A few months ago David and I went to Alaska. We live in Sydney, Australia so it was a long, long way to travel. Right at the top of my list of things to see was whales. After sixteen hours in the air, four or five more hanging around at airports, then three days and nights on a car ferry we did see whales; briefly and in the distance. Not seeing whales close-up, the way I had imagined we would, was an object lesson in 'managing my expectations' - something I often tell other travellers to do but have never really mastered the art of myself.
Last weekend, back at home in Sydney, we went on a Captain Cook Cruises Whale Watching Cruise. It took us twenty minutes on the train to get to town - about 103 and a half hours less than it took us to get to Alaska - and, you guessed it, we saw whales. They were magnificent, graceful, breathtakingly awesome and there were lots of them.
|With sights like this right on our doorstep. I wonder what made me think I needed to travel to Alaska.|
Whales or not, right from the start I could see our Captain Cook Cruises Whale Watching Cruise was going to be fun. As we sailed east from Circular Quay toward the heads and the open water beyond them, David and I played a game of 'name the landmark.' Pretty soon a small group around us joined in and together we managed to identify many of the headlands, beaches and more famous houses along the harbour's posh southern shore. Half an hour later, outside the heads in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, David was still engaged in the game, trying to decide whether the now distant skyscrapers were Chatswood or the CBD. Everyone else on board was scanning the horizon for whales.
|We passed by Shark Island on our way out of the Harbour. In case you are wondering - no, that is not our whale watching boat in the foreground.|
Just as I began repeating to myself 'manage your expectations, Lynette', a pair of humpbacks appeared 60 metres or so off the starboard side. Someone said they were juveniles - I really didn't care, but they certainly acted like teenagers. On the kind of magnificent spring day which only Sydney can turn on, these whales were clearly having fun. They slapped their tails, rolled onto their bellies, waved their pectoral fins and, in a few heart-stopping moments of pure magic hurled their enormous bodies up and out of the water, hanging just for a second or two in mid-air, before crashing back down into the sea.
Some wag behind us broke the silence, "Still looking at Chatswood now?" he said, amid muffled, good-natured laughter directed at David.
Then the whales were gone. A dozen pairs of eyes searched the water, waiting for them to re-appear - and they did - again and again, dancing, playing and slapping the water with their enormous tails. After a while, they grew tired of their games and spent longer and longer submerged and out of sight. Our Captain Cook Cruises guide, Andrew, took advantage of these intermissions to teach us a little about these beautiful creatures and their behaviour, describing the long journeys they make north each year to breed. In September, we were seeing them travel south back toward the Antarctic where they would spend the summer before beginning their migration again next year.
|Scanning the ocean for whales. Andrew, our Captain Cook guide, is in the striped shirt.|
Finally, the Captain decided it was time to move on. He had spotted another pair of humpbacks in the distance. Maybe it was the same pair - they can travel huge distances under water. This pair seemed as curious about us as we were about them. After a few minutes of whale-ballet they swam up to the boat giving everyone on board a close-up view of their colossal dimensions before disappearing under the keel. We rushed to the starboard side to watch them emerge, but no doubt playing some private joke of their own they stayed deep, re-appearing in the distance only when we had almost given up hope.
|These two seemed to be playing tag.|
Another pair of humpbacks and a few dolphins later we headed for home. For a while at least my search for whales has been satiated. I'll be back next year though. There is something truly addictive about watching such magnificent animals.
Tips and tricks and things to know.
When is the whale watching season in Sydney?
- The whale watching season runs from mid-May to November. In 2015 Captain Cook Cruises will run its last whale watching cruise on 1 November.
- Don't leave it to the end of October if you want to maximise your chances of seeing lots of whales.
Where can you find information on times and prices?
- Whale watching cruises depart from Circular Quay each weekday afternoon. On Saturdays and Sundays there are morning and afternoon cruises.
- Click here for times and prices.
Will you definitely see whales?
- Sadly, the answer is no. However Captain Cook Cruises advertises a 99% success rate in sighting whales and offers a free stand-by cruise in the same whale watching season if no whales are sighted.
- Click here for a list of sightings so far this season. This gives you an idea of just how good your chances of seeing whales are.
What if you suffer from sea-sickness?
- The cruises go into open water outside the heads - not exactly an area known for calm seas. However, I can get sea-sick in the bath. If I can do it, with a few precautions, then so can you.
- Find a good sea-sickness medication and remember to take it before you leave the dock.
- Check out Captain Cook Cruises' predicted 'Comfort Levels & Weather chart' - click here to see the current chart, Pay particular attention to the graphic showing wind strength and wave height and try to plan your cruise for a calm day.
- Carry some water or, better still, ginger beer and take regular small sips.
- Unless the weather is awful sit on the top deck in the open air with the breeze in your face.
Other things to know.
- Wear sensible shoes - this is not a place for heels.
- Don't worry too much about which side of the boat you are on. We found that there was plenty of room on the top deck to change sides when the whales appeared at the opposite railing.
- Our boat had a closed in lower deck and a partly enclosed upper deck. We went on a calm day and sat upstairs in the open air section but in bad weather it might be more comfortable inside.
Would we recommend Captain Cook Cruises Whale Watching Cruise - Absolutely! In fact I want to do this again next year and the next and the next .........
David and I received complimentary tickets from Captain Cook Cruises.
This post has been included in Travel Photo Mondays and Wednesday Wanderlust