12 Best Beaches for Whale Watching in Queensland (UPDATED 2024)

Top coastal destinations and tours for nature & wildlife experiences

 

Best Places for Whale Watching in Queensland

 

Want to go whale watching in Queensland?

Well, here are my recommendations of the 12 best beaches in the Sunshine State to see them during their annual migration on the east coast of Australia.

They are presented in order from south of the Gold Coast to the north of Tropical North Queensland. Below is how the post is organised.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Best Beaches for Whale Watching in Queensland
2.1 Coolangatta Beach, Gold Coast
2.2 Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast
2.3 Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island
2.4 Tangalooma Beach, Moreton Island
2.5 Mooloolaba Beach, Sunshine Coast
2.6 Indian Head, K’gari
2.7 Hervey Bay
2.8 Lady Musgrave Island, Bundaberg
2.9 Keswick Island, Mackay Area
2.10 Magnetic Island, Townsville
2.11 Great Barrier Reef, Cairns
2.12 Cooktown
3. Whale Watching in Queensland Tours
4. Final Thought
5. FAQs

Please keep on reading below to find out all about these fabulous Queensland whale watching destinations you can visit.

(This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you).

Read Time: 8 Minutes

 

Introduction

Every year, between June and November, something special happens in the state of Queensland. Around 40,000 humpback whales embark on a journey from the freezing waters of Antarctica to the more inviting temperatures of the Coral Sea, up beyond Cairns in Tropical North Queensland.

Following a 5000 km route affectionately dubbed the humpback highway, these marine mammals – including the legendary Migaloo – come to give birth to their young and teach them the skills they need to survive and thrive in the underwater kingdom before making their way back towards the South Pole.

This east coast migration channel accommodates plenty of prime spots for viewing them via several coastal lookouts. Or better still through various boat tours that take you up close and personal with them.

If this is something you are interested in doing, here are the 12 best places to go whale watching in Queensland.

 

10 Things you didn't know about Humpback Whales

  • The average fully grown Southern Humpback whale measures 20 metres and weighs 40 tonnes
  • Newborn humpback whale calves typically weigh around 900 kg on average
  • Whales are able to hold their breath for upwards of 40 minutes
  • The tales of all individual humpback whales are unique
  • Humpback whales don't have teeth. Instead they have overlapping plates made from keratin
  • They swallow their food whole, as opposed to chewing it
  • Humpback whales sing and their songs can be heard 30 km away
  • Whales travel at a leisurely pace of around 5 to 15 km per hour
  • Peduncle is the scientific word for their thunderous tail slap
  • No two whale watching in Queensland experiences are the same
  • Best Beaches for Whale Watching in Queensland

    Want to go whale watching in Queensland? Here are 12 of the best coastal destinations to enjoy this spectacular nature and wildlife experience.

     

    Coolangatta Beach, Gold Coast

    As the humpbacks make their way up and down the entire length of the east coast of Australia the first place you will be able to go whale watching in Queensland is on the Gold Coast. More specifically at Coolangatta Beach, which is located at its southernmost point, on the border with Tweed Heads and New South Wales.

    The beach is known for its stunning beautiful golden sands and clear blue waters, which make a picturesque backdrop to spot these magnificent marine mammals.

    The best place to do this is from The Point Danger Lookout, which is situated high above the shoreline. It provides a prime spot to witness the first pods breaching and spouting (possibly in celebration) of entering the Sunshine State.

     

    Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast

    Coolangatta Beach might be the best known spot on the southern Gold Coast for witnessing the migrating humpback whales, but nearby Burleigh Heads Beach also provides fantastic opportunities for whale watching in Queensland.

    Between July and October, the Gold Coast whale watching season is in full swing and at this time, the elevated Burleigh Hill offers a brilliant spot to take it all in.
    As it presents unobstructed panoramic views of the Coral Sea, you should easily be able to see these gentle giants as they make their way along the east coast – even without binoculars.

    Another good vantage point is at the Tumgun Lookout, which is located in the Burleigh Head National Park. Alternatively, if you fancy stretching your legs, the scenic Ocean Walk that runs through it provides good viewing points too.

     

    Whale Watching Humpback Whales

     

    Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island

    As its the closest place to Queensland’s capital where you can enjoy land-based whale watching Brisbane locals often make their way to North Stradbroke Island, or Minjerribah as it is known in its indigenous language.

    Here, they don’t need to go on a whale watching in Queensland boat tour. Instead they can simply stroll along the North Gorge Walk to find a good spot around the cliffs at Point Lookout. Make sure you have your binoculars with you to give yourself the best chance of seeing them on dry land.

    If you want to see them up close, several tours will take you out into the surrounding waters of the Coral Sea, most of which leave from Brisbane or Redcliffe.

     

    Tangalooma Beach, Moreton Island

    Moreton Island is the world’s third-largest sand island in terms of landmass. It is also just happens to be one of the best spots for whale watching in Queensland.

    Located just 40 km northeast of the Brisbane CBD, the Tangalooma Island Resort provides a fantastic front-row seat to witness the majestic journey of the humpback whales migrating along the east coast of Australia.

    They offer wonderful guided whale-watching tours that provide up-close and personal views and fascinating insights into the behaviour of the whales and the significance of their migration.

    Their purpose-built vessels have underwater viewing windows and a unique platform that brings you to directly to eye-level with the whales as they swim gracefully by. It is a thrilling experience that will break you out into goosebumps.

     

    Queensland Whale Watching in Australia

     

    Mooloolaba Beach, Sunshine Coast

    After navigating their way past the Gold Coast and Brisbane, you’ll next be able to see the humpack whales on the Sunshine Coast, and more specifically around Mooloolaba Beach.

    Nearby Point Cartwright Lighthouse provides an excellent spot for whale watching in Queensland. However, on the bluff just past Briner Beach and before Alexandra Headland, where you’ll find the HMAS Lookout, is an even better place to see them.

    From there you will get a full, uninterrupted, sweeping view of the coastline from the lighthouse to Mudjimba Island and beyond. There are picnic tables and parking facilities here to utilise, if you want to set yourself up for the day.

    If you’d rather venture out to the water, Sunreef Mooloolaba is your best bet. They even let you swim with this beautiful creatures, at a safe distance, and see them under the surface of the water via snorkelling. Prepare to be amazed.

     

    Indian Head, K’gari

    K’gari, aka Fraser Island, is the world’s largest sand island. It is renowned worldwide for its unparalleled natural beauty and unique landscapes. But what can often get lost within the high sand dunes, shimmering lakes and dense rainforests is that it is a spectacular destination for whale watching in Queensland.

    The best place to do this on the island is Indian Head on its eastern side. It offers a dramatic, rocky vantage point that affords breathtaking views of the ocean and a perfect perch for spotting humpback whales during their migration season. From there you will be able to get terrific views of them frolicking offshore.

    If you are more interested in tours, the team on board Quick Cat II will ensure you have an unforgettable day out that includes plenty of close up views of the humpback whales.

     

    Whale Watching Humpback Whales Queensland

     

    Hervey Bay

    Hervey Bay, is often referred to as the ‘Whale Watching Capital of the World’, not least because it has been designated as the planet’s first official Whale Heritage site.

    In fact, it is safe to say Hervey Bay is actually the benchmark, not just for whale watching in Queensland, but for anywhere globally. It is the only place on earth where scientists have recorded whales temporarily pausing their migration, essentially just to hang out with each other in the safe and calm waters of the bay!

    Perhaps they know what makes Hervey Bay such a lovely place to visit.

    Given that up to 7000 humpback whales at a time relax in these waters, operators actually give you a guarantee that you will see them on their tours.

    There are several companies that will take you out to this part of the Coral Sea to view them, including Blue Dolphin Marine Tours who offer small, full-day, personalised excursions or Spirit of Hervey Bay, which offers fabulous underwater viewing rooms that kids, in particular, love.

     

    Lady Musgrave Island, Bundaberg

    The Southern Great Barrier Reef isn’t just one of the best places for whale watching in Queensland, but it is also a top spot for seeing turtles nesting and hatching and manta rays gliding around the Coral Sea.

    If you happen to be in and around Bundaberg and are wanting to see humpback whales, you should pay a visit to Lady Musgrave Island or nearby Heron Island. At both of these places, the magnificent creatures are regularly sighted.

    To get to either of them, you’ll need to leave on a boat tour, which may also include a bit of snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef.

    Alternatively, hop on a scenic flight which provides you with a unique aerial perspective of the migration, you won’t get in a vessel.

     

    Whale Watching is a popular activity at Hervey Bay

     

    Keswick Island, Mackay Area

    When driving from Brisbane to Cairns, the Mackay region is a popular overnight stop off point. And it seems the humpback whales like to linger in the area too.

    They can regularly be spotted around beautiful Keswick Island when embarking on their annual migration, which also takes them through the Whitsundays – generally between July and September.

    The site of the whales splashing about as you make your way through the Egremont Passage on the Wildcat Mackay adventure tour is one of the best whale watching in Queensland experiences you can have. Moreover, once you get to the island, you’ll be able to sit on Basil Bay beach or on any of its elevated headlands and take them in at your leisure.

     

    Magnetic Island, Townsville

    If you are fascinated by marine animals, then you should make your way to Magnetic Island, which is about 13.5 km off the mainland of Townsville.

    There, you’ll find sheltered bays that accommodate some of the best whale watching experiences in Queensland, as well the the potential for spotting Bottlenose Dolphins, Turtles, Dugong, Snub-fin Dolphins, Sea Eagles and Ospreys.

    SeaLink Magnetic Island is one of the many whale watching tour operators that will take you over to the best spots of the island to see these wonderful aquatic creatures and even enable you to get close to them.

    However, if you decide to stay on the island to check out its rugged beauty, there are several elevated viewpoints and isolated beach areas where you can get a glimpse of them.

     

    Whale Watching Humpback Whales QLD

     

    Great Barrier Reef, Cairns

    Typically, humpback whales arrive in the Cairns region of Tropical North Queensland between the months of July to September. At this time, many tours depart from the mainland to head out to the Great Barrier Reef where they can be seen enjoying the shelter provided by the reefs and the warm waters of the Coral Sea.

    Whale Watching Tours Cairns offer regular excursions that leave from The Pier, not far from the main Cairns Esplanade. They will take you out to various parts of the reef and possibly even past the likes of Green Island, Fitzroy Island and Dunk Island, for some of the best whale watching in Queensland experiences money can buy.

     

    Cooktown

    Probably the last, relatively (and I use that word in the loosest possible sense) easy-to-access destination for whale watching in Queensland is Cooktown, which is about 325 km north of Cairns and about 860 km from the tip of the Cape York Peninsula.

    Your best bet here is to catch a scenic flight, where you might be able to see the humpback whales in the Coral Sea.

    However, if you don’t have any luck, don’t worry. Head to Finch Bay, about 2 km from the centre of Cooktown to check out the incredible whale shaped boulder that resides on the water’s edge – affectionately known as Whale Rock.

    It bears such an uncanny resemblance that you’ll have to do a double-take!

     

    Whale Watching Qld in Australia

     

    Whale Watching in Queensland Tours

    If you are wanting to see humpback whales up close and personal, the best way to do this is through a guided tour.

    Throughout the Sunshine State, there are several companies that run boat tours and excursions for whale watching in Queensland that take you to all the destinations featured on this list.

    The right one for you will depend on your preferences and budget. However, you should check out what is available on Viator and Get Your Guide to see all of the best options currently available.

     

    Final Thought

    Queensland is privileged to accommodate one of nature’s most extraordinary sights – the annual migration from Antarctica of upwards of 40,000 humpback whales.
    From Coolangatta to Cooktown, there are plenty of places you can take in this incredible spectacle.

    It doesn’t matter if you do this via a whale-watching boat tour, helicopter ride, or simply watching them from the shore. The opportunity to view these magnificent ocean giants on their 5000 km annual migration up and down the Queensland coastline should be on everyone’s bucketlist.

     

    FAQs

    Here are some answers to popular frequently asked questions about whale watching in Queensland, Australia.

    When is the best time for whale watching in Queensland?

    Typically, you should be able to see humpback whales off coast of Queensland during the period of late spring and autumn. Usually, around July and August, they turn south, with about a 25% of the population heading to Hervey Bay. There, they provide unique visual spectacle of whale watching in Queensland from August to October.

     

    What time of day are whales most active?

    If you plan on going whale watching in Queensland, the best times to do this are in the morning or late afternoon. At this time, whales are typically most active, so it is the best time to see them.

     

    Where are some good places to go whale watching in Queensland?

    Some of the best places to go whale watching in Queensland include Coolangatta, Hervey Bay, Magnetic Island and Cape Tribulation.

     

    How long is the average whale watching in Queensland tour?

    The average length of time to set aside for a whale watching in Queensland tour will depend on the company you book with and where you are leaving from. However, generally speaking, most tours and excursions take about 3 to 4 hours from start to finish to complete.

     

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