A Guide to No-Cost Whale Spotting on the Gold Coast
Humpback whales begin their annual migration in Antarctica and are seen in local waters from May to October as they make their way north to warmer seas to calve before returning south again to show off their offspring. The elevated natural headlands along the northern NSW and Gold Coast provide excellent land based vantage points where you and the kids can watch their spectacular displays of breaching, tale fluking and fin slapping.
No-Cost Whale Spotting with your Gold Coast Kids
If you haven’t got the time or the sea-legs for a whale watching cruise we’ve found the best places to go land-based whale spotting in northern NSW and the Gold Coast, so grab your binoculars and camera, pack some snacks and the kids, and get ready to follow the whales north along the humpback highway.
Wherever you choose for your whale watching experience follow these handy tips to be prepared:
- Choose a clear calm day when no rain is expected. Rain or heavy cloud will make it difficult to spot whales
- Get as high as you can for the best views, but with such expansive beaches along the coast you can spot whales from almost anywhere
- Take binoculars – the higher the power the better.
- Pack sunscreen and plenty of snacks and drinks
- Get comfortable – a whale can hold it’s breath for around 20 minutes before surfacing again and you don’t want to miss its play when it comes back up
Whale Spotting Gold Coast: The Humpback Highway
Shelly Beach, North Wall, Ballina Head Lookout, Black Head Viewing Platform, and Lighthouse Hill are all great sites to go whale spotting. Hike up the headland to Shelly Beach viewing platform or visit one of several platforms off the dunes at Angels Beach. The viewing platform at Black Head, East Ballina, is surrounded by old growth forest but has great ocean views. For more casual viewing simply stroll along the beach and look out for the tell-tale water spouts.
Pat Morton Lookout on the top of Lennox Point has extensive views where you can watch the whales from high above, and it’s also a popular spot for hang-gliders, surfers, and dolphins too.
Broken Head Nature Reserve
If you have active kiddies and don’t need a stroller take a hike along the Three Sisters Walking Track (1.6km return) in the Broken Head Nature Reserve. Starting from the picnic area, the track will take you through lush rainforest to secluded beaches with many opportunities for whale spotting along the way.
A great place to spend a whole day whale watching, with plenty of other things to do too. Start by finding the Cape Byron Roving Ranger Cart (call 02 6620 9300 for location), which provides maps, reference books, and even a few whale bones to give the kids an insight before you begin your search. Then head up to the lighthouse for spectacular panoramic ocean views. You can grab a coffee from the café before starting the 3.7km loop walk around the headland for more viewing opportunities where you won’t just see whales – look out for dolphins and other wildlife too.
Tweed Heads and Coolangatta
Migrating whales often pass close to the shore here and one of the best vantage points can be found at Point Danger. From the lookout there on Petrie Street you can stand astride the border and simultaneously watch whales in NSW and QLD.
Tumgun Lookout in the national park is an elevated vantage point with great views to look down upon the whales. There are a couple of walking tracks under 3km that will take you to the lookout, and sheltered picnic areas, barbecues and toilets are all nearby.
If you’re lucky enough to have access to one of the high-rise buildings along the shore you’re bound to spot whales, but even a stroll along The Spit should see you rewarded with more than a sighting or two. The Gold Coast is fairly central to the migratory route so it’s the perfect place to see whales for the whole of the whale watching season as whales heading north will often be passing whales returning south.
Families Magazine Tip:
If you’re a super-organised parent try planning a game of whale-watch bingo in advance and give each child a score card of tale flukes, water spouting, breaching, calves spotted and other wildlife. The first to see gets the point, and the first to fill their card is the winner.
Do you know of any other great spots for whale watching that we’ve missed? Don’t keep them secret – we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.