Hervey Bay whale watching.
Hervey Bay whale watching. Gary Crockett

Dance of humpbacks enough to make a believer

CALL me a cranky old cynic if you like, but before I moved to Hervey Bay I didn't know what all the fuss was about with whale watching.

As a keen outside fisherman I had occasionally watched off Yamba as a giant of the deep swept past me on its migration north.

Yes, it was fascinating, but really nothing to make me jump up and down and start shouting hallelujah.

A friend on hearing I was moving to the home of the humpbacks started telling me in passionate tones how they had gone whale watching the year before on the Fraser Coast and it turned out to be a "life-changing experience".

I rolled my eyes as the conversation moved on for the next half an hour as they relived their Hervey Bay whale watching trip as if they had witnessed a miracle just yesterday.

When I arrived on the Fraser Coast my family was keen to take the trip out so cynical Peter went along for the ride as the family patriarch does.

For an hour we swept out past Fraser Island with the occasional shout breaking the silence of the trip proclaiming someone on board had just spotted a group of dolphins or a sea turtle.

A guide on the trip gave us a well informed lecture of what we were hopefully about to witness and told us enough about humpback whales for us all to go home and write an essay about them.

There of course, was the one disclaimer saying that very occasionally we mightn't get to see a whale, but don't be concerned because the operator offered you a free ticket to come back out another day.

Great, I thought, it will be just my luck to have to take this trip out again.

Arriving at our proclaimed whale meeting ground, the skipper slowed the engines and the big cat we were on lowered its nose and settled into the water, gently breaking the small waves across her bow.

For the next 10 minutes the 60 or so fellow passengers and I started to scan the waters in Captain Ahab style ready to shout "there she blows!"

I was leaning across the stern trying not to show that I was actually starting to get excited about our whale chase when she came up in front of me.

Less than a cricket pitch away, covered in barnacles and surrounded by spray, the giant humpback burst straight up like a cork that had been pulled deep underwater before being released to spring to the surface.

In one moment the whale watching cynic in me had been discarded and thrown overboard, this really was something amazing.

For the next two hours my shipmates and I marvelled as whale after whale emerged, slapping their giant tails, breaching forming two metre waves and putting on an amazing show with their young calves by their side.

Understandably it hasn't been my last trip out to the whale grounds and each year I look forward to travelling out again bringing friends along for the ride with my family.

It's fine to see whales rolling past you as they migrate along the south-east Queensland coast, but there is nothing that compares to actually being in their playground where they show as much interest in you as you do in them.

There is no doubt that whales in Hervey Bay enjoy people watching.

They are curious giants that come to the boats and mesmerise the thousands who travel out for an experience which truly is life-changing.

Yes, I am now a true believer.

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