Travel Tale: The Day I Saw Whales
When I recently headed to Australia’s gorgeous Sunshine Coast this year I had no idea I was landing myself at one of the best places for whale watching in Australia. I didn’t even have whales on my mind. Though whale watching is most definitely on my Must Do Travel List, it wasn’t on my immediate itinerary for Australia, 2014.
No, I’d headed to Sunshine Coast because I’d fallen in love with the region while cycling up Australia’s eastern coast back in 2003. This year I’d found a great Help Exchange assignment in Noosa, Sunshine’s northernmost end, and made a bee-line over from Brisbane two days after setting foot on Australian soil.
Spying whales was just one of those surreptitious ‘lucky’ things that happens sometimes out on the road, an extra bonus for pursuing a life of travel, following my dreams…
At the time of the incident I’d been at Sunshine Coast for over a month, primarily hanging out at the wonderful beach-side communities of Noosa and Coolum. Although they are both very expensive upscale regions, my costs had amounted to only a couple hundred dollars per month, all while staying in fabulous homes. It was all due to several Help Exchange gigs, a fabulous House Sitting assignment in Noosa and visiting friends who live in Coolum.
One morning I went to visit those friends at their home on Point Arkwright, located about two km south of Coolum on a preserved coastal headland. Situated just one block from their house was the rambling Coolum – Point Arkwright Coastal Walk and a lovely wooden look-out point. I figured we’d probably go out walking that day.
We kicked off my visit with a catch-up chat over a ‘cuppa’, as it had been nearly three weeks since we’d met up. They’d gone on a road trip north to Magnetic Island and I’d completed my house sitting assignment in Noosa. We had many adventures to share.
Eventually Jeanette said she’d like to walk over to the look-out to see if any whales were passing by. I’d completely forgotten about whale watching along the Coolum coast. When I’d stayed with them one month earlier, Ian had taken me out several times hoping to spy whales and explaining the whale migration to me.
Humpback whales migrate up the eastern coast of Australia from Antarctica, starting in May. They’re escaping the southern hemisphere’s freezing winters (June to September) and to calve in Australia’s warmer far northern waters around Great Barrier Reef. During their northern migration they generally keep far out to sea. Hopeful whale watchers must take boat excursions out into the Pacific in hope of sighting the magnificent creatures.
In mid-September when spring begins unfolding and the young whales have grown and strengthened a bit, they all head back south along the coast, this time often hugging Australia’s eastern shores with their young in tow. During the southern migration whale sightings from land are very common.
Sunshine Coast is sandwiched closely between two of the most famous whale-sighting regions: Hervey Bay and the Gold Coast. Local residents make a point of stepping out to beaches and look-out platforms during September and October, hoping to witness the spectacular yearly migration.
Ian and I never saw any whales during my previous 10-day stay. So this particular morning I wasn’t holding up much hope either. I took the entire excursion as a simple stroll with friends.
But as we approached the look-out platform, suddenly Ian pointed out to sea and exclaimed, “There are whales!”
I abruptly stopped chatting to Jeanette and looked seaward. Sure enough, there was a real, live whale spouting a massive plume of water 10 M into the clear blue sky. I was so stunned that I stopped dead in my tracks, my mouth dropped open, my breath caught in my throat and my eyes bugged out of my head.
Quite involuntarily, I started popping up and down in place like a kangaroo, or perhaps like Tigger of Winnie the Pooh. My arms began thrashing around, adrenaline surging through my limbs, while I repeatedly uttered, “OMG, OMG, OMG…!” non-stop for several minutes.
Keeping my eyes glued to the whales, when I finally stopped boing-ing, I continued on to the look-out platform. Meanwhile, quick & spry Ian had already sighted the whales in his binoculars and had thoughtfully handed them to me for a better view.
Just then a whale jumped clear out of the sea! I instantly started popping up and down again with excitement and, while my arms began thrashing about, I accidentally threw Ian’s binoculars promptly into a nearby bush. Thankfully, they didn’t fly out to sea.
After the whale completed it’s amazing jump, I quickly retrieved the binoculars and took my place on the platform, gluing my eyes on the whales through the eye holes.
The whales, a mother and calf, were directly in front of the look-out by that point. Just exactly when we arrived. Now what are the chances?
As we stood there enjoying the whales’ amazing acrobatics, they drifted in closer to shore so that they were clearly visible to the naked eye. With binoculars, they looked exceedingly close and large.
Over the next 30 minutes we were treated to a phenomenal display. The whales performed every trick in their arsenal.
They blew water geysers sky-high. They leaped clean up out of the sea. They rolled sideways while their long, stiff fins stuck straight out, crashing on the water surface as they turned. They flipped their tails up in the air and smacked them on the water repeatedly. The adorable little calf imitated her mother, jumping up out of the sea and flapping its tail.
While that beautiful display was going on, Ian spied several other whales further out towards the horizon. I glanced out at them from time to time. They were also spouting water and leaping out of the sea. In total, there must have been a dozen whales swimming by Point Arkwright look-out that day.
Jeanette later said it was the best display she’d ever seen in her life. And she’s lived in Coolum most of her life.
Although we were watching whale maneuvers for at least half an hour, it seemed like just a few minutes. I was so thrilled and grateful to finally watch whales in my life that my chest felt swollen, my breath caught in my throat many times and my eyes got quite damp. I’m sure a few tears of joy trickled down my face.
Eventually, much too soon of course, we had to admit that the whales were finally out of sight, further down the coast. When the sea became calm and flat for many minutes, we sighed and slowly made our way back home.
I for one had an odd calm pass over me, a kind of stunned shock and gratitude for having seen whales in the wild during my life time. Thank you, thank you, universe for that wonderful gift.
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