The Ten Best Spots for Whale Watching on the NSW Coast
Grab your binoculars, some snacks and a little bit of patience and head to these prime whale spotting locations.
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Whale watching season is upon us, and the New South Wales coast is one of the best spots in the world to catch these majestic creatures in action. From May to November, the Pacific Coast migration goes from south to north and back again as the whales seek warmer water for the winter months. While humpbacks are the most documented, you might be lucky enough to catch orcas, bryde's whales and southern right whales as well — and all without having to step foot from dry land. From Sydney to Byron, we've put together a list of all the best spots to stake out and catch a glimpse of the majestic sea creatures. Binoculars, hiking shoes, snacks and picnic blankets recommended.
From pristine beaches and bountiful wine regions to alpine hideaways and bustling country towns, Australia has a wealth of places to explore at any time of year. We've partnered with Tourism Australia to help you plan your road trips, weekend detours and summer getaways so that when you're ready to hit the road you can Holiday Here This Year.
While regional holidays within NSW are now allowed, some of the places mentioned below may still be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please check websites before making any plans.
CAVES BEACH COASTAL WALK, LAKE MACQUARIE
Along the coast, just before Newcastle, lies the whale watcher's haven that is Caves Beach. The coastal bushland trek is an easy trail that ends in the clifftops above the beach. It's best for watching the northern migration from May till July as there are plenty of lookouts along the track to watch the whales as they pass by on the way to their destination. The southern end of the beach is also home to a group of sea caves that are accessible at low tide and should not be missed.
PAT MORTON LOOKOUT, LENNOX HEAD
Lennox Head is an ideal location for hang gliding, watching surfers and spotting the odd dolphin. If it is whales you're after though, head to the top of Lennox Point at Pat Morton Lookout. The expansive views over the Pacific and Seven Mile Beach are where you'll spot the migration — and it's also the best point from which to see surfers catch the famous right-hand break down on the beach. Pack a picnic for this grassy knoll as you'll want to stay a while.
Park yourself on the various headlands of popular holiday town Nambucca Heads if you're looking to catch a glimpse of our giant passing friends. The Captain Cook Lookout, Lions Lookout and Headland Lookout are located in the eastern side of town and have epic ocean views to the south and north. Turn at the 'beaches' sign at the Post Office in town, then keep following the signs to the lookouts for some great whale spotting and picnic spots.
SAWTELL HEADLANDS, COFFS HARBOUR
To the north of Bongil Bongil National Park is Sawtell Beach and headlands, where the coastal views are worth a visit any time of the year but are most popular during whale watching season. You can view the humpback migration from a grassy picnic spot as the headlands allow both northern and southern views. Just ten kilometres from Coffs Harbour, the beachside town is also a popular spot for a swim or surf. While you're here, check out Sailors Bay at low tide, when you'll be able to reach the tidal rock pools.
MUTTONBIRD ISLAND, COFFS HARBOUR
Muttonbird Island is a spectacular spot for whale watching and a must-visit if you're in the Coffs Harbour area. Known as Giidany Miirlarl (or 'moon sacred place') by local Gumbaynggirr people, the site is very significant and should be treated with great respect. Protected as a nature reserve and home to thousands of muttonbirds, you can reach the island via a breakwater that connects to the International Marina. Follow the 500-metre pathway to the far end of the island where you'll catch the best whale watching spots.
GERRIN POINT LOOKOUT, BOUDDI NATIONAL PARK
Located on the Bouddi Coastal Walk within the Bouddi National Park, Gerrin Point Lookout is an ideal location for whale watching. Humpback whales are often spotted between May and July and then September through October when they make their return trip along the coast, while southern right whales migrate during late July. The 8.5-kilometre walk allows for a swim in Maitland Bay — where you can view the PS Maitland shipwreck — and includes shady rainforest foliage for wildlife viewing. The 300-hectare national park is one of Australia's earliest marine protected areas, which is part of why the whale migration is so prevalent here. While you're there, check out our guide to Bouddi and Copacabana.
BROKEN HEAD NATURE RESERVE, NORTH COAST
The beaches at Broken Head Nature Reserve are uncharacteristically bordered by rainforest, and this unusual Australian terrain allows for views of both sea and forest-dwelling birdlife on the reserve. The Three Sisters walking track is the best for whale watching, where the rainforest slopes into secluded beaches. The headland tends to burst with wildflowers at this time of year as well, so natural beauty will be all around you. The history of the trail is worth a read along the way, starting with the Aboriginal story behind the three sisters' namesake.
CAPE BYRON LIGHTHOUSE, BYRON BAY
The Cape Byron Lighthouse is the most easterly point of Australia and a necessary part of any trip to Byron. The site booms during whale season, when the migration is caught in action from this great vantage point. Apart from whales, dolphins and turtles also migrate through this way and are regularly spotted from the cape. For history around the site and the migration, the Maritime Museum is open 10am to 4pm daily and is well worth a visit.
BARRENJOEY LIGHTHOUSE HEADLAND, PALM BEACH
Located 91 metres above sea level within the breathtaking Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Barrenjoey Lighthouse boasts unbroken views over (the ironically named) Broken Bay, the park and the Central Coast. Thanks to its height, the site is one of the most popular whale watching spots in NSW, which you can reach via a leisurely one-kilometre hike. If you're looking for a tougher trek, the short Smugglers Track will have you heavily breathing in the panoramic views when you reach the top. The lighthouse is a sight to behold in itself and retains its original sandstone finish from the 1800s — and if you like that, check out these ten lighthouses near Sydney.
NOBBYS HEADLAND, NEWCASTLE
The iconic Nobbys Headland boasts 360-degree views of Newcastle and the surrounding coast, offering the area's furthest views over the Pacific. The lighthouse grounds are only open Sundays from 10am till 4pm, but it's the perfect place not only for whale watching but also to catch a view of dolphins and seals. Watching so many majestic sea creatures migrate at once is truly a sight to behold. The simultaneous city and sea lookouts also allow for a unique viewing experience — so be sure to remember your binoculars for this one.
Whether you're planning to travel for a couple of nights or a couple of weeks, Holiday Here This Year and you'll be supporting Australian businesses while you explore the best of our country's diverse landscapes and attractions.
Top image: Cape Byron via Destination NSW
Published on June 29, 2020 by Marissa Ciampi