Taking a whale watching cruise in Australia is one of my favourite things to do. I’ve been lucky enough to go on three whale watching tours in Queensland since we moved here – once from Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island, once from Fraser Island and, most recently, from Redcliffe in Moreton Bay.
Australia is one of the best places in the world for whale watching cruises, whether you choose to go out on a whale watching boat or you view the whales from a beach or cliff on Australia’s glorious coastline, there are lots of opportunities to see these graceful creatures in the wild.
This post contains affiliate links. I was hosted on my whale watching trips while writing travel articles for a magazine. All opinions are my own.
When is whale watching season in Australia?
The best time for whale watching in Australia is late May until November (the exact whale watching season vary slightly depending on which state you’re in – some whale watching tours run June – October). Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania all offer whale watching opportunities. It can be much cooler at that time of year, so remember to wrap up warm as your whale watching cruise will take you out into the open ocean where it can be windy and choppy!
What whale sightings can you expect when you go whale watching in Australia?
The most commonly sighted whales in Australia are humpback and southern right whales but there are opportunities to see whale sharks, blue whales and orcas too. From my personal experience of my three whale watching cruises, you will not be disappointed – on every whale watching tour I have seen SO MANY humpback whales.
Be aware that as the boats stop for a period of time while you are watching the whales, it can make you feel seasick (it’s always worth taking seasick medication before you board as a preventative, just in case). If you are prone to seasickness, you don’t have to miss out though; there are lots of locations along the coast where you can see whales passing. You don’t even need binoculars for it! On our visit to Rainbow Beach, I saw lots of them from land.
Where to go whale watching in Australia during whale season
There are so many places to go on a whale watching cruise all around Australia. >> Check out the whale watching tours available in your region on Experience Oz and see what special offers they have on right now.
Queensland is a great location for whale sightings during whale migration season and, as it’s my home state, it’s where I’ve been on my whale watching tours in Australia.
Brisbane Whale Watching from Redcliffe, north of Brisbane
My most recent whale watching cruise was on the Eye Spy from Redcliffe jetty with Brisbane Whale Watching while I was writing an article about Moreton Bay for Australia and New Zealand magazine. You can meet the boat at Redcliffe Jetty or you can be picked up from hotels in the Brisbane area
The boat was really comfortable and it is really convenient if you live north of Brisbane like I do. My son and I sat up on the top deck all day and just popped down for lunch and the occasional hot chocolate. All of the staff were really friendly and welcoming, including Captain Kerry, the only female captain operating a whale watching venture in the South Pacific Rim.
The whale watching tour goes out past Moreton Island and gives you plenty of time to watch the whales. A delicious buffet is served downstairs during the whale viewing time, but you can carry on watching from the windows while you eat. On the way back, the boat goes alongside Moreton Island so you can look through the clear, turquoise water to search for dugongs and turtles (we saw a few turtles on our trip!) We had an awesome day and I will definitely do this tour again.
Tickets with Brisbane Whale Watching start from $135 for adults including lunch leaving from Redcliffe > Book here with Experience Oz
Whale watching at Tangalooma Island Resort
Tangalooma Island Resort offers a range of day trips and some of these include whale watching cruises.
What I love about these trips is that you make a full day of it and get to experience Moreton Island too for only a little more money than a regular whale watching cruise. There are lots of different tours available but the best one is the full day whale watching and dolphin feeding experience. Adults cost $199 and that includes your ferry to the island, day passes at the resort, the whale watching cruise with lunch (or another tour of your choice including the desert safari where you go sandboarding or a snorkel of the wrecks) and it ends with wading into the water at the beach to feed wild dolphins before you get an evening ferry back to Brisbane.
The benefit of this whale watching day trip is that even if a family member gets seasick and can’t go whale watching, they can still go over for the day trip and do another tour while you go on your whale watching cruise. My husband gets extremely seasick when whale watching but he is fine doing the crossing to Moreton Island as it is reasonably sheltered (with the whale watching it is the rolling motion that makes him feel sick when the boat is stationary), so when I do this day trip he just does another tour instead with the kids.
We LOVE LOVE LOVE Tangalooma and we’ve been twice since we moved to Brisbane. The whale watching tour from there is great and the benefit is you can lay on the beach, swim in the pool or go and get yourself a cocktail when you get off the boat as you have some chill out time before it’s time to feed the dolphins in the evening.
Top tip: The Chinese restaurant at the resort – Fire and Stone – is delicious and well worth a visit. It opens in the evening a short time before the dolphin feeding starts so when you look at the itinerary you might think there isn’t time to eat there, but when we were there in June the food came out so quickly there was plenty of time to enjoy it before we had to go to the beach.
If it feels like you’re cramming too much into your day trip, you can also stay at the resort and extend your stay. If you go for a few nights, it gives you plenty of time to experience lots of the activities on offer in addition to the whale watching (marine cruises, snorkel trips, quad bike tours…)
Whale watching cruises from Hervey Bay or Fraser Island
Fraser Island and Hervey Bay are also great locations to go whale watching. There are a range of places you can go from including from Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island.
I did a tour from Kingfisher Bay Resort and it was so much fun. Fraser Island has so many other tour options to choose from too, so it’s a good idea to stay a few nights and make an adventure out of it. (Please note: You don’t need a 4×4 to go over the Fraser Island – you can leave your car in a secure car park on the mainland and get the ferry over to Kingfisher Bay.)
Can I go swimming with whales on a whale watching cruise?
On some cruises, there is an option to go swimming with whales if the sea conditions are right. On the whale watching cruise I did from Fraser Island a group got in the water with the whales (see the photo of the group in the water in the collage higher up the post). It’s worth checking sea conditions before booking if this is something you’re keen to do. Not all whale watching cruises offer this as an option so you will need to check before booking too.
How to prepare for a whale watching trip during humpback whale migration season: The best seasick remedies
The first thing to remember is that the open ocean can be really choppy. I have a stomach of steel when it comes to seasickness but, unfortunately, the rest of my family aren’t so lucky. If you aren’t sure how you cope on the water, take precautions and take some seasick tablets before you travel. Make sure you follow the instructions and take them the right amount of time before you set off otherwise they won’t work. (My wildlife mad 8yo son came on the last whale watching trip with me and a few hours into the trip he went into the toilet and lost sight of the horizon for a couple of minutes. When he came out he had turned green. I really regretted not giving him seasick tablets before we set off – I was so sure he wasn’t going to be sick as he is never travel sick unlike his siblings who both get car sick. By the time it hit him, it was too late to take anything for it.)
If you aren’t keen on the idea of tablets, there are a range of alternatives.
I’ve only just discovered these seasick motion patches while researching this post and I’m definitely going to invest in some seeing as two of my kids get very travel sick. I can’t say how well they work but they have to be worth a try!
Travel sick bands really do make a difference – I know this because when I was pregnant with twins and suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum, I wore travel sick bands every day of my pregnancy. While they didn’t stop my severe morning sickness, on the odd occasion that I forgot to wear them I felt so much worse.
There is also seasick chewing gum. When I was pregnant, I always found chewing gum slightly eased my sickness so it’s worth a try.
What to pack in your bag for whale watching
You will want to take a rucksack of essentials with you on your whale watching cruise. Don’t forget these…
Your camera. It goes without saying that you need to take a camera. I don’t advise taking a Gopro or action camera – you need something with a zoom and where you can frame the shot. Your mobile can capture great photos and videos but it is too slippery to hold while also holding onto the rail of the boat.
If you like to use your smart phone to take pictures, it’s a great idea to have some kind of stablised gimbal. Not only will this keep your shots smooth, but it also gives you a handle to hold on to so you don’t drop it it in the ocean!
A water bottle. You don’t want to have to leave the view of the whales to go downstairs to get a drink. Take your own water bottle and you can stay up where the view is the best and stay hydrated.
Polarised sunglasses. It is amazing what a difference polarised sunglasses make to your view of the water. I first discovered this when we went on a dugong watching trip in Monkey Mia. My husband Matt was wearing polarised glasses and I wasn’t and he spotted them so easily when I found myself staring at the ocean. I’ve just invested in my own pair of prescription Maui Jim Honi sunglasses and I LOVE them!
Warm clothes. Whether you need many layers depends on the weather, but two out of three of my trips involved me wearing a fleece and jacket. Remember whale watching season starts in winter, and it can get really cold when you are sitting on the top deck of a boat in the open ocean.
A rain coat in case the weather turns bad. Your fleece will keep you warm but if it starts to rain you don’t want to have to go inside – just pull your hood up and carry on watching!
A rucksack. Pack up everything you need into a compact rucksack that way you can have it on your back out of the way while you’re watching the whales and taking photos. The boat can move around a lot so the last thing you need is a handbag on your shoulders or at your feet.
Don’t forget your sunscreen! Apply it at least half an hour before you set off and keep reapplying it through the trip. Even if it is cloudy and cold, you’ll be amazed how quickly you burn when you are in the open ocean.
Binoculars are by no means essential for a whale watching cruise because the boats get you up close with the action, but it’s worth taking a compact pair with you if you can. When we were heading back to Kingfisher Bay Resort from my Fraser Island whale watching cruise, we saw a dingo on the beach and it would have been really handy to have had a pair of binoculars to look at it.
Whale watching Australia
If you live in Australia or you’re planning a trip to Australia during whale watching season, going on a whale watching cruise is an absolute must. Pack up your rucksack and head out to the open water for an adventure you will never forget.