Jervis Bay and Shoalhaven are among the best destinations for glimpsing migratory whales in NSW, with the bay being natural shelter for mothers and calves on their long journey to and from Antarctica. Here’s where to spot them in the wild.
When can you see whales in Jervis Bay?
There’s nothing quite like that first moment you spot a whale breaching and blowing offshore, showing off in a whirlwind of acrobatic twirls. And the Shoalhaven region on the NSW South Coast is among the best spots to maximise your chances of glimpsing the gentle giants turn it on, in the wild – whether you’re cruising with an ethical operator, or taking in the spectacle from a rugged clifftop.
The migratory season, when they make their way to and from Antarctica, is between May and November. And during these months, more than 30,000 whales cruise along the east coast of Australia. The route is aptly known as the ‘Humpback Highway’ (although you’ll also spot southern rights, minkes and pilots), and the total route spans more than 5,000km, among the world’s longest journeys undertaken by a mammal. Jervis Bay marks the halfway point along this epic trail.
The whales use the calm waters of Jervis Bay Marine Park as a place to rest and play with their newborn calves. Dolphins, turtles, seals and a menagerie of other marine life also call these waters home and are particularly active when the whales come to visit. If you’re lucky, you might even spot orcas.
From the Shoalhaven Heads in the north to Bawley Point in the south, you’ll find spectacular headlands that make for great whale watching. Given their locations and purpose, lighthouses make for particularly good viewing. Point Perpendicular Lighthouse at the northern entrance to Jervis Bay along the cliffs of the Beecroft Peninsula offers sweeping views of Jervis Bay, where female whales and calves often play in the crystal clear waters. Meanwhile, on the southern edge of the bay in Booderee National Park is Cape St George Lighthouse. There are great clifftop walks all through the national park, offering unbroken ocean views.
Another lighthouse lookout is Crookhaven Heads Lighthouse at Culburra Beach, and nearby Penguin Head and Hammerhead Point, a short drive south near the seaside village of Currarong, are equally jaw-dropping vantage points.
There are endless other headlands to gaze over the waves as you make your way further south, including Warden Head Lighthouse in Ulladulla and Bannisters Head in neighbouring Mollymook. You might even spot a whale breaching while playing a round of golf at Mollymook Golf Club.
Whale-watching tours and cruises
There are strict rules about how close you can get to whales in the wild. Thankfully, cruise operators in the Jervis Bay and Shoalhaven region provide ethical tourism experiences, which means you can join companies like Jervis Bay Wild and Dolphin Watch Cruises (they also offer whale watching tours) out of Huskisson to learn about whales and their calves from knowledgeable guides.
Spotting dolphins and seals
While whales migrate through Jervis Bay, many other marine creatures call it home year-round. Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are often spotted from shore chasing schools of fish and socialising in pods, and they put on a display to rival the whales. Cruise alongside them on a journey with Dolphin Watch Cruises or Jervis Bay Wild to watch them playing in your boat’s wake.
Shoalhaven is home to two fur seal colonies, found at either headland of the Jervis Bay Marine Park, with numbers peaking during winter. Join a snorkelling tour with Dive Jervis Bay to swim with the seals. Snorkellers and divers will also encounter more than 220 species of fish, as well as weedy sea dragons and stingrays. The same company also offers snorkelling experiences – at a very safe distance – with whales.
For more information about whale watching on the NSW South Coast, visit the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service website.
Accommodation with ocean views
There are plenty of places in Jervis Bay with water views – how amazing if you got the chance to see whales and dolphins from your bed? Enveloped by the rainforest of Booderee National Park, The Cove Jervis Bay is a little pocket of whitewashed paradise. The houses and cabins here can accommodate between two and 23 people, and you can stroll to a private beach.
Then there’s adults-only Hyams Beach Seaside Cottages, seven cottages lovingly transformed with pastel exteriors. Pull up a chair on your private deck, open a bottle of something bubbly, and soak up the serenity of your setting, with bush and ocean views.