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10 Things to Know BEFORE Whale Watching in Sydney

10 Things to Know BEFORE Whale Watching in Sydney

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If you’re considering going whale watching in Sydney, then you’ve come to the right place!

This awe-inspiring adventure offers a unique opportunity to witness these marine giants in their natural habitat. We love whale watching and have gone on numerous tours across the globe from the icy waters of Canada down to the Sydney Harbour – so we know a thing or two about these magnificent creatures!

Before you set out on this unforgettable journey, it’s crucial to be well-prepared and informed to get the most out of this experience. So in this guide, we will look at the ten essential things you need to know before embarking on a fun whale-watching adventure in Sydney! 

1. About Whale Watching in Sydney

Humpback whale blows from its hole on a whale watching tour Sydney
So cool!

Sydney’s waters are blessed with an abundance of marine life, and whale watching is a popular pastime for both locals and tourists. The city’s prime location along the east coast of Australia makes it a seasonal hub for various whale species.

The most commonly sighted whales in Sydney’s waters are humpback whales with the occasional southern right whale, minke whale, or orca. When we went we even saw dolphins!

Let’s take a closer look at some of these majestic creatures!

Humpback Whales

A humpback whale jumps from the water off the coast of Sydney
Wow!

Humpback whales are undoubtedly the stars of Sydney’s whale watching season. Over 20,000 of these gentle giants migrate along the Australian coast each year between May and November, making Sydney one of their favorite stopovers.

Humpbacks are known for their acrobatic displays, breaching, tail slapping, and spy hopping (when a whale rises vertically in the water). They can grow up to 60 feet (20 meters) in length and are easily recognizable by their long pectoral fins and distinctive humpbacked appearance.

Southern Right Whales

Sydney southern right Whale
A southern right whale!

Southern right whales are another incredible species that grace Sydney’s waters from June to August during their migratory journey between South Africa and Australia. They are known for their robust, stocky bodies and the distinctive white callosities on their heads.

Southern right whales are less active than humpback whales and typically spend more time resting on the water’s surface. These whales can reach lengths of up to 55 feet (18 meters) and are a joy to observe.

2. When is the Whale Watching Season in Sydney?

Watching a humpback whale swim by Sydney
A perfect day to go whale watching!

Whale watching season in Sydney typically spans from May to November. During this period, humpback whales migrate along the east coast of Australia, providing ample opportunities to see them. The peak of the season, when there’s the largest number of these magnificent creatures, falls between the end of June and August.

The whales make their way north during the season’s early months, traveling from the cold Antarctic waters to the warmer, tropical northern waters where they breed and give birth. On their return journey south, they can often be seen with their newborn calves. This adds an extra layer of excitement to your whale watching adventure as you might witness adorable baby whales alongside their massive parents!

For the best chance of spotting these incredible creatures, we advise planning your whale watching excursion during peak season. Luckily, many tour operators offer trips throughout the season, so you can choose a date that suits your schedule!

3. What is the Best Month to go Whale Watching in Sydney?

Humpback whale tail in Sydney
Going down!

While the entire whale watching season in Sydney offers fantastic sightings, specific months offer unique opportunities to observe different behaviors and interactions. Understanding what each month has to offer can help you plan your trip more effectively.

May to June: This is the start of the season when the whales begin their northward migration. May is an excellent time to spot the early travelers as they pass by Sydney. In June, you might have the chance to see the first whales breaching.

July to August: These months mark the peak season with the largest number of whales passing by. Humpback whales are especially active during this time, putting on remarkable displays of breaching, tail-slapping, and fin-slapping as the males try to show off their dominance.

August to October: This is when the whales start to migrate back south. During this time the whales are very curious – some may even come up close to the boat to “people-watch”! As the season progresses, the whales are often spotted traveling with their young calves. This is a heartwarming sight and a unique opportunity to observe maternal behaviors.

October to November: Towards the end of the season, it is common to spot mother whales with their calves on their journey to Antarctica. When we went during this time, we saw a mother whale teaching the baby how to breech! Although there are fewer sightings, November can offer more peaceful and less crowded tours.

If you’re eager to witness active displays and playful behavior, we recommend going during July. If you’re interested in seeing baby whales, September and October are the ideal months. We’ve gone during both of these periods and both offered a memorable experience!

4. What Time of Day is Best for Whale Watching in Sydney?

A baby and mother humpback whale swim in Sydney
The mother and baby we saw during our tour!

Having been on multiple whale watching tours, we know that the timing of your adventure can impact your experience. While tour companies in Sydney offer various departure times, we recommend going during the morning for several reasons!

Morning Departures: Morning tours are a popular choice due to typically calmer sea conditions, fewer crowds, and more moderate temperatures. Additionally, the lighting in the morning is perfect for photography, allowing you to capture the whales and their acrobatics with greater clarity. Morning tours also provide the opportunity to spot whales during their most active hours.

Afternoon Departures: While sea conditions can sometimes become choppier in the afternoon, the afternoon sun can create stunning reflections on the water’s surface. It could also be a better choice if you already have morning plans.

Ultimately, there is no “wrong” time of day to go, as both morning and afternoon offer good chances to spot the whales.

5. What are the Best Whale Watching Tours in Sydney?  

Whale Watching Cruise Including Lunch or Breakfast

Humpback whale spine shows as it swims through the water of Sydney
A humpback whale right next to our boat!

What is better than a whale watching cruise? Well, a whale watching cruise with an included breakfast or BBQ lunch of course! 

This epic half-day tour starts in the calm Sydney harbor with breakfast or a lunch buffet depending on your tour departure time. Afterward, you will slowly cruise by the main sights along the shoreline and appreciate Sydney’s skyline while making your way out into the ocean.

It wasn’t long before we started seeing the first splashes in the distance! We spent 4 hours cruising along the Pacific and we lost count of how many amazing encounters we had. This cruise is so confident in its whale-spotting abilities that you can take another cruise for free if there are no sightings on your tour. That sounds like a gamble we are willing to take! 

This highly rated tour (it has over 500 5-star reviews you can read here) costs $104 AUD and operates from May to November. We think this is a pretty good deal considering it includes whale watching, a meal, and sightseeing with live commentary! Please note that the morning departures are only available on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the season.

Whale Watching Boat Trip in Sydney

A humpback whale tale off the coast of Sydney
One of the many whales we saw!

If you want to skip the food and get some serious whale watching in, this small-group tour is for you! Setting off from Darling Harbor on a custom whale watching vessel, you will get 3 hours to marvel at these amazing creatures.

This boat is specially designed to be low to the water and only holds 25 passengers, ensuring everyone gets a piece of the action. Although smaller boats are a little rockier at sea (cue nausea medicine!), you won’t regret taking part in such an intimate and personable experience. The knowledgeable boat captain knows exactly where to go to spot the most whales and will provide live commentary so you can learn all about the fascinating creatures you see!

Tickets cost $109 AUD and you can choose between a 9:30 am and a 12:30 pm departure slot. Most importantly, this tour also offers a whale sighting guarantee, so you can go another day if you don’t see any whales – but don’t worry, this rarely happens!

Whale Watching Sydney – 2hr Express Cruise

Humpback whale in Sydney
Seeing the whales never gets old!

If you are strapped for time and want to get your whale fix, we recommend taking this 2-hour express cruise. We were out on the open ocean in less than 20 minutes, ready to soak up as much whale activity as possible. 

The vessel was quite large, but we loved that we could freely move around between the sun deck and the inside decks, finding the perfect vantage point for every sighting. Having the option to go inside was also nice because we could escape the chilly morning air for a bit. There is also a well-stocked bar onboard where you can buy drinks and snacks for the journey.

This cruise has departure times in the morning and afternoon, depending on the time of year, and tickets are only $69 AUD making it one of the most affordable and flexible whale watching experiences.

Sydney Whale Watching by Speed Boat

A hump back whale arm breaches the water off the coast of Sydney
Look at that fin!

If the idea of giant ocean mammals splashing all around you isn’t already exhilarating enough, then this whale-watching speedboat tour is for you. It takes you on the fastest commercial vessel in Sydney for a thrilling ride out to the open ocean to hang out alongside the whales!

The size and nature of the speed boat allowed us to get close to the whales without disturbing them so we could observe their actions and hear their sounds without the constant hum of an engine. It is also limited to only 21 people per trip, providing the most personal experience possible.

The company even provided us with wind and waterproof jackets so that we were comfortable during our time on the water. It can get chilly going at such fast speeds!

One of the major differences on this cruise is that all passengers must be above 12 years old for safety reasons. There are multiple departures times available throughout the day and you can choose to depart from either Circular Quay or Manly Wharf. Tickets cost $129 AUD each but are worth every cent – you can read the hundreds of 5-star reviews here that prove it!

Related Read: Looking to explore the city some more during your trip? Check out the BEST Sydney sightseeing tours here!

6. Are Sydney Whale Watching Tours Eco-Friendly?

Humpback whale tail breaches the water in Sydney
That’s a big tail

All of the tours we’ve highlighted are offered by tour operators in Sydney who know what they are doing and have been in business for a long time. While taking these cruises, we’ve found the most passionate people about whale conservation are often the ones running the tours! They take the protection of marine life seriously and are committed to eco-friendly practices that prioritize the well-being of the whales and the marine environment.

When selecting a whale watching tour, it’s essential to choose a company that adheres to sustainable and ethical guidelines. Look for operators who operate at a safe distance from the whales to avoid causing them distress. It’s required that tour operators keep a 100-meter (328-foot) distance from whales … however, if the whales choose to get closer to the boat on their own, they can! We’ve had curious humpbacks come a bit closer – but that’s totally on their terms!

7. Can You See Other Wildlife on a Whale Watching Tour in Sydney?

Humpback whale dives down off the cost of Sydney
So neat!

Whale watching in Sydney isn’t just about the majestic whales – you may encounter various other fascinating creatures during your tour. Sydney’s waters are home to several dolphin species, and bottlenose dolphins are commonly spotted during whale watching tours!

While on one of our tours, these playful animals came up to the boat and were playing in the bow waves!

Sydney’s coastal waters are also teeming with seabirds, and you’re likely to see a variety of species soaring above or skimming the surface of the ocean. Keep an eye out for albatrosses, shearwaters, gannets, and terns, as they are frequently seen during these excursions.

While not as common as dolphins and seabirds, seals can also occasionally be seen resting on rocky outcrops or swimming in the vicinity of the boat. Keep your binoculars handy to catch a glimpse!

8. Are Whale Watching Tours Suitable for Kids?

Sydney humpback whale tail in ocean
So amazing!

Whale watching tours in Sydney are not only suitable for adults but also a fantastic adventure for children. The awe-inspiring sight of these magnificent creatures and the opportunity to learn about marine life in their natural habitat make it an educational and exciting experience for kids.

Most tour operators in Sydney are family-friendly and offer amenities to ensure a comfortable trip for children. Many tours provide informative presentations and educational materials to help kids learn about the whales, their behaviors, and the marine environment.

And don’t worry, operators prioritize safety, providing life jackets and ensuring children are secure throughout the journey!

Related Read: Sydney isn’t the most affordable place to travel, but that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank! Check out our favorite cheap and free things to do in the city here!

9. What Should You Wear/Bring for Whale Watching in Sydney?

A humpback whale swims off the coast of Sydney
This whale came right up to our boat!

When preparing for a whale watching adventure in Sydney, it’s essential to dress appropriately and bring the right items.

Wear comfortable clothing and bring layers to keep warm. It is winter in Australia from June to August so it can be a bit chilly, especially out at sea in the morning! We also recommend comfortable, closed-toe shoes with non-slip soles to ensure stability on the boat deck.

Given Australia’s strong sun, sun protection is crucial. Wear sunscreen and don’t forget sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to shield your eyes and face from the sun. Just because it’s not blazing hot, it doesn’t mean the sun is not still dangerous!

Bring a camera with a good zoom lens or binoculars to capture the whales and other wildlife you encounter. Some tours may have onboard binoculars available for use, but we were so glad we had our personal ones with us.

Staying hydrated is essential, so bring a water bottle. Snacks like granola bars can also be a good idea, especially for longer tours. If you’re prone to seasickness, consider taking over-the-counter motion sickness medication before the trip as the waves can be choppy sometimes.

Remember that conditions at sea can change, so it’s best to be prepared for a range of weather situations. Pack these essentials in a small backpack and get ready to have some fun out on the water!

10. Is Whale Watching in Sydney Worth it?

A humback whale tail on a whale watching tour in Sydney
Yes!

In a word, yes! Whale watching is one of the best things to do in Sydney. The joy of witnessing these creatures in their natural habitat, coupled with the stunning coastal scenery of Sydney, makes whale watching here a truly unforgettable experience.

Other Things to do While You’re in Sydney

Bailey enjoys a drink at the House Canteen at the Sydney opera House
Enjoying some wine after a Sydney Opera House tour!
Prince Henry cliff walk on a Blue Mountains Tour from Sydney
Prince Henry cliff walk on a Blue Mountains Tour from Sydney

Sydney is a city full of exciting things to do and see, so you’re going to want to fill your schedule while visiting this iconic city. Below are a few of our favorite activities that you should consider adding to your Sydney itinerary:

  • Helicopter Ride – One way to take in all the sights is on a helicopter tour! We did this helicopter ride the last time we were in the city, and it was incredible! We got the most amazing views of the bridge and Opera House, not to mention the beautiful coastline. And to top it off, we even saw whales!
  • Day Trip to the Blue Mountains – The Blue Mountains is a beautiful wilderness area where you can enjoy hiking, waterfalls, mountain views, and charming local towns. It’s about an hour’s drive and makes for a great day trip from Sydney or even a weekend getaway. This Blue Mountains day full-day tour is our top choice as it includes a gourmet lunch, Scenic World, the wildlife park, as well as a cruise! Plus, the 4,000 5-star reviews are pretty reassuring that it’s an excellent tour!
  • Visit Manly Beach and/or Bondi Beach – There are some pretty amazing beaches right in Sydney, so you should definitely plan for a beach day (or three!). Manly Beach is one of our favorites and you can easily get there via the public ferry. Or, head to the famous Bondi Beach! Once there you can do the walk to Bronte or Coogee Beaches – they are both also stunning!
  • Explore Darling Harbour – One of our other favorite areas in Sydney is Darling Harbour, which features more restaurants, bars, and cafes than I can count! Plus, almost everything is waterfront! Here, you can enjoy the Chinese Garden of Friendship or walk across the Pyrmont Bridge. You can also visit popular attractions like Madame Tussauds, the Sea Life Aquarium, and Wild Life Sydney Zoo (which are all included on this Sydney Attractions Pass!).
  • Tour the Sydney Opera House – Did you even visit Sydney if you didn’t go to the Opera House?! You can walk around for free, but if you want to see the inside, then you’ll have to join a guided tour of the Opera House or buy tickets to a show. We did this guided tour and found it super interesting! They took us to all of the different theatres, and we learned all about the history of the building – all for only $45 AUD!

Where to Stay in Sydney

Get the best views of Sydney at Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, Australia
Photo credit: Four Seasons Hotel Sydney

If you’re planning a trip to Sydney, you’re going to need a place to stay – even if you’re just in town for one or two days! Luckily, Sydney has a huge variety of accommodations to fit every budget. If you’re overwhelmed with where to start, check out our top picks for places to stay, from luxury rooms to budget-friendly hostels. We’ve got you covered!

Four Seasons Hotel Sydney – $$$

For stunning views of Sydney Harbour and the iconic Opera House, book a room at the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney. You’ll have unobstructed views of the city from the comfort of your room. The hotel is located in the city center right within The Rocks neighborhood.

Rooms here start at $400-$500 AUD per night and can be reserved with Booking.com.

Meriton Suites Kent Street Sydney – $$

Stay right in the heart of Sydney in a modern luxury apartment at Meriton Suites Kent Street. The suites are air-conditioned and have laundry facilities, and either a kitchenette or full kitchen to make longer stays more comfortable. You’ll also have access to an indoor swimming pool, fitness center, and hot tub.

These full apartments are $230 AUD nightly when booked in advance with Booking.com.

Sydney Harbour YHA – $

For a hostel with a view, head to the rooftop terrace at the Sydney Harbour YHA. This is also located right in The Rocks by Circular Quay. You’ll also have amazing views of the harbor and be within walking distance of all the major sights. You can opt for a shared dorm room or a private room here. There’s a communal kitchen, TV lounge, billiards, and a 24/7 reception desk.

Dorm rooms are around $70 AUD nightly and private rooms are more around the $180 AUD mark. You can check for the best rates and book on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.com.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey pose for a photo on a cruise in Sydney
Thanks for reading!

For a visit to Sydney, we can’t recommend a whale watching tour enough. Hopefully, this guide has given you an idea of the best whale watching tours in Sydney and some helpful tips before you go. I just know you’ll have an amazing time and hopefully spot lots of whales!

As you plan a vacation to Sydney, make sure to check out all of our Australia blogs. Or click on one of the popular ones below:

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