When it comes to whale watching, few places in the world offer as many opportunities as the coast of New South Wales. From May to October, more than 30,000 gentle giants pass by during their annual migration from Antarctica to the warmer waters of north Queensland, where they mate and give birth. The 5,000-km route has become known as the “Humpback Highway,” but if you’re lucky, you may also see southern right whales, orcas, or minke whales.
With migration numbers believed to be as low as a few hundred before commercial whaling was banned in the 1960s, the rise is a conservation success story. So, pack your binoculars and a picnic lunch and get to a headland, or book a whale watching cruise. On a good day, you may even come across a giant pod with up to 90 whales, or see some breaching or spy hopping to get a look at you too. Here are some of the best whale watching spots in New South Wales.
This town on NSW’s far south coast has a long association with humpback whales thanks to the calm, nutrient-rich waters of Twofold Bay that make it an attractive place for the mammals to stop for a break en route. The Eden Whale Festival is held each year, and it’s also home to the Eden Killer Whale Museum, where you can learn about the area’s whaling history and see the 6.7-metre-long skeleton of the legendary orca Old Tom, who helped fishermen herd baleen whales into the bay and kill them in exchange for offcuts at the turn of the century. Several viewpoints can be found in Ben Boyd National Park, and you can also hike along the Wajurda Point walking track to the lookout in Mimosa Rocks National Park or head to the lookout at North Tura in Bournda National Park for a look.
This spot is just 10 minutes south of Eden and provides full privacy with grassy riverfront campsites. Paddle out to nearby Twofold Bay to search for whales.
This Eden campsite is all about the water—set on top of Nethercote Falls, Yowaka has a number of swimming holes.
Halfway along the migration route, Jervis Bay serves as a kind of nursery for females to rest, play, and teach their calves whale behaviours before returning home. The bay is shaped like a claw that juts out into deep ocean, which means there are great viewing opportunities from land. Try the north and south headlands of Jervis Bay, as well as Ulladulla and Culburra Beach. Alternatively, you can book a whale watching season day trip with one of the region’s eco-cruise operators.
Just across the road from Conjola National Park, this Berrara bush camp is within walking distance of the Tasman Ocean at Kirby’s Beach.
Spend the night 10 minutes inland of Jervis Bay for a pet-friendly bush camp experience to go along with your fun on the water.
Australia’s biggest city is probably the most accessible place to spot whales in the country. The North and South Heads of Sydney Harbour are good places to start—you can book a whale watching cruise from Darling Harbour to sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, past the opera house, and out through the heads into the open ocean to try to see them up close. You might also spot New Zealand fur seals basking on the rocks beneath the city’s sandstone clifftops. To escape the city streets without going too far, head to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and keep an eye out for whales from Palm Beach’s Barrenjoey Lighthouse.
Forty-five minutes from Sydney CBD, Calabash Haven is open to tents, caravans, trailers, and more, with valley views and easy access to Northern Sydney’s Berowra Waters.
Tents, caravans, cottages, and vacation rentals—Pure Valley Estate provides option. The two-bedroom Scribbly Gum Cottage (pictured above) lies just outside Sydney and offers picture-perfect views from the deck.
On the Central Coast, check out Norah Head Lighthouse, Gerrin Point Lookout, and Marie Byles Lookout along the coastal walk in Bouddi National Park, or Captain Cook Lookout at Copacabana. Crackneck Lookout and Pelican Beach Road lookout in Wyrrabalong National Park are other excellent whale spotting bases. Cruises also depart from a number of locations in the region, including Ettalong, Terrigal and Forresters Beach.
On the Central Coast, Racecourse Camp is in a prime location, just a five-minute walk away from Racecourse Beach on the Racecourse Headland. Pitch a tent on the coast, spot whales, and get lulled to sleep by the ocean waves.
South of Newcastle on Belmont Bay is Permaculture Grove, The Paddock at Belmont’s wide open, grassy space for caravans, tents, and camper trailers. Redhead Beach is just a five-minute drive away, and don’t miss the on-site vegetable garden, where you can pick your own goods.
Solitary Island Marine Park’s pristine and sheltered waters are another draw for whales. The protected area extends north from Coffs Harbour to Sandon River along about 75 kilometres of the NSW coast. Some of the best vantage points include the lookout on the eastern side of Muttonbird Island, Look at Me Now Headland, Woolgoolga Headland, and Arrawarra Headland. You can also see them south of Coffs Harbour from Boambee Head and Bonville Head at Sawtell, and at Bundagen Head in Bongil Bongil National Park. Several whale watching cruise operators are also based in Coffs Harbour.
Grab your group and head to this 230-acre campground for direct access to Lower Bucca State Forest, farm animals, and all that nearby Coffs Harbour has to offer. Moonee Beach is just a 10-minute drive away.
Stay in a lakefront studio on the banks of a saltwater estuary creek. The best part? You can take a quick walk across a footbridge to reach a wide, flat surfing beach just 300 metres away. Keep walking and you’ll reach Woolgoolga town centre and all its shops and restaurants.
Sitting at Australia’s most easterly point, Byron Bay’s landmark Cape Byron Lighthouse is one of the best places to spot whales in Australia, with expansive ocean views over the turquoise waters that have helped make the north coast’s former hippy haven a hot spot for visitors. But you’ll find plenty of other great spots for whale sightings in the region, including the viewing platforms at Angels Beach, Flat Rock and Skennars Head south of the town, and Lighthouse Hill at Ballina.
This no-frills campground is surrounded by trees that break out onto Skennars Head coastline and nearby Boulder Beach. Head into town for goods—either 25 minutes north to Byron Bay or 10 minutes south to Ballina—then hit the beach and keep an eye out for whale spouts.
A historic dairy farm in the hinterlands surrounding Byron Bay? Sign us up. Choose to bring your caravan or tent, and take delight in seeing the farm animals.
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