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You can’t talk about whale-watching in Australia without starting in Hervey Bay, the final stop on the ‘Humpback Highway’ along the East Coast. Every winter, tens of thousands of humpback whales escape freezing Antarctic waters by heading north to the warm waters Queensland, eventually using the world’s largest sand island — Fraser Island — to shelter themselves in Hervey Bay, where they give birth and raise their calves.
Formerly a whaling station and now home to the Whale World museum, this sleepy seaside town 400km east of Perth on Western Australia’s south coast enjoys one of the longest whale-watching seasons in the country, with humpbacks, southern right and some blue whales spending months in Albany’s calm waters in the second half of the year. A rare congregation of about 100 orcas — better known as killer whales — also gather in Bremer Bay near Albany between February and April, attracted to cold, nutrient-rich currents that blow north from Antarctica.
It’s a fair journey from any major city to the Head of the Bight — 11 hours’ drive west of Adelaide and 17 east of Perth, to be precise — but it’s worth the trip to see southern right whales calve during their winter migration. The boardwalks of the Head of the Bight Lookout — the northern extent of the Great Australian Bight on the country’s rugged south coast — provide the perfect vantage point for whale watchers between June and October.
These majestic mammals are perhaps the only thing that can wrestle onlookers’ attention away from the beauty of the Great Ocean Road, the jaw-droppingly gorgeous touring route along the Victorian coast west of Melbourne. Logan’s Beach in Warrnambool is a nursery of southern right whales between June and October, while further east in Portland, you can also spot southern rights between June and August as well as blue whales over summer, feasting on krill from November to May.
As if you needed any more convincing to visit the sparkling waters of Australia’s biggest city, the abundance of whales making their way up the Humpback Highway each winter provides yet another reason. Whale-watching cruises depart Circular Quay almost every day between May and November, gliding through the harbour and then out through the heads to try and spot acrobatic humpbacks breaching through the air, with Sydney’s coastline serving as the stunning backdrop.
There’s something in the water around Eden… literally. Sitting halfway between Sydney and Melbourne on the drive along the coast, this serene seaside town is where currents from the north and south meet — meaning the waters of Twofold Bay are rich with nutrients, and therefore the perfect place for humpbacks to stop for a feed on their way to or from Antarctica. September to October is the best time to head to Eden to spot whales on their annual migration.
This scenic patch of Tasmania is best known for the postcard-perfect Wineglass Bay, but the procession of whales each winter is every bit as spectacular. The east coast of Tasmania is one of the first places whales pass as they depart Antarctic waters — witness humpbacks on their way to Queensland between May and July before they cruise back from September to November, while southern rights heading for the south coast of the mainland depart June to August and return September to November.
The drive north from Sydney to Hervey Bay takes in a string of renowned whale-watching hotspots, including Port Stephens, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and the Gold Coast, but few are as picturesque as Byron Bay. Australia’s most easterly point offers a panoramic view over the Pacific as the humpbacks cruise back and forth — Cape Byron, home to the town’s iconic lighthouse, is a particularly impressive vantage point.