There are two distinct whale watching seasons in Sydney. During the first, humpback whales are heading north to give birth and mate (typically from May to August), later in the year they return south with their calves ahead of the Southern Hemisphere summer (from August to December) to feed in Antarctic waters. It’s in the first, winter, season that you’re likely to spot whales from the shore as 20,000 of them migrate along the New South Wales coastline. Alongside humpback whales you might also spot minke whales and orcas. Head to one of these lookouts with binoculars and a camera to capture the action.
The most northern part of Palm Beach peninsula has beautiful ocean views and is part of the Ku-ring- gai Chase National Park. A popular attraction of this region is Barrenjoey Lighthouse, a heritage listed building that stands at 113 metres above sea level, and it's a perfect spot for spotting whales. It's free to enter the park on foot (parking fees apply for cars). Bring water and a picnic.
Known for its steep ocean cliffs, military history and distinctive red-and-white striped Hornby Lighthouse, South Head has no shortage of lookouts. The best spot for whale watching is the Gap, an ocean cliff on the South Head peninsula. Climb to the top to gaze over the Tasman Sea and Sydney Harbour. If you’re feeling adventurous, walk the South Head Heritage trail, the 1km loop takes about an hour to complete so pack sunscreen, water and trainers.
The Coast Track walking trail in the Royal National Park takes you along a gorgeous stretch of NSW coastline, where you can spot sea eagles, silver gulls, and terns. In warmer months you can finish your walk with a swim at Garie Beach or North Era Beach, and in the winter you can keep your eyes peeled for migrating whales. You’ll walk by cliffs, beaches and escarpments taking in magnificent ocean views. The 26km trail is of medium difficulty, running from Bundeena to Otford and the time suggested to complete the track is two days. Make sure you pack wisely.
Right in Manly’s backyard is a walkway of unspoilt coastline. It’s hard to believe you’re only 11km from the CBD, as there's never-ending ocean views and a panorama of the harbour and city skyline. The walking track at North Head Sanctuary – which leads to North Fort and Fairfax Lookout – features fantastic views of the sea and the most common whales spotted along the Northern Beaches are the humpback and southern right whales. Sydney Harbour National Park has park entry fees at North Head carparks, open from 6am-8pm daily.
Located in the Kurnell section of Kamay Botany Bay National Park, Cape Solander is one of Sydney’s best whale watching spots. Named after botanist Daniel Solander, the cape includes an unbeatable lookout, undoubtedly one of the best spots to go whale watching in the city. Information on the whales can be found near the lookout and whales have been known to swim as close as 200m to the coast. Take a virtual tour of the cape beforehand to plan out your day. Gates to the park are open from 7am-7.30pm from August to May.
A short walk from Putty Beach in Bouddi National Park is the Gerrin Point lookout. In the spring, you can take the Bouddi Coastal walk and enjoy the canvas of wildflowers, but in winter you'll want to grab your camera to spot migrating humpback whales. The lookout has panoramic views of Maitland Bay, and there's a bench for visitors to take a rest. On windy days it’s best to bring a jacket as the location is exposed and you'll feel the wind chill.
Whale watching tours
Oz Whale Watching was awarded the New South Wales Gold and Silver Tourism Awards for 2015. It’s $94 for adults and each adventure cruise is four hours long. Opt for the brekky cruise, which leaves at 8am and see a humpback before lunch. If you don’t see a whale, they offer you another trip for free!
Australian Spirit Sailing offers eco whale watching tours on a four-hour boat trip for up to 12 passengers at a time. They offer tours throughout the year, but winter departures leave at 8am and 12.30pm.
The pricing for this tour starts at $165 for adults and it includes a 2.5-hour whale and dolphin watching cruise in Port Stephens. Add on extras like sand-boarding and camel riding at $25 each.