Experiencing a Whale Watching Tour in Sydney

One of my most memorable experiences during our travels has been whale watching.  To see these enormous creatures launch majestically into the water is incredible.  So when I was up to Sydney for work, I couldn’t wait to catch the last of the humpback whale season with Oz Whale Watching tours.

Gathered at King St Wharf 9 at 8am, we were a group of about 20 people with cameras eager to catch a glimpse of a whale or two.  Once on board we headed out through the Harbour guided by our host Biggles.  Sydney of course put on perfect weather for our outing which enabled us to soak up many of her sights including Luna Park, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

whale watching

Luna Park on the harbour’s edge

whale watching

The impressive Sydney Opera house best seen from the water

Biggles’ voice could be heard in the background as we cruised towards the heads, sharing a bit of history of Sydney and about the whales themselves.

During this time of year the humpback whales are making their way south, and sightings of mothers with their newborn calves can be had. This leg of their journey is a little slower than usual so the calf can keep up with the mother, so it does mean you can drift alongside them.

Sydney can get an impressive 20,000 humpback whales pass through each year from May to December. So the chances of have a sighting on or off boat are in your favour!

A breakfast buffet of sausages, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and the unpopular baked beans was served, along with tea, coffee and croissants.  With choppy seas looming, I decided to have a small serve and forgo the massive breakfast others were tucking in.

whale watching

Travelling through the heads

As we made our way out through the heads, sea sickness set in for a few of my fellow whale watchers and one by one they started to make their way down to the lower levels of the boat.  They may have been regretting those extra sausages and eggs they chugged down earlier!  Thankfully, I had taken my trusty kwells after experiencing a little queasiness on a short ferry ride the day before.

As the lookout began for the majestic whales, Biggles encouraged passengers to be the first to spot a splash, blow of water or tail, and be rewarded with a free drink at the bar.  Eyes were fixed on the expansive waters with people randomly pointing in the hope they had seen something.

whale watching

Biggles filling us in on the behaviour and life of the whales

Unfortunately for the thirsty ones, Biggles made the first sighting of two whales off Long Reef as he climbed up on top of the boat roof with a couple of crew.  Slight advantage from their post with their binoculars and radios!

whale watching

The first sight of the whales ahead

Nevertheless, a couple of whales were spotted ahead and the boat sped up to get within safe range.  It was believed it was a mother and yearling, who were headed south where the mother would wean her young before it would join another group of juveniles.  My fellow whale watchers launched across the other side of the boat, cameras poised ready to capture a ‘Kodak moment’.

whale watching

whale watching

A small rise and a gentle splash of the tail and within seconds the whale had gone back under.  It was under for about 8-9 minutes before rising again.  It was impressive, but unfortunately for us these guys weren’t too interested in showing off.

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We were all too slow to catching the whale breaching (clearly I’m not a photographer)

We cruised around for about an hour, trying to get on the same current as the whales for a better sighting.  It was an act of remaining patient, eyes peeled for when the whales made an appearance.  Then before anyone had their camera in focus, one of the whales launched into the air in a breach position.  For its stunning display it was rewarded with a collective ‘wow’ from the passengers.  Biggles unfortunately was looking the other way and missed the biggest sighting of the morning.

We drifted around for a little while longer, with a few small glimpses of the pair of whales before Biggles called it a day.  While it was disappointing that we didn’t get the interaction for the whale I had experienced once before, I appreciated the approach the Skipper and Biggles had taken.

whale watching

While some whale watching companies choose to chase down the beautiful creatures, Oz Whale Watching are very conscious of trying to cause as little disturbance to the animals as they can.  Biggles himself said they prefer to take a Green Peace approach and give the whales the respect they deserve.  In fact, besides entanglement, a collision with a boat is the whale’s greatest threat.

So we made our way back through the heads with Biggles giving us the guided tour while we took in the impressive scenery of Sydney.  The day was truly beautiful and sitting on the deck of the boat is easily one of the best ways to see the city’s beauty.

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This is what you could experience if the whales are up for a little play – image on the Oz Whale Watching Facebook page!

My previous experience with whale watching in Bryon Bay was very different, with plenty of whales who were clearly enjoying the attention.  So whilst I was slightly disappointed these whales weren’t that active, we were at the end of the season and it is just the luck of the draw.  In fact, the afternoon tour had the pleasure of watching five humpback whales just off the middle of Sydney Heads near Bondi Beach.  Thankfully the weather was perfect and it was a lovely way to take in the views.

Tips before you go on a whale watching tour

  • Take sea sick tablets
    Even if you think your stomach can handle it, take them just in case. You never know how rough it is going to be and there is nothing worse than feeling crap while trying to spot a whale.
  • Apply sunscreen
    It might seem obvious, but having only applied in the morning, I got a fair bit of colour after sitting up on the deck for five hours.
  • Look for whales from land
    Whale watching from a boat is the ultimate, but if you didn’t have the best sighting it is well worth asking your guides from what cliffs you can see the whales. Chances are you will get a great view of them as they make their way on their journey.
  • Put your camera down
    Everyone wants to get that perfect photo, but be careful you don’t spend the entire time looking through the camera lens. Enjoy the experience!
  • Choose your tour wisely
    It’s a great gift that we are able to watch the whales, but it is so important we minimise the impact. I was pleased to hear Oz Whale Watching are committed to the conservation of the whales rather than just pleasing the tourists.  After all, if the whales are discouraged from travelling into Sydney’s waters, they will be out of business.  Go early or in the middle of the season – as mentioned I have had some impressive sightings of whales in the past and it is suggested they are more active in the middle of the season than at the end.


Just a note: I was a lucky guest of Oz Whale Watching for this tour, however all opinions and recommendations are my own.

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