Words and images by Destination Coffs Coast
It’s early morning at the Coffs Harbour Marina and the first glimpses of morning sun kiss the ocean as local fishing boats crawl back to the harbour after a long night.
A refreshing chill is in the salty air as resident seagulls guard their domain in hungry anticipation.
For Mike Davey from Jetty Dive, this is ‘magic hour’. He heads out into the deeper waters that have been his playground for more than 20 years. Mike knows the ocean landscape intimately and navigates his vessel past Muttonbird Island and into the blue of the Solitary Islands Marine Park. He cuts the outboard motor and waits. Silence. Solitude.
Soon, the quiet is broken by the familiar blow of a lone humpback whale porpoising nearby. Casting an eye on the horizon of the pristine Pacific Ocean, Mike sees the tell-tale sprays of migratory whales as they signal their arrival to the Coffs Coast, en route to North Queensland.
Mornings prove to be prime time for viewing these inquisitive giants; the rising sun shimmering against their massive form as they breach and dive in an aquatic-acrobatic show.
Experiencing this display in person is one of the most profound of all wildlife experiences and the Coffs Coast is fast becoming a renowned destination for world-class interaction with whales.
From May to October, humpback whales habitually turn on a show of spectacular surfacing behaviours; from slapping their fins and tails to spy-hopping and breaching. Occasionally, they are accompanied by their rarer relatives, Southern Right, Sperm and Minke whales, creating a once in a lifetime experience for keen-eyed whale watchers.
After extensive research, planning and pioneering, Mike and the team from Jetty Dive are now offering interactive whale experience, unique to the Coffs Coast.
Jetty Dive’s ‘Swim with the Humpback Whales Tour’ is a non-intrusive experience which respects the natural migratory passage of the whales and ensures that their well-being is a priority.
And it appears that our fascination is reciprocal. “If we feel the whales are curious enough to see us, we position the boat at the distance required by regulations and allow the snorkelers to enter the water. Whether or not you see the whales in the water is entirely up to these beautiful mammals,” says Mike.
For the less intrepid whale watcher who prefers to stay dry, several professional whale watching tours run daily from Coffs Harbour during the season. Local operators have an ardent appreciation of the whales and their marine environment and are dedicated to protecting both.
The beauty of the Coffs Coast during whale watching season is the many natural viewing platforms – those stunning, vast headlands which allow people to watch the whales frolic at sea or in protected inlets.
“You could be walking up Muttonbird Island for those spectacular 360 degree panoramic views of beach and rainforest when you’ll suddenly glimpse the dorsal fins of a pod of whales cruising by,” says Mike.He adds, “Sometimes the number of whales we see makes the ocean look like a humpback highway as they make their journey to Antarctica for summer feeding before returning to warmer waters to breed and give birth.”
As a seasoned whale watcher, he offers a final word of advice to all those seeking whales out from land or sea; “Whales have a way of connecting us to nature. When you watch a whale leaping from the pristine waters of the Coffs Coast and slowly spiral in joy, remember to put down the camera for just a moment and immerse yourself in this truly transformative experience.”
Best viewing locations on the Coffs Coast
- Boambee Headland and Boambee Beach
- Sawtell Headland and Bongil Bongil National Park
- Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve – adjacent to the Coffs Harbour Marina
- Moonee Beach Nature Reserve and Look At Me Now Headland – near Emerald Beach
- Woolgoolga Headland
- Arrawarra Headland
Coffs Coast Whale Watching Tour Operators
Pacific Explorer – www.pacificexplorer.com.au
Jetty Dive – www.jettydive.com.au
Jetty Dive also offers guests the opportunity to swim with humpback whales.