What to do
Just how close to a humpback whale would you feel comfortable being? Watching the majesty of humpback whales as they travel through the warm waters off Noosa on their annual migration north is an unforgettable sight – their playful tail slaps, breaches as they launch themselves out of the water, sprays and fin ‘waves’ seem even more incredible when you consider their size … around 15m in length and weighing more than 35 tonnes!
Whale migration past Noosa’s eastern beaches and National Park headland is from June to late October and for many of us here in Noosa, whale-spotting has become a 5-month spectator sport that we never tire of.
More than 20,000 humpback whales migrate north from Antarctic waters each year, travelling to North Queensland before heading south again. They pass Noosa and the Sunshine Coast and there are several ways you can see (and hear) these gorgeous creatures (video at right courtesy of Whalesong Cruises):
Tour operators are already saying this is one of the best whale-watching seasons so far, following last year’s fantastic sightings.
To join the whales in their own playground, take a Sunshine Coast whale-watching tour from nearby Mooloolaba (about 40mins from Noosa) and see them from on-board a boat – you can even swim with the whales! Tour boats stop at least 100m from whales but these curious marine mammals often come much closer toward the boat, putting on a display for those on-board with ‘muggings’, ‘spy hops’, breaches and friendly displays. This is an incredible experience that you’ll never forget and is one of nature’s most glorious displays.
Whale One has daily 2-3hr cruises from Mooloolaba and have had close encounters with whales surfacing right beside their Whale One catamaran and adrenaline-filled adventure on Wild One.
Swim with the whales with Sunreef Scuba Diving Services – they were the first in Australia to offer this rare and special encounter. Sunreef provides participants on the 4-hour whale-watching and swimming tours from Mooloolaba with wetsuits and snorkelling equipment, and a full safety briefing. Swimmers hold on to a floating line attached to the boat, then it’s all up to the whales who may come close by or swim past – you may even hear whales singing. Water temperatures range from 17-23 degrees C.
Travel to the whales’ ultimate playground in Hervey Bay (about 3 hours from Noosa) for tours on-board Whalesong Cruises (morning or afternoon sunset cruises); Tasman Venture Hervey Bay who have a half day whale-watching tour and a new Remote Fraser Island and Whale Experience; and full day tours with Freedom III Whale Watch and Charters.
There are great sightings of whale pods along the eastern beaches from Coolum to Sunshine Beach, and from the Noosa National Park headland. Coolum has a fantastic boardwalk for viewing, while there are great vantage points at Sunrise Beach, Peregian, Marcus, Castaways and Sunshine Beach with uninterrupted ocean views – also from the Sunshine Beach Surf Life Saving Club deck.
The whales aren’t always on show but if you look often enough and long enough for the tell-tale puff of water spray, you’ll likely be rewarded. Many have been spotted out to sea and quite close to shore (binoculars are helpful but not necessary). There were also several sightings last year of whales in Laguna Bay, right off Noosa’s Main Beach, including a pod in front of Noosa Surf Club. We watched in amazement from the beach last year (to the astonishment of an English visitor with us) as a whale played just in front of the Noosa River mouth …. something I hadn’t seen here before.
Scenic flights of Noosa, Sunshine Coast and nearby Fraser Island are also a great way to spot whales below. Helitec, Paradise Seaplanes and Air Fraser Island all operate scenic flights from around the Sunshine Coast.
Epic Ocean Adventures have a daily Dolphin Kayak Tour (pictured above) and 4WD beach adventure to Double Island Point, travelling along Noosa’s North Shore, and they've been seeing plenty of whales from their kayaks, along with dolphins and turtles.
Noosa Ocean Rider and Noosa Thriller adventure jet boat tours into Laguna Bay and around the Noosa Headland have also been lucky enough to see whales on some days - this is a beautiful and very different view of Noosa.Ocean Rider also has a new Dolphin Safari Tour where Captain Nick is also on the lookout for whales.
Noosa North Shore’s Great Beach Drive is a 70km stretch of golden beach as you follow the Pacific Ocean between Noosa Heads and Rainbow Beach, then on to World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, and tours to this pristine and scenic wonderland also often see whales in season.
Great Beach Drive 4WD Tours have guided tours to Double Island Point and have seen whales cruising through the shallows, hearing their gasps as they breach the surface.
Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort at the southern entrance to the Great Barrier Reef, a 30-minute plane trip from Hervey Bay, is an incredible place to see whales passing close by, both from the island and on their Snorkel Safari and dive tours. It’s the first place I heard whales singing in the water – a sound and experience that will stay with me forever.