Whale watching near Brisbane is a big deal. Every year we go nuts for a glimpse of these gentle giants, but planning a whale watching trip can be a bit of a nightmare—what with the billions of spots and tour options out there.
We’ve taken the hard work out of it this year, rounding up of the best cruises and natural vantage points to have the ultimate whale watching experience.
Here’s the best places to go whale watching near Brisbane. Say hi to Migaloo for us!
Tangalooma Island Resort
Crystal blue waters, golden sand and a resident pod of wild bottlenose dolphins are only the beginning when it comes to Tangalooma’s many perks. The other is the opportunity to get up close and personal with humpback whales once you’ve had your fill of glorious island life. Operating since 1987, the Tangalooma Whale Watching Day Cruise features a leisurely catamaran cruise from Brisbane to Tangalooma across stunning Moreton Bay Marine Park, refreshments, commentary from the island’s resident eco warriors and, of course, a three hour whale watching cruise. This year they're expecting over 36,000 whales to stay and play around Moreton Island (that's 10% up on last year). Bring it on.
2020 update: Tangalooma is currently taking bookings for whale watching tours from Wednesday 5 August.
Australia’s first Indigenous-owned and operated whale-watching tours, Yalingbila Tours cruises the waters around North Stradbroke Island, guided by elders, songmen and storytellers of the Quandamooka people, an Australian Aboriginal group that primarily live on North Stradbroke Island. Together with a land and sea ranger, they share their people's ancient connection to humpback whales, marine life and the land, as you keep an eye out for those telltale splashes and spouts. Best of all, the tours depart right from the heart of Brisbane at the South Bank ferry terminals, with Cleveland or Dunwich departure points available as well.
2020 update: Boat tours are currently unavailable, however for those visiting Stradbroke Island, Quandamooka Coast walking tours are available.
North Stradbroke Island
If tours aren’t really your thing, Point Lookout presents arguably the best spot near Brisbane for whale watching. It's Queensland’s most easterly point for land-based whale observation. Think stunning views over the Sunshine Coast, water so blue you’ll question your sense of reality and whale watching opportunities a-plenty. Do you want to know the best part? It’s all only a few hours from little ol’ Brisbane. We’ll see you there.
Moreton Bay Region
If you’re looking for whale watching opportunities a little closer to home, why not head for the Redcliffe Jetty for a day on the water with Brisbane Whale Watching. Located only a 30-minute drive from Brisbane, this four-hour whale watching cruise jets around gorgeous Moreton Bay in search of the ultimate chance to see the largest animals on earth. A full buffet-lunch with tiger prawns is included in the tour price, so you can feast like a king while you watch enough whales to leave your whale-loving heart a flutter. Don’t forget to tune in for commentary from skipper Kerry and her team of experts for the ultimate whale-watching experience.
2020 update: Brisbane Whale Watching is currently taking bookings for restricted tours from Saturday 11 July.
Phew, that was quite an adventure. Now it’s time to head north to Point Perry to try your hand at whale-watching on land. Coolum is only just over an hour’s drive from Brisbane and offers stunning views over the humpback whale’s usual migration path in Australia. Grab your binoculars or zoom lens and pack a picnic of your favourite nibbles for the perfect weekend outing. Heck, even if you don’t manage to spot our favourite yearly voyagers, you can always kick back and drink in the views over the coast. Just imagine sipping hot chocolate while you scour the ocean for whales. Weekend plans are definitely sorted.
Point Arkwright Lookout
Only a hop, skip and jump from Coolum, the Point Arkwright Lookout is a little bit closer to the coast, which means even more opportunities for whale watching. Overlooking the point where lush hinterland meets rolling blue waves, Point Arkwright Lookout is a spectacular place to keep an eye out for whales. Located on the eastern edge of the Sunshine Coast suburb of Point Arkwright, Point Arkwright Lookout is a local wedding favourite for a very good reason. It’s just that beautiful. Point Arkwright Lookout is also located smack bang in the middle of the humpback whale’s usual migration through Moreton Bay, so your chances of a sighting are pretty good.
Okay, so you’ve tried cruising with whales and watching them from a lookout, why not take things to a whole new level and try swimming with whales? Mooloolaba-based company Sunreef are offering just that in an Australian first. The trip, which includes a cruise and a swim, lasts for about four hours and includes a maximum 20 participants. Once the whales have been located, you’ll have the opportunity to truly get up close and personal – and it’s all on the whale’s terms (Sunreef have a strict policy on looking but not touching). Definitely one for the bucket list.
2020 update: Sunreef is currently taking bookings for whale watching tours from Saturday13 June and swimming with whales from Saturday 4 July.
When we think of whale watching, Surfers Paradise is not the first place that comes to mind. But this coastal metropolis has its own slice of whale watching activity in the form of the adorably named Whales In Paradise cruises. Whales In Paradise promises to deliver not just another cruise but an experience with the naturally curious humpback whales we all know and love. With a water-level viewing deck and guarantee that there will only be as many customers as can comfortably see, Whales in Paradise will pretty much do everything they can to make sure you see whales. These low-noise cruises were also the very first whale watching tour operator on the Gold Coast, so you can be sure they certainly know their stuff.
2020 update: Whales In Paradise is taking bookings for whale watching tours now.
No whale watching guide to Queensland would be complete without an honourable mention of Hervey Bay. While it’s a bit further away than other spots on this list, Hervey Bay hasn’t earned itself the title of whale watching capital of the world for no reason. Hervey Bay marks the only official stop spot on the annual migration route, where around 7000 humpback whales choose to rest and play with their new calves in the bay’s waters. This means that sightings are almost guaranteed, and you can enjoy a whale watching trip without worrying about that pesky little thing called sea sickness. Plus, who wouldn’t want the opportunity to see a baby whale having the time of its life?
Need some more excuses to get outdoors? Check out the best hikes in and around Brisbane here.
Image credit: Yalingbila Tours (supplied)