Gayle is a retired accountant and a photography enthusiast living on Victoria's beautiful Bass Coast. Gayle is passionate about writing and keen to showcase Aussie culture to a global audience. Gayle loves her family, dogs, sunsets, and chocolate.
Published September 16th 2019
There be whales here and so much more
The annual whale migration inspires the imagination of a nation. People scramble to coastal vantage points to get a glimpse of these majestic creatures swimming north from the Antarctic to warmer waters for calving. Even better than catching sight of the whales on the way to calve is to get out on the ocean and see the mothers returning south with calves at their side.
Don't miss a chance to see the humpback whales - Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Wildlife Coast Cruises offers just such an opportunity in the coastal waters around Wilsons Promontory during the great southern whale migration between September and Mid-November. My husband and I joined this cruise in the 2018 season and were fortunate beyond all expectation with sightings of four different sets of mother and calve humpback whales. What a treat! With Port Welshpool only a two and a half-hour drive from Melbourne's CBD this is an easy weekend getaway.
A humpback whale does a belly roll - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
1. Humpback Whales and Calves You'll be out to sea before you get a glimpse of the whales but they are the highlight of the cruise and so deserve a first, not last mention. Humpback Whales migrate from Antarctica in autumn warmer pacific waters for breeding. On this cruise, you will find them on their spring migration back to cold southern waters.
Seeing double. Humpback whale fins - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
Calves are up to 4.5 metres long when born, the length of the average medium car. The mothers were initially wary and protective, swimming between the boat and their young although they had nothing to fear as the legal distance was always maintained. Wildlife Coast Cruises boast a 90% whale sighting success rate for this cruise. We were not disappointed. We also joined Wildlife Coast Cruises on their Phillip Island Winter Whale Cruise in 2017 and they too had a successful whale sighting.
2. The Long Jetty On departure from Port Welshpool the boat passes the famous Long Jetty giving an oceanside view of this historic structure. Originally built in the 1930s the jetty is heritage listed with the National Trust. The jetty was extended on the 1980s to facilitate supply to the Bass Strait oil and gas industry. Following a fire in 2003, this 908-metre jetty was rehabilitated and reopened to the public in 2018.
The Port Welshpool Log Jetty stretched 908 metres - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
3. Sealers Cove Named Sealers Cove by George Bass in 1798, this was a hot location in the early 1800s for the whaling and sealing industries. By the 1850s the plunder had diminished seal numbers so drastically it was no longer viable. The area was then turned over to timber production until 1906 when good timber, like the seals, was gone. Now a pristine beach with a majestic mountain backdrop this is a beautiful place to visit and don't worry you will see plenty of Australian fur seals on the rocky outcrops along the cruise.
Australian Fur Seals sunning themselves on rocks - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
On our cruise, our first sighting and first whale photo for the day was the hump-like backs of a whale mother and her calf diving together. Wow! It goes without saying that the highlight of a whale-watching cruise is seeing a whale breach when it propels itself above the water and dramatically splashes back down.
A humpback whale mother and child - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
4. Refuge Cove Pristine Refuge Cove is a pristine and secluded beach on the east side of Wilsons Promontory that was used by whaling boats in days gone by as a haven from bad weather. Unless the boat has been lured away by whale sightings, always a first priority in this cruise, you will get an oceanside view of this beautiful piece of southern Australian coastline.
A remote rocky island - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
We were travelling on the Brianna Lee, a 20-metre catamaran with a 120 passenger capacity which is not much larger than a Humpback Whale, the female of which can grow to 16 metres in length and weigh up to 30,000 kg. This is just one of many interesting whale facts you will learn throughout the cruise; the Wildlife Coast Cruises folk really know their whales.
The Brianna Lee moored at Port Welshpool - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
5. Dolphins (and more whales) While you are searching for whales in the great blue don't be surprised to see Dolphins. These playful mammals and not shy about approaching the boat and engender almost as much excitement as the whales. How could we not like them?
A dolphin plays around the boat - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
On our cruise we spotted the whales and dolphins together around lunchtime and so we also stopped to eat. The Wildlife Coast Cruises staff are well practised at what they do and lunch was served in no time at all. It was while we were stationary that the whales moved a little closer and we were treated to fin waving, tail slapping and belly rolls. The flippers can grow to as much as five metres so a wave above the surface is a sight to behold. Even the seasoned cruise staff are excited by these wonderful displays.
A flick of mum's tail and a baby at her side - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
6. Wilson Promontory Lighthouse We saw Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse from a distance, sitting high atop a narrow peninsula of granite cliffs. This 19-metre high granite lighthouse was originally built by convict labour in 1859 and is the southernmost lighthouse on the Australian mainland. These days visitors, keen hikers with a yearning for a remote interlude, can stay at one of three cottages on the peninsula. On our trip we didn't get as near as planned because the whales had been sighted and away we went with excited eyes scanning the water.
7. Rabbit Island On the way back to port we linger alongside Rabbit Island, a granite island that got its name in 1842 due to the abundance of rabbits. The rabbits were introduced to the island by sealers and left there to provide a food supply for passing sailors. The rabbits had all been removed by 1968 and the island has been identified by Birdlife International as important for breeding seabirds.
A cave in granite cliffs - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
8. Seabirds Sightings of sea birds like the Shy Albatross and Australasian Gannet are common. On our cruise the gannets were plentiful and we were treated to sightings of both the sleek adults and the mottled brown juveniles. Their almost missile-like dive into the water is impressive.
An Australasian Gannet - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
9. Southern Right Whales Along with the Humpback Whales there is also a chance of spotting Southern Right Whales on their return journey. The Southern Right Whale does not migrate as far as the Humpback but do head up the Queensland coast to Cape Byron, one of Australia's premier whale-watching sites.
Humpback whale flippers can grow to 5 metres long - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
This cruise of a lifetime departs from the Port Welshpool in South Gippsland, which is around a two and a half-hour drive from the Melbourne CBD and just under two hours from Cranbourne. The boat leaves from the Port Welshpool Jetty at 93 Lewis Street, Port Welshpool at 10am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from September to Mid-November. The cruise runs for six hours in the Wilsons Promontory coastal area. The price includes morning tea, lunch and afternoon snacks and there is a licensed bar on board.
Even the smallest glimpse of a whale is exciting - Image copyright Gayle Beveridge
Check the Wildlife Coast Cruise website https://www.wildlifecoastcruises.com.au/cruises/wilsons-prom-whale-cruise for more details and other cruise options and make your booking or telephone them on 1300 763 739. Costs for the 2019 season are Adult $175.00, Child $122.50, Concession $157.50, Groups of 5 $143.50pp and the Whale Season Pass which entitles the purchaser to 5 cruises is $420.00.
For those wishing to make this a lovely weekend getaway or indeed a more substantial holiday you can check the accommodation options recommended by Wildlife Coast Cruises here. For other things to do while you are in the area check the Visit Prom Country website which provides all the information you need for a happy stay.