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TRAVEL & LEISURE

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 posis.
By Marissa Ciampi
May 18, 2016
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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 posis.
By Marissa Ciampi
May 18, 2016
  shares

in partnership with

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, brydes 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.

Caves-Beach-Lake-Macquarie-NSW

Robert Montgomery via Flickr

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-Flickr

Peter Boer via Flickr

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 is 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.

nambucca-heads-flickr

Michael Dawes via Flickr.

NAMBUCCA HEADS

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 towards 'beaches' at the Post Office in town, then follow the signs to the lookouts for some great whale spotting and/or picnic spots.

Sawtell-Beach-Coffs-Harbour-Flickr

Geoffrey Rhodes via Flickr

SAWTELL HEADLANDS, COFFS HARBOUR

To the north of Bongil Bongil National Park is the 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-Flickr

Andrea Schaffer via Flickr

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 Giidayn Miiral (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.

bouddi-national-park-sydney

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 during May and July and in September through October when they make their return trip along the coast, while southern right whales migrate during late July. The eight-kilometre walk itself 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, part of why the whale migration is so prevalent here. While you're there, check out our guide to Bouddi and Copacabana.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

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 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.

russellstreet via Flickr

russellstreet via Flickr

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.

Barranjoey-Lighthouse-track-Palm-Beach-Sydney

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

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 is only open Sundays from 10am till 4pm, but is 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 site to behold. The simultaneous city and sea lookouts also allow for an unique viewing experience — so be sure to remember your binoculars for this one.

Top image: Cole Hutson. 

Published on May 18, 2016 by Marissa Ciampi

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