Meg Forbes is a mum, freelance writer, and photographer living in the Redlands, South of Brisbane.
Published July 1st 2020
Spectacular land-based whale watching close to Brisbane
2020 has been a tumultuous year, and many of us have put travel plans on hold. But did you know that incredible land-based whale watching from June to October is available just a short distance from Brisbane?
A humpback whale swimming beneath the gorge during its annual migration
At this time of year settling down on either of these headlands for an hour or so can feel like sitting above a humpback whale highway. The humpback whales - 'yalingbila' - have taken this route since time immemorial, and are sacred to Minjerribah's Traditional Owners, the Quandamooka Nation. During the southern hemisphere's summer, the humpback whales spend their time feeding on krill around Antarctica. But in the winter months, they migrate to the calm waters of Hervey Bay to mate and give birth.
Many of the whales seem to delight in play as they migrate past the island
Migrating along the east coast of Australia, headlands all along the coast are popular locations for spotting these once highly endangered marine mammals. Scientists estimate that humpback whales were reduced to not much more than 100 individuals by 1963 when the east coast whaling industry was no longer viable and closed down. Since then, however, there has been a steady recovery, and in 2019 it was estimated that approximately 30 000 humpback whales migrated along the Australian east coast! This is great news for whale watchers, especially as many whales choose to swim quite close to the coastline. This seems to especially be the case on their southern migration from around September when mothers (and sometimes other family members such as grandmothers) are swimming south to Antarctica with their calves for the summer.
A humpback whale giving a 'Straddie salute' to watchers on the headlands on a misty morning
For this reason, the Gorge Walk, sitting on the eastern edge of Minjerribah, is an ideal location to watch the whales passing. It is also a superb day trip from Brisbane, although camping and other accommodation is available on the island. The land, air, and waters around the gorge are also home to a host of other wildlife including dolphins, turtles, sharks, eastern grey kangaroos, eastern ospreys, and white-bellied sea eagles.
The gorge is a haven for a multitude of wildlife, including marine turtles who hunt for jellyfish within it
Dolphins are frequently seen surfing beneath the cliffs of the gorge, while turtles often swim into the gorge in search of jellyfish that get washed into it and then can't escape. The dolphins also seem to genuinely enjoy their larger cousins visiting, and it isn't unusual to see them interacting together.
If you choose to catch the bus, simply go all the way to the final stop which is located at the start of the Gorge Walk. Alternatively, if you are driving, take the East Coast Rd to Mulumba / Point Lookout where there is street parking available. There are also a number of shops, a bakery, two gelato shops, and a selection of restaurants for refuelling after your land-based whale watching adventure. Additionally, Headland Park adjacent to the bus stop has well-maintained public toilets, drinking fountains, rubbish bins, picnic tables, and a playground.
Mulumba / Point Lookout is not only stunning, but has great facilities as well
Planning your trip around the weather can really help you make the most of this amazing experience. Sunny skies can really increase visibility within the water, and on days when the wind is from the west, the gorge is sheltered for optimal marine wildlife spotting.
Checking the weather and wind forecast can make all the difference to land-based whale watching