5 whale watching weekends away
After a winter spent breeding in the South Pacific, whales are now ready to begin their southern migration back home to Antarctica. The journey is one of the longest of any mammal on earth, travelling along the NSW coastline past our spectacular bays and beaches.
With the weather warming up, it’s the perfect time of year to take a short break in a national park and see this extraordinary migration for yourself. If you missed the northern migration or want to see some baby whales making their way south with mum, here are five spots with some of the best vantage points in NSW.
Cape Byron walking track, Cape Byron State Conservation Area. Photo: John Spencer/DPIE
Go beachside at Byron Bay
Byron is gorgeous in spring, with plenty of sunshine and relatively quiet beaches. It’s also home to the historic Cape Byron Lighthouse, a fantastic whale watching spot that’s located at Australia’s most easterly point. Take your binoculars and grab a coffee at Cape Byron Lighthouse Café, then settle in for a morning of whale watching. If you’re lucky, you’ll also see turtles, dolphins and stingrays.
There’s plenty of accommodation nearby, from the heritage-listed Assistant Lighthouse Keeper's Cottages to beachside cottages including Imeson Cottage, Mildenhall Cottage and Partridge Cottage. The Cape Byron walking track is a great way to explore the nearby rainforest and clifftops while keeping your eye out for migrating whales. If you feel like camping, head to Bundjalung National Park where you can set up your tent by the beach.
Tomaree Head lookout, Tomaree National Park. Photo: John Spencer/DPIE
Take a road trip to Port Stephens
This large, natural harbour is a great spot to go whale watching during the southern migration. It’s only 2 hours north of Sydney and offers plenty of bushwalks, picnic areas and opportunities for bird watching. There are lookouts right along the coast, but one of our favourite spots is Tomaree Head Summit, which sits 161m above sea level and offers panoramic views of the coast.
While you’re there, check out the historic World War II gun emplacements, built in 1941 as part of Australia’s east coast defence system. To make a weekend of it, stay at the Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse Keepers’ Cottages, or experience the peace and quiet of bush camping at Mungo Brush campground. For a different perspective, get out on the water with one of Port Stephen’s tour operators.
Barrenjoey Lighthouse track, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Photo: David Finnegan/DPIE
Enjoy a staycation in Sydney
You don’t have to travel far to see pods of humpbacks breaching and lobtailing in the Pacific Ocean. Whales have been travelling past Sydney long before it was Australia’s biggest city. In fact, at Balls Head in Wollstonecraft you can see ancient Aboriginal engravings of whales that are believed to be over 1000 years old.
One of Sydney's best vantage points is North Head in Sydney Harbour National Park, where you can take an easy stroll on the paved Fairfax walk. Or if you feel like more of a workout, you can hike up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Both offer incredible views and are popular whale watching vantage points in spring.
South of the city is Cape Solander in Kamay Botany Bay National Park. There’s an excellent viewing platform and café, with whale information boards and National Parks volunteers available at various times during the whale watching season to share stories about these magnificent creatures.
Pretty Beach cabins, Murramarang National Park. Photo: Nick Cubbin/DPIE
Relax in Batemans Bay
As they travel south, mother whales often bring their calves closer to shore so they can avoid predators and learn to feed. Batemans Bay is a favourite pit stop, with large pods of whales easily spotted from the coast. The top vantage point in the area is Depot Beach in Murramarang National Park.
Depot Beach cabins or Pretty Beach cabins are a perfect base to explore the local area. Enjoy the fresh spring air on the Rock Platform walk or Depot Beach Rainforest walk, which takes you through one of the last remaining stands of littoral rainforest in Australia. On the way back, stop at Depot Beach picnic area for a picnic lunch and an afternoon of swimming, fishing and snorkelling.
Green Cape Lightstation Keepers’ Cottage, Ben Boyd National Park. Photo: Nick Cubbin/DPIE
Explore historic Eden
The historic whaling town of Eden comes alive on the southern migration, culminating in the iconic Eden Whale Festival in November. Grab your binoculars and head to Green Cape lookout in Ben Boyd National Park, which is a popular whale watching spot in spring. Whales aren’t the only marine and wildlife you’ll see – keep an eye out for fur seals, dolphins, albatross and sea eagles.
The beautifully-restored Green Cape Lightstation Keeper’s Cottages is a great base for your trip, with a paved pathway that takes you to up to the lookout, where you’ll enjoy views across Disaster Bay. To learn more about the area’s whaling history, don’t miss a visit to Davidson Whaling Station Historic Site, before a picnic on the shores of Twofold Bay.