Whale watching in Sydney. Best time, places and tour prices

LAST UPDATE May 2013

Whale watching in Sydney is one of most interesting attractions during winter season. Whale watching season starts in the middle of May.  You can go whale watching all winter and spring (May – November)  in Sydney.  It is not the most tourist season in Sydney, but you should try whale watching if you are visiting the city during this period. Jump to:
Best time for whale watching
Best time of day for whale watching
Best places for whale watching in Sydney
Whale watching tour companies review in Sydney

Humpback whale near Sydney

Humpback whale near Sydney

Best time for whale watching

The whale watching season is quite (May-November)  long in Sydney, but it is not always very busy.

Here is chart with weekly humpback whale sightings in Sydney between 2010 and 2012 :

Weekly whale sightings in Sydney 2010-2012

Weekly whale sightings in Sydney 2010-2012

And here is chart with monthly whale sightings in Sydney in 2010-2012:

Monthly whale sightings in Sydney 2010-2012

Monthly whale sightings in Sydney 2010-2012

It is clear visible two peeks in the season. In June/July humpback whales migrating North for breeding in the waters of the Coral Sea.  From end of September until December they  are going back South to the Antarctic feeding ground for the southern hemisphere summer. At this time of year females with new born calves usually are seen closer to the shore. End of June/July and then October is probably the best time of year for whale watch in Sydney.

August looks like quite month in this chart, but is not because there are no whales. It is the middle of winter and sea can be rough and you won’t have much fun to be on the boat, so some whale watching tours are canceled because of weather during this period.  Whales are still there, as not all whales migrating like humpback whales. The Southern Right Whales do not migrate North or South, they usually move along the coastline seeking places to mate and shelter with their newborn calfs. This year you even could see Southern Right whales in Sydney harbor:

Southern Right whale in Sydney harbour, July 2012

Southern Right whale in Sydney harbour, July 2012

There are more different kind of whales you can see in Sydney, but are much rare then Humpback whales or Southern Right Whale. Some people are lucky to see very rare Bryde’s whales, killer whales (or else known as Orcas), also False Killer whales, Minke whales. You most likely will see Pacific and Bottlenose dolphins too.

Dolphins in Sydney

Dolphins in Sydney

Which time of the day is better for whale watching in Sydney?

Five years ago it was huge difference between morning and afternoon sightings as you can see in this chart.

Morning and afternoon whale sightings in Sydney (2006-2009)

Morning and afternoon whale sightings in Sydney (2006-2009)

It may be was just glitch in sightings recording as by looking to whale sightings of past years (2010-1012) it doesn’t matter when you go.

Morning and afternoon whale sightings in Sydney (2010-2012)

Morning and afternoon whale sightings in Sydney (2010-2012)

It is almost the same in the morning or afternoon. I think it is because most whales are not staying around Sydney but migrating and you can see them when they passing by and time of day is not so important.

Best places for whale watching in Sydney

Should you take a boat tour for a whale watching? Not everybody can take boat ride, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do whale watching. During nice and calm days there are places where it is possible to see whales from the shore. Only thing you need – binoculars. Best and easy accessible places are North and South heads marked on this map:

As there are high cliffs out there and it makes very good place for observation. South Head is my preference, as there is trail along the coast and you can walk almost all way down to Bondi Beach which Southern Right Whales like to visit from time to time.

North Head in Sydney/Manly is good place for coastal whale watching

North Head in Sydney/Manly is good place for coastal whale watching

Besides whale watching from the shore is more ecologically friendly as still there is unknown how boats are affecting whales migration. Marine Mammal Research Group at Macquarie University currently working on a project assess the current whale watching guidelines in Sydney. Actually they have some volunteering positions if somebody interested to join them.

Whale tail seen from South Head in Sydney

Whale tail seen from South Head in Sydney

While on the coast you can follow whale watching tour boats and it will be easier to spot whales.

Tours

Check this list if you are keen to go on whale watching cruise.
Choose your departure point for prices and time table:
Darling Harbour | Circular Quay | Manly | Sans Souci

Darling Harbour departures

Time Adult Child Tour operator
8:00 (except Monday) $115 $65 Australian Spirit Sailing Company (max 12 passengers)
8:45 $75 $50 True Blue Cruises
9:15 (weekends) $80-94* $50-59* Bass and Flinders Cruises (3hr Discovery Cruise)
9:45 (weekdays) $80-94* $50-59* Bass and Flinders Cruises (3hr Discovery Cruise)
10:30 $51-60* $34-40* Bass and Flinders Cruises (2hr Adventure Cruise)
12:30 (except Monday) $115 $65 Australian Spirit Sailing Company (max 12 passengers)
12:45 $80-94* $50-59* Bass and Flinders Cruises (3hr Discovery Cruise)
13:00 $75 $50 True Blue Cruises
14:00 $51-60* $34-40* Bass and Flinders Cruises (2hr Adventure Cruise)

* – 15% discount for online bookings

Circular Quay departures

Time Adult Child Tour operator
9:15 $75 $50 True Blue Cruises
9:15 (weekdays) $80-94* $50-59* Bass and Flinders Cruises (3hr Discovery Cruise)
9:45 (weekends) $80-94* $50-59* Bass and Flinders Cruises (3hr Discovery Cruise)
10:00 $69** Captain Cook Cruises
13:15 $80-94* $50-59* Bass and Flinders Cruises (3hr Discovery Cruise)
13:20 $75 $50 True Blue Cruises
14:00 $69** Captain Cook Cruises

* – 15% discount for online bookings
** – year 2012 prices

Manly departures

Time Adult Child Tour operator
9:45 $75 $50 True Blue Cruises
10:00 (weekends) $64*** Adrenalim
10:30 $85 Manly Ocean Adventures
13:30 (weekends, if morning tour is full) $64*** Adrenalin

*** – price per person for group of 2

Sans Souci departures

Time Adult Child Tour operator
9:00 weekends only during June and July, also each day during school holidays 2nd-17th July $71.5 $45 Bass and Flinders Cruises

 

Here is a list of whale watching tour operators in Sydney with their no sightings policy and links to their websites:

Tour operator No sightings policy
Adrenalin Free trip on the same vessel during the same whale watching season
Australian Spirit Sailing Company  ?
Bass and Flinders Cruises Return trip on another cruise in the same year with a return voucher.
Captain Cook Cruises Cruise again in the same season for free on Standby Basis confirmed 24 hours prior subject to availability.
Manly Ocean Adventures Free return trip.
True Blue Cruises Free return trip.
Manly Whale Watching It is not actual tour operator, but just others’ tour reseller, so it was removed from the list

So which company to choose? It depends on you – do want only whale watching or to do something else too, like speed boat ride? Do you stay in the city or in Cronulla or Manly?

One of whale whatching tour boats in Sydney

One of whale watching tour boats in Sydney

My personal choice was – Bass and Flinders Cruises. They are longest period in this business and also participate in whales research program with Macquarie University, has shore based whale spotters which helps them faster to spot whales. In the sea it looks like all other companies just follow their boats.

Whale watching from the boat in Sydney

Whale watching from the boat, view from South Head in Sydney

One important thing – lower your expectation if you go on whale watching tour.  Sometimes whales are more active, sometimes they are not. I was reading some reviews there customers were complaining – they saw not enough whale breaches because ship went back to harbor as the tour time was out.  How you can complain about that? Some people won’t be lucky to see a breach even once and it is not the show where you command whales what they should do. So it is better to have low expectation and you definitely will enjoy whale watching – coastal or on boat tour.

Whale sightings numbers for above chart are taken from this page www.whalewatchingsydney.net/whale-sightings.  I just decided put numbers into more convenient form.

Southern Right whale in Sydney harbor was taken by Tammy.