September until early December, whales migrate southwards to an Antarctic summer.

But when whales show themselves in the Apple Isle, the results can be spectacular.

Whale watching in New South Wales

Courtesy NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

Representing Antarctica in the synchronised swimming 5000kg division...whales at play in Port Stephens, NSW.

Credit: Stephen Murray, Imagine Cruises

Why is New South Wales the best state for whale watching?

A predicted 30,000 whales will migrate along the NSW coastline this year as they head north to breed, before making their return journey south to Antarctica, with calves in tow. This annual migration provides plenty of opportunities for whale watchers to spot these gentle giants in their natural playground along the NSW coastline.

What are the essential whale-watching experiences in New South Wales?

Head to a coastal national park – Sydney and the surrounding coastline provides some of the best whale-watching vantage points from lookouts, headlands, and foreshores. And don’t forget to download the free Wild About Whales app for real-time notifications of sightings nearby and more.

What species visit New South Wales, and when is whale-watching season?

Humpbacks and southern right whales are the most commonly sighted whales along the NSW coastline, with minke whales and orcas also occasionally spotted. The season typically runs from May to November.  

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