Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Whale Watching In Port Stephens

Wednesday 24th July 2013

In July 2012 I was spending a week up in Port Stephens on holidays. This is an area I know quite well given the family has spent many holidays there over the years and now my parents have a home up there as well. But for all the years that I had made the journey up the coast, I hadn't bothered to do any whale watching. I decided to right a wrong and spend a couple of hours out there and was fortunate to see two whales making their way up the coast on their annual migration north to warmer waters. I captured some video here ...

Last week I was back up in Port Stephens and thought that I should find the time to take another trip out onto the water. Once again I had picked an absolutely stunning day for whale watching, skies were clear and the seas relatively calm. I chose to do the whale watching with the Tamboi Queen Cruises They have been around for over 40 years and are family operated. Staff are very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful and the ship was not over crowded allowing people to move around easily.

The boat that we went out on was the same vessel as last year, the MV Spirit of Port Stephens. Not the biggest boat in Port Stephens but this to me is where it has a distinct advantage. More maneuvrable than the larger craft in the bay it is able to get into areas the others can't.

Before boarding I took some travel sickness tablets just in case and they seemed to work quite well given the seas were rolling up and down quite a bit. The journey out past Little Beach and Shoal Bay gives a different perspective to the area and reinforces the fact that it is a beautiful place to visit. We had calm waters out past the Tomaree Heads and picked up some dolphins swimming along side the boat. We stopped for a quick look at a cut in the southern headland and the smaller vessel was able to maneuver in allowing people to take some photos.

After spending a minute or two there it was now time to make for open water and to find some whales. There was one other whale watching boat out and they had located a whale and we headed straight for them. After about 15 minutes of motoring we had made it there and the single humpback whale was in a playful mood. Over the 45 minutes we watched multiple full body breaches by the whale. I had my 100-400mm Canon EOS lens along with the Canon 7D. The camera and lens performed flawlessly but would have liked a few more shots at the higher shutter speed to capture the entire sequence of breaching through to splash down. In the pitching seas however I was not able to zoom to the full 400mm but was taking most of my shots in the 100mm-150mm range. This is where having a 70-200mm Canon EOS lens would have been more preferable.

We then left the whale and headed back towards one of the islands near the inlet to Port Stephens, called Cabbage Tree Island. The captain located six Australian fur seals having a bit of a snooze on the rocks and I was able to get in nice and close with the lens. They were very placid and didn't appeared phased by the boat being relatively close to them. I suspect the fact the ship visiting multiple times a day would make them used to our presence. We then headed back into Port Stephens passing a pod of dolphins feeding in the white water just off Tomaree Heads. They were able to get much closer to the rocks then what we could so we decide to move back into the the bay. We searched for some more dolphins but weren't able to find any but the cruise was enjoyable.

On the way back to the marina we passed a small group of fairy penguins. They were a bit flighty so didn't get too close to them plus they were quite quick and nimble with their swimming. Pulled back into the marina and was certain money well spent. $60 for 3 hours of entertainment is excellent value these days. Saw more than what I had expected and on such a beautiful day, couldn't have asked for anything more.

I've included some pictures below for you to take a look at. Click on the image to view the larger image size.