The ten best spots for whale watching on the NSW coast

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Whale watching season is upon us and the New South Wales coast is one of the best places in the world to catch these majestic creatures in action. From May to November, the Pacific Coast migration goes from south to north and back as the whales seek out warmer waters for the winter months. Although humpback whales are the most documented, you may be lucky enough to catch orcas, Bryde’s whales and southern right whales – and all without having to walk on land. From Sydney to Byron, we’ve compiled a list of all the best places to view and spot the majestic sea creatures. Binoculars, hiking shoes, snacks and picnic blankets recommended.

From pristine beaches and bountiful wine regions to alpine hideaways and bustling country towns, Australia is full of places to explore at any time of year. We’ve partnered with Tourism Australia to help you plan your road trips, weekend detours and summer getaways so that when you’re ready to hit the road, you can vacation here this year.

While regional holidays within NSW are now allowed, some of the locations mentioned below may still be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please check websites before making plans.

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Destination New South Wales

CAVES BEACH COASTAL WALK, LAKE MACQUARIE

Along the coast, just before Newcastle, lies the whale watcher’s paradise that is Caves Beach. The Coastal Bush Hike is an easy trail that ends at the top of the cliffs above the beach. The northward migration is best observed from May to July, as there are many lookout points along the track to watch the whales as they pass on their way to their destination. The southern end of the beach is also home to a group of sea caves accessible at low tide and not to be missed.

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Peter Boer on Flickr

PAT MORTON LOOKOUT, LENNOX HEAD

Lennox Head is a great place to hang-glide, watch surfers and spot the odd dolphin. If it’s whales you’re after, head to the top of Lennox Point at Pat Morton Lookout. The sweeping views of the Pacific and Seven Mile Beach are where you’ll spot the migration – and it’s also the best vantage point from which to watch surfers catch the infamous blackout right on the beach. Pack a picnic for this grassy hill because you’ll want to stick around for a while.

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James Cridland on Flickr

NAMBUCCA HEADS

Park on the various headlands of the popular holiday town of Nambucca Heads if you’re looking to catch a glimpse of our passing giant friends. The Captain Cook Lookout, Lions Lookout, and Headland Lookout are located on the east side of town and offer epic ocean views to the south and north. Turn at the ‘beaches’ sign at the town post office, then continue to follow the signs to lookouts for great whale watching and picnicking.

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Destination New South Wales

CAPS SAWTELL, COFFS HARBOR

To the north of Bongil Bongil National Park are Sawtell Beach and Headlands, where the coastal views are worth seeing at any time of year, but are most popular during whale watching season. You can watch the humpback whale migration from a grassy picnic spot, as the headlands allow both north and south views. Just ten kilometers from Coffs Harbour, the seaside town is also a popular place to swim or surf. While you’re here, take a look at Sailors Bay at low tide, when you can reach the tidal rock pools.

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Andrea Schaffer on Flickr

MUTTONBIRD ISLAND, COFFS HARBOR

Muttonbird Island is a spectacular spot for whale watching and a must visit if you are in the Coffs Harbor area. Known as Giidany Miirlarl (or ‘sacred place of the moon’) by the local Gumbaynggirr, the site is very important and should be treated with great respect. Protected as a nature reserve and home to thousands of sheep birds, you can reach the island via a breakwater which connects to the international marina. Follow the 500 meter trail to the end of the island where you can catch the best whale watching spots.

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Destination New South Wales

GERRIN POINT VIEWPOINT, BOUDDI NATIONAL PARK

Located on the Bouddi Coastal Walk in Bouddi National Park, Gerrin Point Lookout is a great spot for whale watching. Humpback whales are often spotted between May and July, then September to October when they make their return trip along the coast, while Southern Right Whales migrate in late July. The 8.5 kilometer boardwalk allows for swimming in Maitland Bay – where you can see the wreck of the PS Maitland – and includes shady rainforest foliage for wildlife viewing. The 300-hectare national park is one of Australia’s first marine protected areas, which is part of why whale migration is so prevalent here. While you’re there, check out our guide to Bouddi and Copacabana.

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NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

BROKEN HEAD NATURE RESERVE, NORTH COAST

The beaches at Broken Head Nature Reserve are unusually fringed by rainforest, and this unusual Australian terrain allows for views of both the sea and the reserve’s forest birds. The Three Sisters Walking Trail is best for whale watching, where the rainforest slopes down to secluded beaches. The headland also tends to be teeming with wildflowers at this time of year, so the natural beauty will be all around you. The history of the trail is worth reading along the way, starting with the Aboriginal story behind the Three Sisters namesake.

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Destination New South Wales

CAPE BYRON LIGHTHOUSE, BYRON BAY

Cape Byron Lighthouse is Australia’s most easterly point and a necessary part of any trip to Byron. The site is in full swing during whale season, when the migration is caught in action from this great vantage point. Besides whales, dolphins and turtles also migrate this way and are regularly spotted from the cape. For the history around the site and the migration, the Maritime Museum is open from 10am to 4pm daily and is well worth a visit.

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NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

BARRENJOEY LIGHTHOUSE CAP, PALM BEACH

Located 91 meters above sea level in the beautiful Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Barrenjoey Lighthouse offers breathtaking views of (the ironic name) Broken Bay, the park and the central coast. Thanks to its height, the site is one of NSW’s most popular whale-watching sites, which you can reach via a leisurely one-mile hike. If you’re looking for a more challenging hike, the short smugglers trail will have you taking a deep breath of the scenic views when you reach the top. The lighthouse is a sight to behold in itself and retains its original 1800s sandstone finish – and if you like that, check out these ten lighthouses near Sydney.

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Destination New South Wales

NOBBYS HEADLAND, NEWCASTLE

The iconic Nobbys Headland offers 360 degree views of Newcastle and the surrounding coastline, offering the region’s most distant views of the Pacific. The lighthouse park is only open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but it’s the perfect place not only to watch whales, but also to admire dolphins and seals. Watching so many majestic sea creatures migrate at once is truly a sight to behold. Simultaneous city and sea lookouts also make for a unique viewing experience – so don’t forget your binoculars for this one.

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Whether you plan to travel for a few nights or a few weeks, Holiday Here This Year and you will be supporting Australian businesses while exploring the best of our country’s diverse landscapes and attractions.

Top Image: Cape Byron via Destination NSW

Posted on June 29, 2020 by

Marissa Ciampi


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