Top 5 whale-watching destinations in NSW

Temperatures have taken a dip, flannelette sheets are donning beds across the country and coats are making their way out of storage, which can only mean one thing… winter in Australia is just around the corner. But as the weather cools down, there’s one thing heating up! It’s whale-watching season and 2016 is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever.

From mid May to November each year, one of the biggest mass migrations in the world takes place and thanks to conservation efforts, experts are expecting a record number of whales to make their way north. From Bar Beach Cliff in Newcastle to Booderee National Park in Jervis Bay, the NSW coast is full of ideal locations to watch these underwater acrobats do what they do best.

To help you make the most of the whale-watching season, we’ve compiled a list of the top five places across NSW to view the gentle giants of the sea. While it’s possible to glimpse a whale from land at almost every location outlined below, there’s no better way to get up close and personal than by hitting the water.


1. Sydney Harbour

They don’t call us ‘The Lucky Country’ for nothing! We’re fortunate enough to have pods of whales pass through our country’s largest city every year. Sydney is home to some of the best vantage points to catch these creatures in action. In fact, in the past whales have ventured as far as the Harbour Bridge! If you choose to cruise, then you’ll be lucky enough to pass through the entrance of Sydney

Harbour on your way out to sea. You’ll be able to soak up the sites of some of Australia’s famous landmarks including the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. You’ll also pass by some of the Harbour’s islands including Fort Denison, Shark, Rodd, Goat and Cockatoo. While the season officially kicks off in mid May, October is your best chance for seeing a whale in this area. It’s during this time that the mothers and newborn calves swim close to the shoreline in sheltered areas to rest and feed.

Find out more about Sydney whale-watching experiences here.


2. Manly

If you head north from the CBD, you’ll find spectacular views of migrating whales in Manly. It’s actually not unusual for humpback whales to make Manly Cove their temporary home! If you want to make a day of the experience then pack a picnic lunch, grab a rug and set up camp for the day at North Head. There you’ll find a one kilometre-long path leading to a lookout with fantastic views out to sea. In between watching the whales, you can fill in time bushwalking along beautiful coastal trails. As the weather gets warmer towards the end of the season, this is also the perfect spot to hit the surf. Here’s a local tip – to avoid too much glare reflecting back off the water, get the binoculars out during 10-11am or after 3pm.

Find out more about Manly whale-watching experiences here.


3. Jervis Bay

If you’re hoping to get up close and personal with creatures great and small, then Jervis Bay is the perfect place to be. Not only will you see some of the biggest mammals in the world, but you’ll also get the chance to hang out with Australia’s famous wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and wombats in their natural habitat. Described as the whale-watching capital of NSW, Jervis Bay’s record is 32 individual whale sightings on one cruise. Known for its calm waters, this is the spot where whales rest on their journey back towards Antarctica.

Find out more about Jervis Bay whale-watching experiences here.


4. Port Stephens

If you travel 200 kilometres northeast of Sydney, you’ll find beautiful Port Stephens, which is the dolphin capital of Australia. But don’t be fooled in thinking dolphins are the only creatures dominating these coastal waters – Port Stephens is also temporary home to 9,000 migrating humpback whales. The best vantage point for viewing these creatures is via speedboat where you’ll search for humpbacks, minkes and southern right whales as they migrate. Water-sport lovers take notice – this is also home to experiences including parasailing, stand up paddle boarding, surfing, snorkelling and diving. If you’d prefer to stay dry and view a whale or two from 150+ metres above sea level, then hike to the top of Mount Tomaree for beautiful 360-degree views of Nelson Bay and beyond.

Find out more about Port Stephens whale-watching experiences here.


5. Newcastle

Voted one of the top 10 cities in the 2011 edition of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel, this is a city that comes alive with thousands of whales each year. Two hours north of Sydney, Newcastle is home to some world-class lookouts for whale spotting. From the iconic Nobbys Headland to King Edward Park; Redhead Beach to Strzelecki Lookout, the biggest problem you’ll have is choosing where to go. To further complicate this decision, the Anzac Memorial Walk opened in April this year and offers spectacular views of the coastline and beyond. BYO binoculars for the best chance of seeing whale activity off the shore, or book a seat on one of the many whale cruises offered around Newcastle’s waters.

Find out more about Newcastle whale-watching experiences here.


Fun Facts

  • Female humpbacks have best friends. They not only make friends with one another but also reunite each year. The females remember their pals and even find them across the ocean among other whales.
  • Whales feed by swallowing their weight in water. They completely engulf swarms of plankton or fish by swallowing surrounding water.
  • Moby Dick was real. Herman Melville based his idea for Moby Dick on real events and a real whale named Mocha Dick.
  • Whales love to sing to communicate and also just for fun!
  • Humpbacks are acrobatic creatures, breeching completely out of the water.


>> View all our whale-watching experiences across Australia