If whale watching is on your bucket list, then you may want to consider stepping the experiences up a notch. Why just watch the gentle giants when you can get up close and personal for an experience of a life time!
That’s right, you can now swim with whales! Introduced this season, a selected number of tour operators in Hervey Bay are offering a unique and immersive encounter for you to dive into the deep blue sea and swim amongst these gracious humpback whales. You’ll be able to listen to their whale song and capture that all important ‘whalefie’.
Farley and I were planning on doing a whale watching tour but one morning whilst in Brisbane I heard about the whale swim experience on the Aussie News. A company called Hervey Bay Dive Centre was featured and they got me hooked. Whale watching 2.0!
Within minutes I was on the phone and had booked us in. Then ran to tell Sleeping Beauty aka Farley the exciting news. He didn’t share my excitement can you believe it! He was more concerned. “Steph whales are massive, what if they bash me with their tail” Well for starters, I’m suppose to be the health and safety freak and two life’s too short to say no!! I tell you his opinion of whale swimming has certainly changed now.
We’d booked for the afternoon of 15th August. The best time for whale swimming is July through to September. From September the tour is more focused on whale watching due to the number of calves they cannot swim with. Hervey Bay Dive Centre offer two tours a day, a morning and an afternoon slot, taking a maximum of 12 guest each time. When I went to book, most morning slots were fully booked. I was worried that this meant the afternoon tour may not be as good but trust me there is absolutely no difference between the two. It’s wild whales they are dealing with and always by chance what you may come across but trust me there are plenty of whales in Hervey Bay.
What I also loved about this tour was the low number of guests. It made for an intimate experience. We had a lovely group of people, all mixed ages indicating that whale swimming should be on everyone’s bucket list. The cost was $150 dollars per person, which if you ask me is only a little more than paying for just a whale watch…so why wouldn’t you go for it?!
On the day, after a lovely lie in and delicious brunch, we arrived at the Dive Centre office located in The Boat Club Marina of Hervey Bay. We met the team, we’re kitted out with wetsuits and flippers and were asked to sign a disclosure that basically said if we die it’s not their fault. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine! We then boarded our small boat with 10 other smiley faces, our guide Grant and Captain Ed. After a quick safety chat we sent sail to locate the whales!We were sailing for about 30-40 minutes before we came across any pods. Along the way we saw a few dolphins which was pretty amazing! Having never seen a whale before in person before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Soon enough the boat came to a stop, Ed cut the engine and Grant was pointing. And there right in front of me were two massive Humpbacks. I was in awe… Grant and Ed explained that we can’t just jump into the water with anything, and that we have to let the whales approach us. But to help encourage them over, we had to speak their language. All 12 of us were stood moving our arms to the movement of the whales, calling out to them in whale speak “hellllooooooo whaaaaaaalllllleeeeeeee”. I tell you, it would have been interesting to be a spectator on another boat watching us talk whale.
Even though we may have looked a bit peculiar, we must have done something right, because these gentle giants certainly liked the look of us. They were quick to approach the boat and were really rather inquisitive. They circled us a few times, twisting and turning. I was mesmerised. They wanted to play. Grant instructed us to get suited up, it’s time to go in! I was one of the last to get in the water, and I was pretty nervous about getting in. Not because of the massive whales that were present but because of what else could be in there and not being able to touch the bottom. For me, it was a massive achievement to step out of my comfort zone and get into the ocean. Boy would I have regretted it if I hadn’t.
I was in, with Farley next to me and we were both treading water. Snorkels on we went under and there right below us was the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. The most graceful whale. It was overwhelming and emotional. There are honestly no words to describe how unbelievable it was to be underwater swimming with these creatures. These two whales didn’t hang around for long, they had places to be and were soon disappearing into the distant ocean. We boarded the boat, all of us amazed at what we’d just witnessed. Farleys fears of being bashed by a whale tail had gone and he was loving every moment of it. We thought that might be it and were ecstatic if it was, but Ed and Grant announced we’re off to find some more!
Sure enough we found three more humpbacks that wanted to say hello. We slipped into the water again and just wow… we were among three mammoth whales that were swimming just a few feet away going round and round in circles.
At one point I was worried they might decide to breach and I’d be in the way. They may be wild creatures but I couldn’t believe how incredibly inquisitive, calm and gentle they are towards us humans. You could hear them singing underwater to each other. It was just unreal. Can you believe that just as they were inches away from us, my GoPro decided to run out of storage…not cool! Still, it’s what’s in my head that I’ll remember. After 30 minutes of playing, these humpbacks decided to go on their way. For the last time we got out of the water and I couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. I looked at everyone else’s face and knew they were going through the exact same emotion. On the return journey home, things just got better.
Speeding through the waters, and all of a sudden we hear CRASH! A whale breaching, two seconds later, CRASH again and then again and again! We had found ourselves in a large pod of whales who were very interested in putting on a show! It was spectacular. Standing ovation from us all! A week on and I’m already wanting to do it all over again. Being in the water and swimming with such phenomenal creatures was magical, extraordinary and emotional. It is one of the most incredible and unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had in my lifetime and I urge everyone to do it.
Hervey Bay is the one of the best spots in the world to see the southern humpback whale on their migration from Antarctica. I cannot thank the team at Hervey Bay Dive Centre for giving me the most unimaginable day, allowing me to step out my comfort zone and tick something off my bucket list. I had a whale of a time!!