Monday, 5 October 2015

Whale Watching in Sydney with Captain Cook Cruises

What is that saying?- 'Sometimes the best things are right in front of you.'

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.

The sad news is I have no photo of the whales breaching. It happened so quickly I didn't have the camera ready. I did however, get lots of other great shots - and some really terrible ones. I now have the world's largest collection of photos of nothing but water.





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.


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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

50 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I suppose we were lucky but I had the impression that most of the Captain Cook Cruises Whale Watching Cruises saw plenty of whales.

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  2. You are lucky to see the fluke (I want to say flume but I think that's because of the musician!). I'm keen to go,..will investigate Capt Cook....

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    1. If you want to see whales this year don't leave it too long. The best part was seeing them breach. Sadly, I didn't have the camera ready to go and one of the first things they did was breach - it was stunning.

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  3. I went all the way to Alaska to see whales, but couldn't see any. Maybe I should come to Sydney to see them, Lyn.

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    1. Haha - maybe you should but make sure it is in whale season. They aren't here all year. We have a few other attractions which you might like too and some really great animals - lol!

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  4. We enjoyed the whale watching in Sydney, probably more than I though I, in particular, would. It was a lot of the anticipation of waiting for them to re-appear, and guessing where they would come up. I also thoroughly recommend this, and Sydney is spectacular anyhow.

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    1. You are right, even without the whales it is a great experience sailing through Sydney's spectacular heads. The whales make it fantastic!

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  5. That's fantastic! I've only been whale watching once and didn't get to see any. And what a great place to do it!

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    1. There is obviously a bit of luck in it. I once saw whales right below me off the coast at Albany, W.A. I heard they were in the bay and went down for a walk. They were the biggest whales I have ever seen - just magnificent creatures. I have decided that I'm going to go now once a year and just take the good luck with the bad. I am extraordinarily lucky that Sydney turns out to be such a great place for whale watching and it seems to be getting better each year.

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  6. You not only saw the whales, you guys got to see them from a very close distance. We can see whales in California too (in winter). However, would like to go to Mexico to see them in their breeding grounds.

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    1. Haha - we would like to go to Mexico full stop but every American we have ever met says it is still too dangerous. It doesn't help that David won't go anywhere without hiring a car. I think we could do it safely if he would just agree to go without driving but I can't see that happening - lol.

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    2. Great. Our son is in Mexico now---on a motorcycle with an interlude for hot air ballooning. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

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    3. Haha - I'm sure he'll be fine.

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  7. I've never seen whales in the ocean and would love to do a whale watching trip! Hopefully, I'll get lucky and I'll be sure to have the camera ready!

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    1. I just thought I wouldn't be able to get any decent photos with my little point and shoot. It turns out I was wrong. At least I got some photos. There were a couple of 'off-duty' professional photographers on the same cruise with the biggest camera lenses I have ever seen and I felt a bit intimidated getting out my pocket travel camera - silly me!

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  8. In San Diego, Whale watching is a huge thing and it is truly amazing thing to see one in the ocean. It is actually a beautiful sight to see whales like that, I have yet to go on a cruise of whale watching. But I definitely want to so I can capture them like you did!

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    1. All I can say is you won't regret it. We just loved it.

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  9. I wish we lived in Sydney! or the Sunshine Coast or the Gold Coast, although we do sometimes see whales off Townsville. Looks like a great tour boat experience.

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    1. Doesn't Townsville have whale watching. I'm sure they go past there on their way further north.

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  10. We spent the winter of 2014 living in Honolulu Hawaii. We went on a small boat cruise one evening, not expressly to see whales----but there they were! Apparently, some travel there from Alaska to have their babies (not sure what you call a whale baby and I'm too tired to look it up.)

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    1. I'm pretty sure it is a 'calf'. We were in Maui a few years ago and did a brilliant tour with a couple of young guys who ran parasailing tours. During the whale season (your winter) they weren't allowed to offer parasailing because it would impact too much on the whales so they took small groups whale watching. We were lucky enough to have a couple swim under the boat.

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  11. Lyn, you're so right. Very often the best 'tails' are close to home. Whale watching here on the British Columbia coast never gets boring, especially when these amazing marine mammals cruise down the coast in the Spring. Super pictures!

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    1. We were in British Columbia early in the year. We just loved it - beautiful scenery.

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  12. I'm sure there were sights in Alaska that you can't see in Sydney! It would be great to see the whales again. I remember seeing them once on our way to Rotttnest. Even though we were a good distance from them, they decided to check us out and came so close to our boat...it was a truly memorable experience!

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    1. True! Now that you mention it, I have never seen a glacier in Sydney - lol. Alaska was great, just a little disappointing in the whale department.

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  13. What a thrilling sight!
    Thanks for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2015/10/poor-little-birdie.html

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  14. I love whale watching!! You had a wonderful experience and your photos are awesome!

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    1. Thanks. I was pretty happy with the photos - once I deleted all the ones of just water where I the shot came just after the whales had dived.

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  15. Even though you didn't get any breaching, your shots are lovely. We went on a whale watching cruise in Oregon many years ago and didn't see a one.

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    1. A photo would have be good but the best thing was seeing them breach. That was just magical.

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  16. You got such great shots! I have always wanted to go whale watching, but I've never taken the plunge because I worry that it will be for naught. Glad you got to see some whales close up this time around.

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    1. I know how you feel. It was something that put me off going for a long time. No-one can promise that you will see whales close-up. We once went whale watching off the coast at Port Stephens and only saw whales way in the distance. In the end I decided to take the chance here and I am so glad I did.

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  17. these kinds of excursions are always a gamble. you can time nature! glad you saw whales and that you didn't have to travel far to do it! sometimes the biggest adventures are just outside your front door.

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    1. The whole experience has made me realise that I need to act like a tourist at home occasionally. We have a stretch coming up at home for a few months over summer and I am going to hit every tourist activity I can think of - not just the paid ones but walking, cycling and just generally exploring.

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  18. How fortunate to be given the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures. I really like that Captain Cook Cruises offer a stand by cruise if you don't see any whales - just gives you a sense that you won't waste your money.

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    1. I liked that too but it was so not needed.

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  19. We did this on an Alaska cruise and it was great fun. Nice set of images.

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    1. Wherever you see whales, I defy anyone not to enjoy the experience.

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  20. Great post! Whale-watching is so exciting that you need to make quick decisions about whether to capture a breech with your camera or your eyes!:-)

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    1. You are so right. While I was really happy with my photos I spent most of the time just looking at the whales and committing the experience to memory.

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  21. So happy you were able to have this magnificent experience with humpbacks. When we lived on Kaua'i, we always took visitors on a whale-watching cruise. During the season, you were guaranteed to see them but it never got old. In Alaska, we managed to observe a pod of killer whales on Turnagain Arm outside of Anchorage. Humpbacks usually stick to the open sea. So awesome!

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    1. We saw whales once in Maui and it was just great. We did see some killer whales in Alaska but it was very brief.

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  22. I often see the whales frolicking off the coast but have yet to have the chance to get up close with them. Everyone I speak to that has always says how hard it is to get photos. I'm not sure if I would do what I always do and try and capture a great shot or try to let go of that and just enjoy the moment. You still got some great shots!
    Thanks for linking up to #wednesdaywanderlust

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    1. I know what you mean by just enjoying the moment. What I tried to do was a bit of both. I love looking at photos afterwards so I really wanted a couple of decent ones if I could but I didn't want to just see the whales through the camera's viewfinder so I watched the whales and just pointed the camera in their general direction without looking through the viewfinder, except occasionally. By setting the camera to take multiple photos with every click it worked really well - once I deleted all the photos of nothing but water that is - lol.

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  23. This is amazing! Most people I know of only see dolphins when on whale watching cruises.. And I can just imagine your collection of 'nothing but water' photos! LOL! #WednesdayWanderlust

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    1. We saw a pod of dolphins as well but I didn't get any photos.

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