Whale Watching in Sydney, Australia (May to November)


Sydney, Australia is one of the best places in the world to spot whales because of its position along the migration path of the Group 5 Southern Hemisphere humpback whale population. These magnificent marine mammals can be spotted from land with a bit of luck and persistence but we wanted to make sure — it’s not every day one’s in Sydney during whale migration season, after all — and so we booked a whale watching cruise with Captain Cook.

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Captain Cook’s whale watching cruises depart daily at 1:30 PM from Circular Quay; on weekends, there’s an additional morning departure (10:15 AM). Tickets are usually 79 AUD per person but we booked a month ahead and were able to avail of their early bird rate of 39 AUD. What’s great about Captain Cook is they have a whale sighting guarantee: if you don’t spot one on your first cruise, you can go on another one for free. (You can check out their website for more information about whales and their whale watching cruises.)

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The seas were a bit rough and I’ll be honest, there were times I really thought I would have to use the barf bags that the staff were liberally handing out; but then again, I’m prone to motion sickness. H looked queasy for a good half hour then fell asleep and missed most of the cruise. My sister didn’t seem affected at all — just as well, as she’s an oceanographer — so I think the waves and the rocking boat will affect different people differently.

It’s also worth noting that Australia has strict rules regarding whale watching. The boats have to be a certain distance from a whale; they cannot stalk the whale, though if the whale stalks the boat, that’s fair game; there can only be three boats around a whale at a given time. These rules are actually being followed — take it from us, the fourth boat 😀 — so I don’t think the whales are being harmed in any way.

And, oh, the joy of watching and waiting and watching and waiting…

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…and suddenly seeing a whale breach!

(Seriously, watch the video. It’s less than half a minute.)

Even my sister, the marine scientist, was thrilled at all the breaches we got to see that day.

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Whale breaching | Whale watching in Sydney | Photo by Lei Solera
Photo by Lei Solera

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We also got to race with a pod of dolphins and watch a single seal float lazily in the sea.

I rarely call something a must-do because obviously people have different tastes but unless you: (a) regularly see whales at home, or (b) are the type of person who for some reason cannot find joy in witnessing such magnificence firsthand, then yes! Whale watching in Sydney is a must.

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2 thoughts on “Whale Watching in Sydney, Australia (May to November)”

  • Fantastic! I’ve booked my whale watching tour with Captain Cook for my trip. But it cost me A$49. Can’t wait. Did you take their harbour cruises?

    • Hi Edwin. That’s great! I didn’t get the chance to book their harbour cruise but I’m sure that’ll be nice too.

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