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Trip Report Whale Watching - Port Stephens NSW vs. Hervey Bay QLD

I am fortunate enough to live in Port Stephens, and for many years have enjoyed seeing the whales travelling to and fro on their annual migration from the Antarctic waters to the northern parts of Australia.

Having last week visited Hervey Bay to see what the whale watching was like from there, I thought it might be helpful for any future travellers to make a comparison of the two places.

PORT STEPHENS
Between May and August the whales travel north, then return between mid-August and November. There are a number of companies that offer cruises off the coast, to see these magnificent creatures on their way past. Costs are around $60 - $70 per adult. For details look at www.portstephens.org.au
The whales travel amazingly close to the coastline and can be seen from several vantage points in the area. The best of these is at Boat Harbour – just follow Blanch Street to Noamunga Street; park in the off-street area and walk up the gravel pathway to the top of the headland.

Often I’ve seen whales come right into the waters just beside this headland – at the minimum you’ll see their water vapour ‘puff of smoke’ that appears as they surface and breathe out.

There is a wide variety of accommodation in the area, ranging from camp sites to 4 star hotels. The above website will also help you out with this, and any other activities you may be interested in.
Being only a couple of hours drive from Sydney, and accessible by plane from Brisbane and Melbourne this is a very convenient area for many people to visit.

HERVEY BAY
Here you really do need to join one of the many cruises that leave from the marina. Hervey Bay is a large area protected by Fraser Island, and the whales only venture into this bay on rare occasions.
The cruises cost around $100 and upwards, depending if you choose a half or full-day trip. We did two trips during our week-long stay, and each was very special in its own way.

Day 1 was with ‘Spirit of Hervey Bay’. This was a full-day trip on quite a large vessel, but there was plenty of room to move around without being crowded. A generous morning tea and lunch was included. We saw so many whales I lost count! A couple were sleeping on the surface, three were engaged in some courtship antics, and many others enjoyed watching us as much as we enjoyed their performances.

The boats are allowed to approach the whales very close, and I had been concerned that this may cause the whales to stress, but they very obviously wanted to interact with the vessel and the people on board. We saw them roll, pass between the twin hulls of the vessel, loom up out of the water to ‘spy’ on us, wave their flippers and – to my great delight – breach right in front of where I happened to be standing . . . this absolutely made my day!

The Captain gave an excellent commentary on what was happening, and his delight in this job was very obvious. All in all, we couldn’t have faulted this experience.

Day 2 was an afternoon cruise with ‘Quick Cat’. This was a smaller vessel, but it did have full wheelchair access for those who might need it, and also allowed customers the experience of swimming with the whales. The cost for this extra was $95 per person, with snorkel and goggles supplied. The swimmers were tethered to a long rope attached to the back of the boat, so no chance of accidentally drifting away.

The first two whales we came across were actually interacting with the people on a tiny half-cabin outboard motored vessel – the two men on board were having the time of their lives, but the woman with them was looking somewhat alarmed to see whales within touching distance, and passing under their boat. These whales then kept those of us on board our vessel entertained for the next couple of hours. They just loved having the swimmers in the water with them, and kept performing tricks . . . almost as if they were communicating ‘here’s what we can do, now why aren’t you copying us?’

On a number of occasions they would swim off, and we would begin to travel to search out other whales. But then they’d turn and re-join us, so there was no way we were overstaying our welcome.
Once again the catering for afternoon tea was generous and of excellent quality. Another fabulous day with plenty of excellent photos and memories.

In August it’s mainly males and females without young that you’ll see; by mid-September the mothers are travelling back with their young – apparently the sight of them trying to teach their offspring to breach is really something. Their season continues into late October.

ACCOMMODATION
We stayed at Oceans Resort and Spa, in a 3 bedroom 3 bathroom apartment that was even better than we had expected from the website pictures. It was a very central location to be.

On this occasion we didn’t visit Fraser Island, as we had done this several years ago. The other place of interest was the Fraser Coast Discovery Centre – excellent displays on the whales theme, and beautiful art gallery attached (gold coin entry charge).

We had flown Newcastle –Brisbane - Hervey Bay, so didn’t have a car. The local bus service was very intermittent, so we used taxis to get around. Fortunately all we needed was in fairly close travel time, so this worked out well for us.

If it’s possible to avoid school holiday times at either place I’d recommend you do – fewer people make for a more pleasant experience!

I hope this information will be of some assistance – both places offer unique experiences and are special in their own way. Di

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