The Hervey Bay Guide to Whale Watching

picToday I’m thrilled to welcome Jacinta Padgett, an environmental scientist with a passion for environmental education.

Jacinta’s recently started blogging at  Diary of an Eco Traveller and is here to talk all-things-whale-watching!

If you ever get the chance to go whale watching, the one place you definitely need to be is Hervey Bay. Located approximately 300 km north of the Queensland capital, Brisbane, Hervey Bay hasn’t earned the reputation for being the whale watch capital of the world for nothing.

Every year, between July and November, thousands of humpback whales make their way into the calm, protected waters on the western side of Fraser Island known as Platypus Bay. This is where the whales stay and play on their way back to Antarctica, after spending the winter months up north to mate and give birth to their calves. This is also where the most amazing wildlife encounter you may ever possibly have in your life will happen. I know that’s a big call, but it’s true.

Imagine a fully grown humpback whale sidling up to your boat, rolling over and looking you straight in the eye! Or being so close that you feel as though you can virtually reach out and touch them (you’re not allowed to do that, by the way).

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I’ve been whale watching plenty of times before – in fact I still can’t believe that I used to get paid to do it – and I still get a rush of adrenaline each and every time I see them. It’s a fantastic experience, and one that keeps me (and plenty of others) going back again and again.

Whale watching in Hervey Bay is unlike anywhere else, and it is certainly something you will undoubtedly remember for a very long time. Before you head off on your adventure though, there are a few things you need to know. With that in mind, here is Hervey Bay’s comprehensive guide to whale watching:

1. You need to leave your inhibitions on the mainland
Humpback whales are curious creatures. To draw their attention you need to make yourself interesting to them. What does that mean, I hear you ask. Well, basically you need to wave your arms around like your life depends on it and make lots of noise. They love that.

If you are a bit shy and reserved, just remember that you will more than likely never see the people you are on the boat with again. If you make a fool of yourself in front of them will it really matter? No, it won’t and you’ll have a much better time for it. And they’ll all be doing exactly the same thing anyway.

2. You should wear a good pair of walking / running shoes
You will do A LOT of moving around the boat, and will more than likely engage in a game of what I like to call humpback hide-and-seek! If you are not familiar with the rules of this game, they go something like this: the whale swims under the boat, everyone on board hurries across the deck to the other side waiting for it to appear. The whale briefly comes up for air, then dives down again and swims back under the boat, popping up on the other side.

Everyone dashes across to see it. The whale then dives down and swims underneath the boat … and so on and so forth. I’m sure you get the picture.

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3. You may get mugged
The whales will often approach vessels and stay close, interacting with the people on board for significant periods of time (see previous point re: humpback hide-and-seek). This thrilling behaviour is known as ‘mugging’.

Who would have thought you could be mugged by a whale! And enjoy it!

4. The whales will be watching you, as much as you are watching them
Anecdotal evidence suggests that over the past few decades whale behaviour around boats within Hervey Bay has changed. During the early days of whale watching, whales would shy away from vessels. Females in particular would put themselves between the vessel and her calf. Now the story is completely different.

Indeed, it is often a case of ‘who is watching who’.

Females will now push their calves toward excited whale watchers. Having a 40 tonne whale showing you her calf is certainly awe-inspiring, and something you will remember for a long time to come.

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5. You may get covered in whale snot!
It is not pleasant, but it makes for a great story to tell your friends and family.

The ‘blow’ is usually the first thing whale watchers see. It is the exhalation of air, mucous and carbon dioxide from the whale’s lungs. As it is released, water vapour condenses and forms a misty spray.

While the whales are swimming alongside your boat they will be constantly coming to the surface to breathe. If you are unfortunate enough to be leaning over the side of the boat when they do just that, you will end up with a face full of whale snot! I speak from experience when I say it is disgusting and smelly if it happens to you. But is absolutely hilarious if it happens to someone else!

Regardless of whether or not you follow the suggestions I’ve outlined you will no doubt have a fantastic time with the whales, and will walk away with wonderful memories of some absolutely amazing animals.

I highly recommend spending time with them. It is something you will not regret. I promise.

Ed. For details of whale watching tours check out… Visit Fraser Coast.

Migaloo Starlight Swing

I need to share this before I go any further….

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Yes, it’s true. I assumed that the final event of the The Whale Festival involved an actual swing. I didn’t quite flesh-out the image in my own mind… but some sort of fairy-lit giant swing actually seemed and sounded quite romantic. And fun.

However, I soon discovered that the aforementioned ‘swing’ had little to do with the things-found-in-parks, and more to do with music and dance. #Woteva!

As Pier Park is a short wander from my place I decided it was a Must-Do and made arrangements with a friend.

I have to admit that I hadn’t seen a lot of publicity beforehand – other than stuff on Facebook, which I shared – but it was there I discovered that those keen to get in the mood should dress up: white frocks (in honour of Migaloo) for the ladies and bow ties and so forth for the gents.

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I was both pleased (and frightened*) to see that some swing-night goers did take heed of the dress code and we did get to watch some dancing.

Pier Park looked absolutely gorgeous. It’s lovely at the best of times, but with additional tables and a picket fence and pretty lighting, the scene was quite magical.

My friend(s) and I discussed the need for a blanket to sit on but decided to take our chances. Indeed we were there early but missed out on tables and chairs (though probably could have invited ourselves to join those at tables with some empty chairs).

But… as we were Migaloo Starlight Swing virgins, we hadn’t realised there were no food stalls. Our diabolical plan was to eat, drink and listen to some music before waddling home. The Bayswater wine and beer stall had small antipasto platters, but (until Mr Whippy showed up) there were no other food options other than (very busy) nearby cafes.

We contemplated heading into Pavilion by the Pier, but it was closed for a private event; so we left the event a lot earlier than planned in search of dinner.

Again, it’s just a lesson for new-players and like my learnings from the Seafood Festival, something we’ll know for next year (ie. make own food / take picnic / order from local cafes earlier for easy pick-up).

I think there were to be some other musicians later in the night, but the big band we heard playing was fabulous and the music great – particularly if you’re into swing / jazz etc.

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Best of all, the Bay had turned on its charm and offered up a lovely evening… farewelling the Whale Festival and winter in spectacular fashion.

* I know this will make me sound like a biatch, but there were a few scary Bride of Frankenstein types. I’m all for raiding the local Op Shops, but some of the dresses / looks were reminiscent of Great Expectations’ Miss Havisham, resplendent in her decaying wedding dress and holed up in her dilapidated mansion! I wouldn’t be surprised if some peeps didn’t pull out their 40yr old debutante dresses! Fun but slightly tragic.

Any other suggestions for Migaloo Starlight Swing newbies?

Hervey Bay Seafood Festival

Today, along with 45 million other people, I ventured along to the Hervey Bay Seafood Festival. (Yes okay…  I may be exaggerating. A little. There were only 35 million.)

I had such an amazing time at the Relish Food and Wine Festival I was quite excited by the prospect of one of the Whale Festival‘s premiere events – and it didn’t disappoint.

Of course I don’t really eat seafood, which is kind-of a bummer when you are attending a seafood festival – but in this case it didn’t matter.

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Festival admission cost $5 for adults (free for kids) and it had something for everyone with free kids’ activities as well as some jumping castles and the like. My friend’s little boy was delighted with a balloon creature wound tightly about his wrist lest it drift off into the ether.

I wasn’t sure how three stages would fit into Fishermen’s Park but it somehow worked with the main stage (very loud and very popular) along with cooking demonstrations and a smaller stage with more *ahem* refined music (at least while I was there).

dinnerThe Tastes of the Bay dinner booked out quickly and everyone I glimpsed inside the tent seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Not to be outdone, my friends and I partook in a frozen margarita drink – perfect given how bloody hot it was.

We were all Seafood Festival virgins, so unprepared for the crowds. Unlike Relish where food and drinks could be consumed anywhere, the area in which alcohol could be consumed was more limited (which was a bit of a shame) and with chairs and tables taken long before, we stood about uncomfortably to scoff our very-welcome drinks.

Without our own seating or rugs it was a bit difficult to just ‘hang around’ and the queues at most food stalls meant we decided against eating there.

We did order some wine from Kingaroy’s Crane Wines who were again popular and I’m already anticipating the arrival of some sparkling shiraz in coming days or weeks.

I’ll definitely head along to the Festival next year, although I will be more prepared (having had my Seafood Festival-going cherry popped this year). Getting in early to find  a ‘base’ or taking your own chairs / table / rugs seems sensible and would permit you to get comfortable and stay longer. Of course, booking early to get to the Tastes of the Bay lunch could also be ideal for seafood lovers.

I love that so many locals and visitors (alike) turned out to support the Festival and now eagerly await the remaining Whale Festival activities.

I hope other attendees had a fabulous time and will be back again next year!

Life in a Tourist Town

(First published 5 February 2013)

Three months have passed since I moved into my esplanade apartment at Hervey Bay, and I have just survived my first holiday period as a local* amongst a throng of holidaymakers.

viewThe biggest fear I had about my choice of ‘home’ was that – my esplanade view and lovely modern accomodations would be counteracted by living in an apartment complex which would possibly be home to noisy holidaymakers on a regular basis.

I’m not, you see, the most (ahem) tolerant of people… so I had visions of myself screaming at drunken tenants partying at 1am or devil-possessed children frolicking about our complex pool.

But, I have to confess – it hasn’t been as bad as I expected.

Sure there were the guys in the apartment below me trying to channel Freddy Mercury before dinner one night; and there were a few badly behaved children in the pool – torturing siblings or crying hysterically about some world crisis or another. (Bloody little sooks!) And of course, the place in general has being busier than usual with overflowing caravan parks and beachside apartments.

But, on the whole… it was quite pleasant to see my new home AND hometown being enjoyed by so many visitors.

The people-watching is surprisingly interesting and has the potential to be quite exciting. Like Hotel. Or Adventure Island. Or Melrose Place. Or similar.**

poolI got a giggle out of a couple of oldies who seemed to strike up a bit of a romance friendship at the poolside. And smiled every time another guest headed off to the local pier with his fishing rod and supplies (and came home empty-handed); proud that my new hometown offered such simple pleasures.

And then there’s the opportunity to chuckle in a smug superior manner when visitors do those silly things that cause we locals to roll our eyes. “Tourists!” we groan.

And now… school’s back in and the Vacancy signs are again littering the esplanade as the holidaymakers have headed back to their own part of the world.

Although I haven’t been too disrupted by our visitors, I must confess I much prefer having the place and the town to ‘ourselves’ again.

There’ll be no more queueing for a table at the Boat Club for a while, no need to book at pub down the road and no need forpatience at the overflowing playgrounds. And the supermarkets will again (mostly***) belong to we locals.

* I grew up nearby so feel I can call myself a local despite having only lived here for thee months!
** There could be a TV series in this!
*** I say mostly because I DO live in a beachside town so there are always a few overseas tourists and weekend vacationers here.

PS. Am showing my age and channeling The Dream Academy’s Life in a Northern Town in the title. In case you didn’t get the way-too-clever reference!

And your thoughts…Tourists: love em or hate em?