Wonderful whales on the north coast

There’s no denying our love affair with whales here in Australia. These magnificent creatures rule the ocean as they migrate from the cold waters of Antarctica where they’ve spent the summer feeding to the warm tropical waters up north to breed.

This northern migration happens between May and August every year and the migration southward can be seen between September and November. There are plenty of vantage points right along the north coast to see these beautiful creatures as they frolic in the ocean on their journey.

Image Source: Wild Byron Sea Safaris

History of whaling

Unfortunately, Australia’s early history with whales should give us pause for thought. Shortly after Europeans settled this country, the whaling industry began. While we’re familiar with the idea that Australia rose to prosperity ‘on the sheep’s back’, during the 19th century, whales were hunted and killed for their oil and whalebone, products that formed the backbone of Australia’s primary industry.

Sadly, this saw whale numbers reach dangerously low levels and southern right whales and blue whales almost reached extinction. Whalers then turned their attention to humpback whales and around 8,300 humpbacks were slaughtered off the eastern coastline between 1949 and 1962.

Thankfully, whales are now protected in Australian waters by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This has allowed the whale population to recover from around 100 humpbacks back in 1963 to around 8000 individuals in 2006. By 2021, it was estimated that now 40,000 whales cruise Australian waters.

With the recovery of the whale population came the start of a new industry here in Australia ‒ whale watching. Right along the east and west coasts, whale watching has become a fascination for many. And, this has opened the doors for tour operators to offer their many whale-watching services. Many of these services operate right along the north coast, mainly from Byron to Ballina.

Image Source: Out of the Blue Adventures

Whale-watching tours along the north coast

If you’re fascinated by whales and are keen to see them in their natural habitat as they migrate up the coast, you’ll get the absolute best experience by going on a whale cruise. Here are just a few operators that conduct responsible whale-watching cruises along the north coast.

Wild Byron Sea Safaris ‒ departs from the boat harbour at Brunswick Heads
When you join one of their three-hour whale-watching cruises, you’ll not only get to see these magnificent creatures in the ocean but you’ll also be educated by their staff of passionate marine naturalists. Their small tours consist of a maximum of 12 passengers so you’ll get a very personalised experience.

Out of the Blue Adventures ‒ departs from Lance Ferris Wharf, 12 Fawcett St, Ballina
These tours are guided by a marine biologist, giving you the chance to learn interesting facts about whales. You’ll even get to hear a whale song with their underwater hydrophone.

Byron Bay Whale Watching ‒ departs from Cape Byron
This company began their whale-watching cruises back in 2002, with quick access to whales due to the geography of Cape Byron. The trained eco-guides will provide you with plenty of interesting information along the way.

Blue Bay Whale Watching ‒ departs from Brunswick Heads
Join one of their small tours with a maximum of 8 to 10 passengers. This is a good option if you don’t want to get wet as they have a sheltered cabin with large glass windows for comfort. Being a catamaran, you’ll also experience greater stability if you’re not all that comfortable being on the water.

Image Source: National Parks NSW

Top whale-watching spots from shore

If you’re not keen on going on an organised tour or you’re not that comfortable on a boat, there are plenty of excellent vantage points along the coast where you can spend some time looking out to sea. If you have a keen eye, it’s not that difficult to spot some whales as they cruise by.

Here are some of the top whale-watching spots along the north coast.

Cape Byron Lighthouse
If you head up to the lighthouse in Byron Bay, you’ll have panoramic views of the ocean. This is a popular spot for whale watching and many sightings have been recorded.

North Head walking track in the Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve
Take the short walk through the coastal rainforest to the head of the Brunswick River. Once you reach the head of the river, you can spend some time looking out to sea to spot whales as they cruise past.

Image Source: National Parks NSW

Three Sisters lookout in the Broken Head Nature Reserve
When you visit the Broken Head Nature Reserve, take the track that leads to the Three Sisters lookout. It’s only a short 1.6km return track. At the lookout, you’re bound to see some whales frolicking in the ocean.

Whether you want to take a whale-watching cruise or you prefer to do your whale spotting from the shore, there are plenty of opportunities to see these magnificent creatures as they move along the coast between May and November. If you’ve never been before, make this whale season your time to get up close and personal to these magnificent creatures.

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