Whale watching in Sydney is possible from April through December. You might spot an isolated animal or group during the other three months of the year, but you are bound to see the giants of the sea from April through December. Because of the ease of seeing them and how close they get to the coast, Sydney whale watching tours account for one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry. The great beasts have been known to come right into Sydney Harbour and nearby Botany Bay. Botany Bay is where the airport is located, and if the timing is right, you can see whales on your take-off or landing.
The months for Sydney whale sightings vary depending on the species. The humpbacks whales feed in the Antarctic seas during the North American winter. They make a huge clockwise circle, passing eastern Australia in each direction. Here, they stop to breed, calve, and enjoy the warm waters until it is time to head back to or away from Antarctica. For many, the best whale watching in Sydney is from April to mid-August, when the humpbacks are coming north to give birth and mate in the waters of the Coral Sea, which extends all the way north past the Great Barrier Reef and to Indonesia. This is the period when the currents often lure them right into the harbor, passing majestically under the Harbour Bridge. This Is a good time to spot pods of them from the shore. From mid-August to mid-December, they are heading south again, usually a bit farther offshore. However, mothers and newborns are quite apt to hug the coast beginning sometime in mid-October while they rest and feed.
Even though southern right whales are not as common as humpbacks, there are excellent Sydney whale sightings of them because they are more visible and tend to hang out around the boats longer. They are even more apt to come right into the harbor and Botany Bay. Surfers along Bondi Beach and the beaches north of that along the Gold Coast can spot right whales only a couple dozen feet from shore. Paddle out far enough while you are surfing, and you might find yourself right next to one.
Sydney whale watching tours will often find other species. Minke whales, killer whales, and pilot whales are often seen. By June and July, the dwarf minke have reached the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, and there are swim-with-whale programs offered from Cairns and Port Douglas during this time. More rarely there are Sydney whale sightings of blue (the giant of the whale species), fin, and sei whales, sometimes sperm whales, which tend to stay about twenty nautical miles offshore. Whale watching in Sydney will also often reveal dolphins—both common and bottlenose—throughout the year. These playful, friendly creatures can easily be seen from shore.
Sydney whale watching tours generally board from Circular Quay (located between the Sydney Opera House and the Rocks), as well as Darling Harbour, Manly, and Botany Bay. There are several excellent lookout points on land around Botany Bay National Park, just across the bay from the New South Wales Golf Course where golf enthusiasts are apt to be distracted by sightings during the best part of the season. Many of the whale watching tour operators will guarantee sightings during June and July, with full refunds if none of the great creatures are spotted.
Image: L McGillivray; Tourism NSW