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Travel Tale: The Day I Saw Whales

Whale watching in Australia at Point Arkwright - Coolum

THE whale sighting spot! Point Arkwright – Coolum

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…

LashWorldTour at Noosa House Sitting

House Sitting in Noosa – Australia

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.

LashWorldTour cycling at Pt Arkwright

cycling at Pt Arkwright

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 Beach near Noosa

Sunshine Beach near Noosa

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!”

Humpback Whale jumping - photo by Moosealope on Flckr CC

Humpback Whale jumping – photo by Moosealope on Flckr CC

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.

baby Humpback Whale jumping - photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly on Flickr CC

baby Humpback Whale jumping – photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly on Flickr CC

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.

Humpback Whale flapping its tail - photo by MindsEye_PJ on Flckr CC

Humpback Whale flapping its tail – photo by MindsEye_PJ on Flckr CC

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.

LashWorldTour jumping on Coolum Beach

jumping for joy on Coolum Beach

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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You might also enjoy: 

Australia’s Fabulous Sunshine Coast

Photo Gallery: Noosa 

10 Free Things to do at Sunshine Coast 

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8 comments

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  1. Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Lash,

    Thrilling!

    I love your recount. Kelli and I dream of seeing whales. We missed them in Manual Antonio, Costa Rica as we were a season away from whale watching time. They’re such majestic, outright beautiful creatures, and oh so huge too.

    You’re also enjoying the heck out of Australia. We’ll be in Sydney for a day while cruising through to Bali. Hopefully we can catch a bunch of stuff in town as we’ll have a complete day. On the way to Fiji, we had like from 10 PM to 3 AM – yep, no real window there – so we’re looking forward to more time in town during our return journey.

    Loving your blog and stories Lash, and hey, you’re a networking machine too. Just read your comment on Problogger. Darren is an excellent guy to follow for all things blogging and eBooks. I’ve learned from him so much over the years, I can’t repay him enough.

    Thanks so much Lash, both for the story and your awesomely positive energy. Tweeting in a bit.

    Signing off from Savusavu.

    Ryan

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hey Ryan,

      Thanks for stopping by, as usual.

      Aww, bummer you missed the whale migration in Costa Rica. I’m sure you’ll have another great chance to spy them somewhere soon, though, as you an Kelli are now full time travelers, too!

      HOpe you get to enjoy a day in Sydney. I think one of my favorite things to do there was to walk across the HArbor Bridge! Such great, ever-changing views of the city and opera house from up there. And it’s so high above the water,that’s cool in itself.

      YEs, I’ve really been enjoying Sunshine Coast this year! on to Sydney for a while.. HEy, when is it you’ll be in SYdney? I’ll be here until OCt. 30th. Would be cool to meet up!

      cheers, Lash

  2. Frost

    Whales are gorgeous. I saw them near the Mirissa (Sri-Lanka). But it was not easy. We saw just one after 4 hours in the open ocean.

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Frost,

      Welcome!

      Wow, that’s great you got to see whales, too! I didn’t know there was whale watching from Mirrissa, Sri Lanka. Too bad it took you 4 hours to site them, but at least you did get to see some!

      Yes, they are amazing.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      cheers, Lash

  3. Luisa

    This year I also saw whales for the first time in my life, during a holiday in New England, and they too were Humpback Whales. I’m not a person who gets easily moved or that openly displays her feelings, but I must admit that when I saw them I had the same reaction: I had tears in my eyes and something in my chest! It took me totally off-guard because I was not expecting a reaction like that! I wonder what whales have that has this strong effect on people, but it is definitely there. :)

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Luisa,

      Welcome!

      Wow, thanks for sharing your great whale story here. Yeah, same. Took me totally by surprise because I wasn’t expecting to see any. I suppose that made it even more thrilling, as opposed to going out on a whale-sighting trip, very hopeful to see them. I guess the wonder and emotionally response comes from knowing how rare they are/how rare it is to see them and because they are so massively larger than us?

      Thanks for stopping by!

      cheers, Lash

  4. Kerry at The Insightful Wanderer

    Great story. I had a close encounter with whales, sitting on some rocks, by the St. Lawrence River. Quebec is a great place for whale watching, but I bet Australia would be great too. I hope to get there someday. Whales are some of my favorite animals on the planet.

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Kerry,

      Welcome!

      THanks, glad you enjoyed the story. “)

      Wow, close encounter with whales! cool. And Quebec is great for whale watchign?! I had no idea! i’ve always thought of Quebec as just the city… but looking at Google maps, I see it’s also the territory,w hich has lots of coastline. Good to know!

      thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. I learned something new!

      cheers, lash

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