Where to See Whales on the Humpback Highway

by | Last updated Jun 4, 2024 | Best of Australia | 22 comments

where to see whales on the Humpback Highway in Australia

 

Some 200 years ago whaling was big business in Australia and was in fact one of Australia’s first primary industries. The whale blubber was melted down and the oil was used in street lamps and was the basis for lubricants, perfumes and soaps. And even the baleen (whalebone) was used for items such as corsets and umbrellas. But this has changed thanks to humans realising that whales play an important role in ocean ecosystems by bringing stability to the food chain. 

And this post is not about the history of whaling in Australia. This post is about the Humpback Highway and where you can see these majestic animals in the wild. So come with me and travel along Australia’s east coast to discover some of the best places to see whales on the Humpback Highway. Many are by venturing into the ocean to their habitat but for those ‘landlubbers’ amongst us, there are plenty of places to view whales spouting and breaching from land.

 

What is the Humpback Highway?

 

What is the Humpback Highway I hear you ask! Well firstly, it is not one of Australia’s best road trips, but it is a road trip of some sorts. A road trip for whales, Humpback Whales that is. The Humpback Highway is the route Humpback Whales follow as they swim between the cold Antarctic waters to the warmer Australian waters to give birth and to feed. This is why it is called the Humpback Highway because it is mostly Humpback Whales that travel this route. 

 

When is the best time to see the whales?

 

Each year between April and November, Australia’s eastern coastline comes alive with the spectacular acrobatic displays of Humpback whales. After spending their summer in Antarctic waters feeding on krill, they migrate north, swimming some 5,000km to sub-tropical waters to mate and give birth, before migrating back to Antarctica.

So when is the best time to see the whales? Well anytime between April and November, but it depends on where they are in their journey. So April and May they are leaving Antarctica and passing by Tasmania and Victoria. In June and July they can be somewhere along the NSW coastline, then in July to September they can be in the Queensland water, particularly in Hervey Bay. And then they begin to migrate back to Antarctica leaving Queensland September sometime so you will see them migrating down the coastline October and November on their way to Antarctica.

 

What Whales will you see on the Humpback Highway?

 

Mostly Humpback Whales are seen on the Humpback Highway, but you may see other whales. And if wondering why Humpbacks are called that well, they get their name because of the hump on its back of course!

Each year like clockwork, these marine mammals undertake a 5,000km migration from Antarctica to have a babymoon followed by birth story in Queensland’s warm, inviting waters. Humpback whale migration is nothing short of something out of a circle of life documentary, as they swim north to birth their calves and teach them life skills, before returning south to chilly Antarctica.

While there’s a good chance you’ll spot whales from coastal lookouts and hikes during this time of year, it’s even more incredible to get a closer look. Here’s where to go whale watching in Queenslan

 

Where to see Whales on the Humpback Highway

 

map of where to see whales on the Humpback Highway along Australia's east coast.

 

TIP: It is illegal to approach whales and be within 300m of them, but it is fine if they approach you to interact.

 

If lucky enough you can often see them from shore in the distance. But many prefer to get a closer look and  go on a specific whale watching tour. If you want to see whales there are some specific advantage points. Read on, and discover where you can see whales on the Humpback Highway.

I’m starting this post on where to see whales on the Humpback Highway in Tasmania as it is closest to Antarctica.

 

Tasmania

 

The best places to see Humpback whales in Tasmania is from vantage points along Tasmania’s East Coast. As Tasmania is the closest part of Australia to Antarctica you can see the whales heading up to warmer waters from May to July and then returning to Antarctica September to December.

 

Best land based viewing spots to see Humpback Whales in Tasmania

  • Cape Tourville Lighthouse
  • Freycinet National Park
  • Fluted Cape on Bruny Island

 

Boat tours in Tasmania to see the Humpback Whales

To see migrating whales in the water plus other wildlife including seals, seabirds and dolphins plus, the highest sea cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere, check out this 3 hour tour out of Port Arthur.

 

New South Wales

 

The New South Wales (NSW) coastline provides many opportunities to see the Humpback whales on the Humpback Highway. Starting on the southern coast and working our way up the NSW coast.

 

Eden and surrounds

 

Eden is one of the best places to see Humpback whales migrating up and down the East Coast of Australia. In fact, whales have such a big history with Eden that Eden is home to the Whale Museum. But for unforgettable whale watching experiences there are many places to see whales along the Sapphire Coast. 

 

Two Folds Bay Eden is a great place to whale watch.

plenty of coastline to see whales in Eden

Old Ben skeleton in Whale Museum in Eden.

‘Old Ben’ skeleton Eden Whale Museum

Best land based viewing spots to see Whales

  • Mimosa Rocks National Park
  • Ben Boyd National Park – particularly Green Cape Lookout, Boyds Tower and on many of the walking tracks
  • Nadgee Nature Reserve – Greenglade picnic area and the Nadgee wilderness track

 

Jervis Bay and Shoalhaven

 

Jervis Bay and the Shoalhaven region provide many opportunities to see the whales migrating up and down the coast. 

 

Best land based places to see the whales 

  • Seven Mile Beach and Gerroa
  • Jervis Bay National Park – White Sands Walk, Greenfield Beach picnic area, Bull Hole lookout.

 

Best boat tours from Jervis Bay to see the migrating whales

To see migrating whales in the water plus other wildlife including dolphins, check out this 2 hour tour from Huskison in Jervis Bay.

 

Sydney

 

Sydney provides many opportunities to see the Humpback whales. Head to the coastal areas of the city.

 

Best land based places to see the whales

 

Best Whale Watching Tours out of Sydney

Sydney has a range of whale watching tours available. Some are 2 hours long while others include breakfast or lunch. Get more details and to book your whale experience:

2.5 hour Whale watching cruise from Sydney

3 hour Whale watching cruise from Sydney on a catamaran

Whale watching cruise with breakfast or lunch included

 

Port Stephens

 

Some two hours north of Sydney you will find the Port Stephens region and it is a great place for a whale watching adventure.

 

Best land based places to see the whales

  • Tomaree National Park – Tomaree Head Summit Walk, Fort Tomaree Walk and Wreck Beach Walk

 

Whale Tours out of Port Stephens

To go on a whale watching boat tour out of Port Stephens, check this one out.

3 hour Whale Watching Tour from Port Stephens

 

Port Macquarie

 

Some four hours north of Sydney is Port Macquarie. The area around Port Macquarie provides many opportunities to see whales as they migrate up and down the NSW coast.

 

Best land based places to see whales

  • Hat Head National Park – Little Bay to Smoky Cape, Rainforest Walking Track, Jack Perkins Walking Track
  • Crowdy Bay National Park – Geebung picnic area, Mermaid lookout track

 

Whale Watching tours out of Port/Lake Macquarie

A great boat trip to see whales and dolphins from Lake Macquarie for a couple of hours, check this one out.

 

Byron Bay and Tweed Area

 

Byron Bay and the Tweed Area have many spectacular beaches and headlands to spot whales. How spectacular it is seeing whales breaching from the most easterly point in Australia!

 

Most easterly point in Australia is a great place to see whales.
Byron Bay Lighthouse is a great place to see whales.

Many whales frolic in the ocean off the most easterly point in Australia and the Byron Bay Lighthouse

 

Best land based spots to see whales in Byron Bay & The Tweed

  • Cape Byron State Conservation Area – Cape Byron Lighthouse, Captain Cook lookout and picnic area
  • Broken Head Nature Reserve – Three Sisters walking track, Broken Head picnic area

 

Best Whale Watching Boat Tours from Byron Bay

There is a choice of some great whale watching boat tours available from Byron Bay:

3 hour Whale Watching Safari Byron Bay

2 hour Whale Watching Cruise with a Marine Biologist

 

For more places to see whales in NSW check out the National Parks of NSW website.

 

Queensland

 

Gold Coast

 

The Gold Coast is one of Australia’s best playgrounds, not only for humans, but for whales in the ocean. It runs from northern NSW into Queensland. And the best time to see the whales is June to November.

 

Best land based places to see whales

All along the Gold Coast from Coolangatta to Surfers Paradise there are plenty of options for seeing the Humpback whales swimming by.

 

Best Whale tours from the Gold Coast

There are a number of whale watching tours out of the Gold Coast region including:

2.5 hour Whale Watching Tours

Small group 3.5 hour swim with whales tour – this is the only tour that I am aware of that you can swim with whales.

 

Brisbane

 

Whales don’t actually come into Brisbane but they migrate in the waters in the coastal areas such as off Stradbroke Island. Wander along the North Gorge Walk and you can get a great spot on the cliffs to see the whales – don’t forget the binoculars!

 

Whale watching tours out of Brisbane

Want to see the whales while you are in Brisbane? Check these tours out:

Brisbane Whale Watching Tour with lunch included

Moreton Island, Tangalooma Whale Watching and Dolphin Feeding day

 

Hervey Bay

 

Some 4 hours north of Brisbane is Hervey Bay, Queensland which is the Mecca for whale watching in Australia. It is also the first Whale Heritage Site in the world and is a very special place. If you want to see whales in the wild, no other destination can rival the sheer number and quality of whale encounters you will experience in Hervey Bay.

The warm waters in Hervey Bay attract around 7,000 Humpback Whales and their new calves every year. This is the only place in the world where whales stop their migration to rest, give birth and play in the bay’s calm and safe waters. The abundance of whales particularly August to October means you are almost guaranteed to see whales. 

Hervey Bay has many whale tour operators operating out of Urangan Harbour. So whether you are travelling solo, in a couple, with friends or visiting Hervey Bay with kids there is a tour for you. You just need to decide if you want to spend half a day or a full day on the water.

I did a full-day tour from Urangan Harbour into Hervey Bay to see the whales. And I was not disappointed. Morning tea and lunch was served on board but it was the hour or so in the afternoon that was the best seeing the whales breaching and diving and swimming under and around our boat. 

 

Humpback Whale in Hervey Bay coming up to look at us on the boat.

a Humpback whale checking us out

Humpback Whale diving into the water showing us his tail.

whale showing off around our boat

Best Whales Tours from Hervey Bay

As Hervey Bay is the mecca for whales, there are plenty of whale watching tours to choose from. You could just go whale watching or combine it with a trip to the world’s largest sand island K’gari (Fraser Island).

Full day Whale Watching Cruise that includes morning tea and a buffet lunch

Half day Whale Watching Cruise (3-4 hours)

Full day Fraser Island (K’gari): Remote Island and Whale Experience

 

Are You Ready to Discover Whales on the Humpback Highway?

 

There are so many places to see whales along the Humpback Highway on Australia’s east coast that you are spoilt for choice. Have you been whale watching? I’d love to hear.

 

Humpback Whales on the Humpback Highway PIN.

22 Comments

  1. Cris

    I’d never heard of the Humpback Highway and just love that such recognition is given to the whales and their annual journey. So wonderful there are places to watch them along the coast.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      It is such a big thing which is why it has been given a name – it is wonderful that you can see them from so many places along the coast.

      Reply
  2. Stephanie

    So cool! I’ve never seen a whale, but a whale watching tour anywhere is on my bucket list.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I hope you get to see a whale one day, from shore or on a tour.

      Reply
  3. Meghan

    I would love to see whales in Australia! So cool to see there are lots of different options and a lot of them have beautiful coastal views too.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      There are plenty of options to see the whales from the shore, mostly cliff tops.

      Reply
  4. Under Flowery Sky

    Stunning experience to see whales, so fun to admire them..

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Agree, it is a wonderful experience to see whales in their natural habitat. It makes you feel alive.

      Reply
  5. Taylor

    I love whale watching! I lived in Alaska for awhile and crossed paths with a huge pod of Humpbacks breaching. I’m talking dozens and dozens of whale traveling together and jumping out all the way. It was incredible. Happened near Kodiak Island.

    Will have to keep it in mind when I visit Australia!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      How cool! That would have been amazing to see dozens of whales breaching. I think the most I saw was about 6 together. It’s just so wonderful to see isn’t it?

      Reply
  6. Kelly

    This is a wonderful, comprehensive post. We have had many opportunities to see whales on the east coast of Australia, mostly on boats. It is an awesome experience. I would recommend to anyone.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      How cool that you can see them from your boat – they pop up anywhere!

      Reply
  7. Terri

    I can’t imagine any more zen pursuit than watching the whales. Thanks for a great report.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I think seeing dolphins is pretty zen also. As I’ve grown up at a beach in Australia I would see them often playing in the waves. And then see whales spouting and jumping in the distance – very zen!

      Reply
  8. Jolayne

    I would love to spot a whale while I was just standing on the shore!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Yes, and you can if you go to the right spots as per my post!

      Reply
  9. Annie

    These whales are a magnificent thing to see. We saw them from a whale-watching trip in New Zealand, but our most amazing and very unexpected sighting was actually back home in Wales when one visited our bit of coastline for a couple of days.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      That would have been so cool to see them in NZ and Wales – whales in Whales. Were they humpback whales you got to see?

      Reply
  10. Sonia

    I’d never heard of the humpback highway, but I would love to visit!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      It happens every year and is wonderful to see, I hope you can visit one day.

      Reply
  11. Laureen

    This is so cool. I have never heard of the humpback highway. It would be amazing to see this. Maybe on my next visit. I love Australia.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      It is amazing to see the whales on the Humpback Highway. I have seen them many times and it never gets old seeing them playing in the ocean. I hope you can get to see them on your next visit.

      Reply

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About Me

Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve Sign shaped like a big white wave with Sharyn McCullum On the Great Ocean Road.

G’Day! Sharyn here, an Aussie loving discovering Australia. Let me show you around so you can discover Australia too.  Read my story here.

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