Even though I’ve lived on the Gold Coast nearly all of my life, have worked in conservation for 20 years and am a self-confessed saltwater baby, I’ve never been on a whale watching trip. Until last week
I was a bit worried, to be honest, as I was taking my 2.5yo boy, who’s never been out of the seaway before and likes to act like a 2.5yo, meaning confined spaces are tricky. Worry aside, it was the most perfect Gold Coast winter’s day when we hopped off the light rail and wandered down to the wharf where Cavill Ave meets the Nerang River.
We were the guests of Whales in Paradise – the Gold Coast’s longest-standing whale watching company and our trip begins with a cruise past fancy houses on rivers and canals and out the Southport Seaway. We’re on board the Mahi Mahi which feels incredibly spacious with just 40 people on board (it has capacity for 60), and has 360-degree views. You need good views when you’re whale watching in Australia. Legislation prevents these companies from approaching whales from less than 100m and when you’re on the water, that’s a lot further than you think.
It’s also a bit of a lucky dip as to what you’ll see, as with any nature-based adventure. The captain explains that to find whales on any given morning, they basically putter out to sea to see what they can see. Literally. It’s all eyes on the water for signs of whales. Still, this company has a free-trip guarantee. If you don’t see whales on the trip, you get to go another time for free.
But that’s unnecessary on this particular Saturday. It’s not even ten minutes out the Seaway before we hear the first whale nearby. There she blows! Just like their human counterparts, humpack whales love the Gold Coast – they rest and recreate here as they migrate 10,000km between Antarctica and the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. In summer, they’re in the Southern Ocean, filling their bellies full of krill. In winter, they’re in the warm waters of central Queensland, having babies. And in between it’s like a regular whale highway up and down the east coast of Australia.
We saw six whales on our short trip and the two year old was well impressed. While many visitors on the boat expected impressive whale acrobatics, there was nothing of the sort. Just whales getting about their business.
If you go:
- If you take a young child, go for the shorter trip. While our’s was a three-hour trip, we only spent 90mins or so out on the sea. The rest spent cruising stunning waterways to get there.
- Read reviews to see which companies take the best care of their customers and have the greatest respect for our wildlife friends and look for a reputable one with a smaller boat which means more maneuverability and greater access to vantage points on the boat.
- Take sunscreen. We went on a clear winters’ day and I’m an islander, and I felt the sting of the sun.
- Take your own water bottle, coffee cup and snacks. Our boat only had disposable plastic cups.
- Binoculars are handy for spotting whales on the horizon, but also for checking out any seabirds and other wildlife that happen to venture past.
- Forget about photos. You’ve got to be so, so lucky to get one of those fancy whale tail shots. Just be in the moment and enjoy the whales doing their stuff.
- Keep your eyes out for other animals: dugong, dolphins, rays and dolphins are regularly seen on these trips.
Samantha Morris was the guest of Whales in Paradise for this story about whale watching.