Whale Watching in Hervey Bay – The Ultimate Guide

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Watching the Humpback Whale Migration in Hervey Bay

Hervey Bay’s popularity has grown over the years and what once was a locals holiday destination now serves as the main jump off point to Fraser Island, also known as K’gari. Popular for its family friendly beaches and calm waters ideal for swimming and aquatic activities, the no longer sleepy coastal town offers plenty of attractions for people of all ages. 

But the most prominent activity that steals the show is the captivating whale-watching tours. Also known as the whale-watching capital of Australia, Hervey Bay is one of the best places for whale sightings in the world, attracting visitors from around the globe who flock over to watch these affectionate and inquisitive animals at play.

Read on to learn all you need to know about whale watching in Hervey Bay for an optimal experience!

A whale tale exposed in Australian waters
A whale tale breaking the surface.

Why Choose Hervey Bay for Whale Watching

Declared a Whale Heritage Site, Hervey Bay is Australia's first and premiere whale-watching destination, recognized as the only stopover area for the humpbacks along the eastern coast. Whales congregate in large numbers here, providing an unparalleled opportunity to get up close with them and witness some breath-taking behaviours and moves, making it a prized destination for this enthralling adventure. 

Hervey Bay is also only a few hours drive from many Queensland population centres making it an ideal location for a few days or a long weekend.

When the magical moment finally arrives when the humpbacks, often with their calves, eagerly come toward you out of curiosity you can't help but be moved.

Often within touching distance, whales coming epically close to boats and people is actually known as mugging. Experience astonishingly close encounters with these gentle giants as they start trusting you and hang around in a friendly and playful mood for a significant time. 

Observe the whales in their natural habitat and get your camera ready for some spectacular sights as they breach and play around you. 

If you choose a tour combining whale watching and swimming with whales, you might be lucky to experience the most surreal moment of your lifetime as you jump into the waters to swim with these glorious creatures if deemed safe and suitable. 

Whales breaching off Hervey Bay
Whales breaching off Hervey Bay

What Type Of Whales Migrate Past Hervey Bay and Why?

Up to 40,000 Humpback Whales cruise past and linger around the waters of Hervey Bay over the whale watching season.

The whales visit Hervey Bay on their way south to Antarctica, after spending time in the warm water on the Great Barrier Reef. They breed and calve in these northern waters before heading back to the cooler conditions over the summer months.

The whales spend time in the calm waters around Hervey Bay  to rest and also to ensure the young calves that have been born during the breeding season are ready for their cold water Antarctic lives. 

Whales are extremely curious creatures which is why you can often see mothers and calves very close to your whale watching vessel. The mothers will sometimes push the calves closer to the boats allowing the over 80,000 tourists that visit the bay for the season to have a once in a lifetime experience. 

If you’ve not read my story about us getting mugged by a whale, check it out for one of the most amazing things that’s every happened to me in my life. 

Brad and a whale who came right up to our boat
Brad with the whale that approached us.
A whale nose breaching the surface
A whale nose breaking the water

What Is the Best Time to Go Whale Watching

The humpback season starts in early June when the whales start their annual migration to the Great Barrier Reef. They stay around Hervey Bay till the start of November before moving toward Northern Queensland and back to Antarctica. 

The prime season begins at the end of July and goes on till mid-October when thousands of whales start arriving in Hervey Bay. Instead of passing through, they stop by the calm and shallow waters around Fraser Island. While it seems that the whales stay for a few months, scientists actually say that each whale probably only stays in the area for a few weeks but the constant migration makes it seem like they are here for months. 

The humpbacks use these tropical waters to rest, give birth, socialize with their playmates, and nurture their young. They use it as a nursery to raise and prepare their calves for the upcoming journey without the fear of predators, like Orcas, before continuing their annual migration to Antarctica. 

That is when you can spot an abundance of whales hanging around the warm, sheltered waters of the Bay, exhibiting a friendly and playful mood. Most tour operators offer guaranteed whale sightings during this time. This is the peak whale season. 

I suggest planning your trip between August and September for the best chances of viewing the mother whales with their calves.

On some rare occasions that you do not spot any whales, you receive a full refund, or you can use it on the next whale watch cruise, which speaks volumes about how likely you are to sight whales during this period. Don't forget dolphins are also readily spotted on the whale watching tours.

Dolphins on a whale watching tour at Hervey Bay
Dolphins on a whale watching tour at Hervey Bay

Best Whale Watching Tours

Hervey Bay whale-watching tours can be divided into two categories; a half-day and full-day tour. Depending on the amount of time you want to spend out in the sea and the extent you want to explore, you can choose a half-day tour, which is about 4 or 5 hours, or a full-day tour that lasts 6 to 9 hours. Most half-day tours typically depart twice a day in the morning and afternoon, whereas full-day tours start as early as 7 am or 9 am. 

While watching whales in their natural habitat and showcasing their acrobatics is the main highlight of every tour, each operator offers something unique, from swimming with these gigantic mammals to exploring hidden and untouched areas of the K’gari and enjoying facilities such as a hearty lunch or dinner.

The following are some of the best whale-watching tours to set sail on that will get your money's worth:


Spirit of Hervey Bay

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The Spirit of Hervey Bay tour offers guaranteed whale sightings with excellent viewing opportunities as you cruise the tranquil waters of Platypus Bay. 

The luxury half-day cruise features six levels of decks from which you can click amazing photos and observe the playful antics of the incredible humpbacks and also the splendour of other marine life such as dolphins and seabirds at Fraser Island. 

The underwater viewing rooms are sure to pump your adrenaline by allowing you to immerse yourself fully in the underwater life and get up close and personal with the majestic mammals and other mesmerizing creatures beneath the waterline. 

The vessel also has a hydrophone for you to listen to the melodious songs and clicks and whistles of whales as they play around or interact with their calves. 

Learn some fascinating facts and details about humpback behaviour from the guide onboard, in addition to engaging expert commentary by the crew about whale sightings.

Additional features:

  • Complimentary hotel transfers
  • Fast speed at 22 knots, reducing traveling duration while allowing more time with whales
  • Complimentary tea
  • Spacious, less crowded, and air-conditioned catamaran for maximum comfort
  • Free Wifi
  • Kids activities 
  • Complimentary souvenir DVD 

Hervey Bay Whale Watching Experience

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Whalesong Cruises takes you on an unforgettable half-day whale and dolphin-watching tour on a specially designed, 15-meter luxury catamaran. Spot some sea turtles, dugongs, and dingoes as you sail along the West Coast of Fraser Island toward Platypus Bay. 

Witness the humpbacks in all their glory along with some dramatic sights, such as resident bottlenose dolphins interacting with the Humpbacks as you listen to real-time commentary by your captain throughout the way. The premium, eco-friendly cruise is also equipped with a hydrophone through which you can listen to the whales sing. 

The vessel takes a limited number of guests and features spacious decks on multiple levels to provide the best front-row viewing experience. It departs from the Great Sandy Straits Marina in the morning and afternoon and offers tea and a sumptuous lunch or dinner. 

The morning cruise is a five-hour journey, while the afternoon tour lasts four hours, providing an invaluable opportunity to observe the mesmerizing sunset views. 

Additional features:

  • Complimentary hotel transfers
  • Free Wifi
  • Snacks provided
  • Guaranteed whale sightings
  • Wheelchair accessible

Hervey Bay Whale Swim and Watch

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The Hervey Bay Dive Centre takes things to another level by taking you on a six-hour guided tour of the Great Sandy Strait Marine Park, where you get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with these remarkable creatures. Put on your snorkeling gear and dive into the waters as you watch these gigantic mammals make their way toward you. 

The vessel takes a limited number of 20 people for a calm and relaxing experience and features an informative guide on board who educates you about whale behavior. However, note that swimming with whales is possible in suitable conditions only, including the weather and whale behaviour. It is only when these majestic mammals display a calm and welcoming demeanour that you can swim along while respecting their space and keeping a safe distance.

Regardless of whether you get a chance to swim with the whales or not, the up-close waterline interaction with these gentle giants is enough to leave you spellbound. 

Additional features:

  • Guaranteed whale sightings
  • High-speed catamaran
  • Tea and coffee
  • Lunch
  • PADI-certified dive team

Hervey Bay Whale Swim and Watch

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If you are looking to get more adventurous, this full-day tour offered by Tasman Venture takes you on an all-encompassing journey to the remote western side of Fraser Island, which is truly a nature's paradise.

Ride along Great Sandy Straits into the Fraser on a luxury catamaran far from the noise and crowds and get a chance to have a one-of-a-kind close interaction with the humpback whales in their element in the tranquil waters of the K’gari. 

As a top-rated marine tour operator, Tasman Ventures operates a 20-meter-long luxury vessel catering to a limited number of people for a comfortable and more personalized experience. The vessel features a welcoming and knowledgeable staff providing fascinating insights into the Fraser Coast and the humpbacks. Get awestruck as you spot diverse wildlife creatures such as dolphins, dugongs, sea eagles, dingoes, and turtles as you cruise along. 

Adding to the thrill, you have the opportunity to snorkel and kayak in the pristine waters of Wathumba and Awinya Creek and observe other spectacular marine species like turtles and stingrays. Climb up the dunes in Bowarrady Creek and marvel at the picturesque panoramic sights of the Fraser and Platypus Bay.

And of course, for the ultimate immersive experience, enjoy a swim with the captivating humpbacks, depending on the sea conditions and the humpback’s mood.

Additional features:

  • Complimentary hotel transfers
  • Fast catamaran
  • Morning and afternoon tea
  • Buffet lunch
  • Water sports
  • Guided bush walks

Best Accommodation In Hervey Bay

As a hot tourist destination, Hervey Bay has a multitude of lodging options to choose from.

The following are some luxury, top range, and budget accommodations where you can comfortably stay that suit your preferences. Please remember that aside from the Whale Watching tourists this is a very popular family holiday destination so consider dates that might be Australian School holidays. Booking during these times can raise prices significantly.

You also need to know (if you aren't Australian) that our school holidays don't line up between the states. They are often offset by a week or sometimes more. Queensland holidays would be the one you would take primary notice of as Hervey Bay is more a locals holiday destination but a week either side will see New South Wales and Victorian holiday makers also visiting the area.

Grand Mercure Allegra

Rating: 9/10

If you are looking for great sized self contained apartments during your time in Hervey Bay, then the Grand Mercure Allegra has got you covered. 

This impressively large, self-contained apartment accommodation is the gateway to Fraser Island, centrally located right across the idyllic Shelly Beach.

The apartments are spotless and well-equipped with all modern amenities for a comfortable, feel-at-home stay. They feature a spacious lounge with dining space and a fully equipped kitchen. The accommodation is also rated highly for its large outdoor heated pool and sauna at your disposal to wind down. 

Step out on the large balcony to catch some fresh breeze and perhaps observe gorgeous views of the beach or sunset. The stunning design and decor make for a welcoming environment, and there are plenty of eateries and shops at a small distance. 

Rooms start at around $285 AUD per night. 

Features:

  • Free Wifi
  • Gym
  • Flat-screen TV
  • Minibar
  • Tea/coffee maker
  • Garden
Grand Mercure Allegra Hervey Bay roof top apartment
Grand Mercure Allegra Hervey Bay roof top apartment

Mantra Hervey Bay

Rating: 7.6/ 10

Mantra Hervey Bay is a 4-star, resort-style accommodation located on the waterfront that overlooks the scenic Urangan Marina. 

Step out on your private balcony to soak in the scenic water views. The air-conditioned rooms provide maximum comfort, and there are numerous world-class facilities for a relaxed and rejuvenating time, such as a fitness center, outdoor heated lagoon-style pool, and sauna. There are multiple restaurants and bars at a short walk along The Esplanade, where you could hop on over for a quick meal. 

It is hard to miss a tour of the prized Fraser Island, accessible directly via a ferry departing from the harbor a few steps from the resort. 

Rooms start at around 205 AUD per night. 

Features:

  • Free Wifi
  • Private balcony
  • Electric kettle
  • Refrigerator
  • Flat-screen TV
  • BBQ facilities
  • Garden
Mantra Hervey Bay hotel room
Mantra Hervey Bay hotel room

The Beach Motel Hervey Bay

Rating: 8.1/ 10

Providing modern facilities for a calm and convenient stay without breaking the bank, Beach Motel Hervey Bay is located in tranquil tropical gardens opposite Shelly Beach in the Torquay suburb. A short drive from Urangan Pier, this 3-star motel features spacious, air-conditioned rooms with facilities, including a landscaped pool and a spa to keep you refreshed.

I've stayed at this motel quite a few times over the years and have always found it to be a great location and have very friendly staff.

Rooms start at around $139 AUD per night. 

Features:

  • Free Wifi
  • Flat-screen TV
  • Terrace
  • Electric kettle
  • Refrigerator
  • Tea/coffee maker 
  • BBQ facilities
Beach Motel Hervey Bay Room
Beach Motel Hervey Bay Room

Final Words About Whale Watching In Hervey Bay

Embark on an exciting adventure to Hervey Bay, an ideal destination to watch one of the most fascinating marine mammals in action in their natural environment. 

From watching the magnificent whales performing various breath taking manoeuvres to taking in the picturesque views and unwinding by the clear, unspoiled beaches along the Fraser Coast, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will leave you with nothing but memories you will cherish forever.

One question I often get asked is if you can see the whales from the beach. It is rare to be able to see them like you can along the Gold Coast beaches for example. Hervey Bay is very tidal and extremely shallow as a bay and the whales know this. So sitting beachside won't usually give you any real whales sightings. You will have to take a tour to see them up close.

The flat calm beach at Scarness Hervey Bay
Minimal whale sightings from Hervey Bay beach I'm afraid. You will have to do a tour.


Jenny Marsden - Charge The Globe
About the author

Meet Jenny, a passionate Australian travel blogger who has explored 103 countries to date. With over 30 years of travel experience, Jenny has a wealth of knowledge to share with her readers about the cultures, landscapes, and people she has encountered on her journeys. She's always battling unfashionably frizzy hair and you will never catch Jenny in anything but comfortable shoes. Learn more about Jenny and her travels.