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Where's the Best Whale Watching Spot on the South Coast?

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by Karen Ross (subscribe)
I love slow travel, slow food and discovering new adventures and delicious regional food in new locations. I'm on an indulgent quest and I'd love you to follow at
Published April 6th 2016
Bring your binoculars
Southern Right Whales return to Fleurieu Peninsula waters each winter and locals and visitors flock to see them rolling, breaching, blowing and feeding. Tail slapping is a special favourite.

This annual migration to South Australian waters is a key part of the whales' breeding cycle. They come to find a mate, or to give birth and raise their calves in the protected bays and coves along the south coast. Whales have been sighted as early as mid March (16/3/14 at Waitpinga), so it's time to polish up your binoculars and choose your whale watching spot.

SA Whale Centre has a sighting map showing fourteen whale-watching locations dotted along the coast from Goolwa Beach to Waitpinga.

SA Whale Centre sighting map
Sighting map from SA Whale Centre

So which of these is the best place to head for if you want to spot a whale? I'll share my favourite place with you, but I'm saving it till last.

Four whale sightings were reported at beautiful Goolwa Beach in 2014 and I was fortunate to have seen a tail slapping session there with my very own eyes.

You can drive along Barrage Road, towards the barrages, park near the Jet-Ski hire place and walk to the dunes. It's a bit of a hike though, and there's nowhere to get a cuppa. Only choose this spot if you like a bushwalk and you have a thermos.

Goolwa Beach Dunes
Goolwa Beach Dunes

Otherwise, head down Beach Road, Goolwa, park in the carpark and find a spot near Bombora Cafe where you'll be able to get a hot drink and something to eat. It's important to sustain your energy while waiting for whales.

Goolwa Beach Car Park
Goolwa Beach Car Park

Nearby, Surfers Beach, at Middleton, had three sightings reported in the 2014 season according to the SA Whale Centre's log on their website. Meanwhile Basham's Beach had twenty sightings logged. Not surprisingly, Bashams is an extraordinarily popular spot and I have seen hundreds of cars and excited whale watchers there most Sundays for the past two winters. No cafes, take your own thermos.

Bashams Beach
Bashams Beach whale watching bench

Further west is Boomer Beach where three sightings were reported in 2014. Also no cafes.

Boomer Beach
Boomer Beach - Ocean Road

Further towards Victor Harbor is Chiton Rocks where two sightings were reported in 2014. Although there's potential for sustenance here since the Chiton Rocks Surf Life Saving Clubrooms are nearby, I doubt the bar is open during winter. Best to take a thermos.

Chiton Rocks
Chiton Rocks

The Causeway at Victor Harbor and Granite Island both have signposted whale watching spots although I only noted three sightings logged on the SA Whale Centre website for the past two seasons. At least there's no shortage of cafes, bars and restaurants in Victor Harbor if the whales don't show.

The Bluff has no recent recorded sightings, no cafe and it's cold and windy. You'd be mad to sit there and wait for whales. Waitpinga, however, had twelve recorded sightings in 2014 and seems to be a first-stop for whales each season.

Now before I share my favourite whale watching spot with you, I'd better just mention that SA Whale Centre has far more reliable information than I do. Or you can call the Whale Hotline on 1900 942 537, or watch the evening news at 5pm for whale sightings.

But just because there have been whale sightings recently, it doesn't necessarily mean there will be again, does it? So you might as well choose a nice spot to wait for whales.

My favourite spot is Freeman's Knob in Port Elliot which had (drum roll) thirty five sightings in 2014 and three in 2015.

Freeman's Knob, Port Elliot
Freeman's Knob, Port Elliot

Now of course I realise that the high number of reported sightings might have something to do with the high number of whale watchers in any given spot. Freeman's Knob is popular because it's a lovely lookout with seats, a telescope and information boards to read.

Lookout at Freemans Knob, Port Elliot
Lookout at Freeman's Knob, Port Elliot

And if the whales do a no-show you can have a hot chocolate at The Retro Vibe Cafe, just a short walk away in Port Elliot.
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Why? Southern Right Whales are endangered but we have the thrill of seeing them each winter in SA waters.
When: May to October
Phone: 08 8551 0750 or 1900 942 537
Where: Encounter Bay, South Australia
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Great article
by Hazel Cochrane (score: 2|336) 1631 days ago
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