Hervey Bay and Whale watching

Trip Start Apr 30, 2004
Trip End Jan 28, 2005

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Monday October 4th - Day 160
Hervey Bay is reputedly one of the worlds top places for whale watching, but following a run this morning its easy to see why its also renowned as a pensioners paradise and a popular holiday destination for Queensland families. It's extremely flat, sprawling and full of wide, quiet, bungalow lined avenues. There are endless caravan sites, 10km of sandy beach and an esplanade filled with gift shops, take aways, bars and restaurants. It's like Bournemouth but with good weather.

With maybe a dozen companies offering similar whale watching trips on similar boats, it's a case of picking one and keeping your fingers crossed.

We chose a company called Whalesong for a 1 - 5pm trip. All the companys pick you up and drop you back at your accomodation. The boats are big and fast and can hold between 50 and 70 people. This is Australia so everything is organised, efficient, safe and good fun. Everyone quickly boarded, a quick safety chat and then you're off, out of Urangan harbour into Hervey Bay.

From August 1 to November 1 whale sightings are guaranteed, or you get another free trip.

Just to the east of Hervey Bay is Fraser Island, the worlds biggest sand island. The northern half of Fraser acts as a huge windbreak for Hervey Bay and it's near to Fraser in an area called Platypus Bay that many of the whales can be seen. Between the end of July and early November up to 4000 humpback whales enter the bay, on the return leg ogf their annual migration between Antartica and N.Eastern Australia.

Having mated and given birth in the warm northerly waters, they head south in groups of about 7 - 12 (pulse). On arrival in Hervey Bay they split into groups of 2 or 3 (pods). Experts believe these warm shallow waters are used by the adult whales for rest and recuperation and also offers the new calves the time to develop the layers of blubber needed to survive the icy southern ocean. The calves drink around 600 litres of milk a day, the milk is 40% fat and the calves increase their weight by 50kg per day. So
Hervey is no place for weight watchers, unless you're a mother whale, who remarkably doesn't feed at all throughout the whole migration south.

Another wierd fact about Hervey Bay is that humpbacks main predators, the Orca and the Great white Shark, don't come near, they're left in peace.

Although the boats are doing about 20 knots, it still takes an hour and a half to reach Platypus Bay. The sea was quite choppy so it was difficult to see the whales blowing, but we were soon amongst them.

During the afternoon we were lucky enough to watch two seperate mother and calves and also follow a pod of seven whales. The boats approach slowly and once reasonably close, just kind of drift. It's up to the whales whether they come closer or not. The boats are strictly monitored and all captained by people with a deep love for the whales. The whales aren't slightly bothered and are often extremely inquisitive.

It's difficult to describe the thrill of seeing a 15 metre long, 45 tonne whale up close.

They are enormous, majestic, fascinating, graceful, awesome mammals, that were hunted to near extinsion in the 1950's. And now their numbers are slowly increasing, those wankshaft whalers from Japan and Norway are applying to be able to hunt them again. Arses.

Ashore once more we hunted our dinner at the supermarket, and later Rene's previous nights anguish at missing Australia's version of Pop bone Idol turned to joy, when a bleedin hour long results show came on.

Expenses (A$2.5/pound): Accom 62.10, Internet 2, Supermarket 21.70, whale watching 156.

Tuesday October 5th - Day 161
As soon as we returned from yesterdays whale watching we booked another trip for today, and by doing so we were given a free early morning run tomorrow.

The conditions were a little quieter as we motored out to Platypus Bay for what was to be another top notch, whale watch experience. During the morning we were lucky enough to witness a varied range of whale interactions and behaviour. We saw mothers and calves resting, feeding and playing, a pod of 6 amorous males pursuing and showing off to a young female and a mother and calf with their male escort. The escort initially considered the boat to be a rival for the females attention and we were treated to a fantastic display of aggressive tail slapping. At around 5 metres across, the tail makes quite a splash. At one point, the male swam on the surface, directly towards the boat and at the last moment dived underneath, resurfacing behind the vessel. He was just checking us out, and seeing him front on and so close was thrilling and more than a little unnerving, we got a true indiciation of the enormous girth and length of a 45 tonne whale before it disappeared beneath our feet.

A great morning, and as we powered back towards Hervey Bay our thoughts had already turned to tomorrows 5.30am trip.

An afternoon spent blending in beautifully with the parading pensioners. We walked along the esplanade, strolled back along the sand and sat and watched the Pelicans who patrol the beach. If we'd have had them with us, a blanket would have been spread over our legs and a flask of tea opened, but we didn't.

At dusk, I walked about a mile to a large supermarket to buy some provisions. There are two laned pedestrian / cycle paths throughout Hervey Bay, many of them are tree lined and are well away from the roads. Near the supermarket was a row of large mature trees, whose branches were packed with roosting birds. Although they were as noisy as rooks, these parrots were rainbow coloured.

At home the only time you'd see a parrot would be in a pathetic little cage, so it was quite a spectacle to see thousands in the trees.

Expenses: Accom 58.60, supermarket 13.65, internet 2, laundry 2, whale watching 160.


Wednesday October 6th - Day 162
The alarm woke us at 4.15am and by 5.30am we were safely aboard the Volante IV for our dawn cruise. A huge fireball of a sun rose majestically from behind Fraser Island as we set off for Platypus Bay and our third and final whale watching cruise. It was beautiful.

This boat was the largest and most luxurious of the three we had sailed and with the least number of people on board conditions were perfect.

It wasn't long after entering the bay that our beedy-eyed captain spyed our first pod of whales. We were truly in heaven as the crew served us hot cheese and tomatoe croissants while 2 mothers nad their calves treated us to an amazing display of aqua aerobics. Mums went first showing the little ones the skills and tricks they would need for a life in the ocean waves. Diving, tail slapping, rolly polly's and flipper splashing were all on display and the calves seemed to delight in copying and then practising all that their mums taught them. It was like super sized sychronised swimming competition between the calves, for which I could only award top marks every time. Simply stunning.

Trying to describe whale watching is like trying to recount a funny story, you kind of had to be there to experience the magic.

As we sailed around the bay we were constantly met by mums and calves. Some quietly feeding in the distance, others playful and curious and right up close. It was an incredible morning and even shorty, our 6 foot captain, was excited at the quality of the viewing we had experienced. As he regretfully turned the boat and headed for home he explained the only whale manouevre we hadn't seen was a full breach (when the whale dives head first right out of the water) but we couldn't have cared, we were delighted.

THen lady luck dealt us an ace and as the boat verred at a right angle and moved into full throttle the captain eagerly informed us of a mother and a calf breaching in the distance. By the time we arrived mum was all out of energy, she burns 2000 calories every time she powers her 45 tonnes head first out of the water. But her calf seemed thrilled with his new trick and his captivated audience, diving nice and deep, silence and calm waters for 2 or 3 minutes and then an explosion of sheer power and force as he shattered the surface, nose first, before bombong back down beneath the water. Truly awesome, it was the finale we han't bee nexpecting and it took my breath away.

As we headed back to Hervey I became accutely aware that I had been waiting for this moment since my first whale sighting 5 years earlier in Hermanus, South Africa. But in all my day dreams I had never imagined anything quite as amazing. I'd been blown away and somewhat overwhelmed. Whales do that to me.

We whiled away the rest of the day before taking a walk at dusk accompanied by the sound of nesting paraqueets and as the sun disappeared over the horizon the swooping friot bats.

A very special day.

Expenses: Accom 58.60, food 13.45, post 6, toiletries 5.20, wax 32.
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