Watching humpback whales breaching and smashing in the ocean is an incredible experience, but the whale watching cruises can be quite expensive. What if I told you that you could have an incredible cetacean encounter without spending a cent? Thats right, completely free.
In Western Australia we are blessed with great weather, stunning scenery and some of the best coastline in the world for spotting whales at play.
During their annual migration from Antarctica to their breeding grounds in the north of WA, whales hug the coast bringing them within sight of shore. Throughout the season they can be spotted in Esperance, Denmark, Walpole, Perth, Kalbarri and all the way up to Exmouth and into the Kimberly. But without a doubt, one of the easiest places
The Margaret River region is one of the best places to spot whales from shore and below I’ll reveal some of the top vantage points. So grab your binoculars and a picnic and head out on your whale watching excursion today!
Where is the Margaret River Region
Margaret River – or ‘Margs’ for short – is just two hours south of Perth. The town of Margs itself is a small, eccentric town inland from the coast but the region as a whole spans roughly ??km from Cape Naturalists Lighthouse in Dunsborough in the north to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in Augusta in the South.
- Perth to Margaret River – 3 hours
- Perth to Dunsborough – 2 hours 40 mins
The Leeuwin current brings warm water from up in the tropics down to Dunsborough where it juts out into the Indian Ocean. Further south past the capes from here the water is much cooler and rougher thanks to its proximity to the Southern Ocean
When is the best time to go whale watching in Margaret River
The northern migration of humpback and southern right whales rind from May until around August. During their return journey south they tend to go slower and hg closer to shore to protect and rest their newborn calves. The southerly migration starts July/August and can run into late November.
What to look for when you’re trying to spot a whale from the shore
If you’re lucky you may spot a whale cruising right past close to shore as we did when we were walking the coastal cliffs in Kalbarri. If they are further out to sea though you need to look out for:
- breaching – results in a large spash
- fin and tail slapping – smaller splashes
- blows – a misty puff of spray straight up
- fluke – the tail fins and tapering part of the lower body
Remember that whales can dive for up to 20 minutes depending on the species so take a seat and keep an eye out to sea. If you see one playing and it disappears, it will probably reappear not too far away.
What are the best weather conditions for whale watching
For the best chance of seeing a whale you want relatively calm seas. It doesn’t matter if there is a swell but what you don’t want is choppy white crests in the water. This will make it very hard to see the splashes and blows of a whale as they all look similar. You want clear, calm days with the sun behind you.
Best spots for whale watching without spending a cent
Tucked in at the far end of Bunker Bay right at the top of the cape is Shelley Cove. We have had a lot of luck spotting whales in the past from this idillic and protected little bay.
From the car park walk down towards the cove and out onto the rocky outcrop. From the end you can see clearly north and east into Bunker Bay as well as out to Geographe Bay. This is a popular resting point for mothers and their calves during their trip south to the feeding grounds in Antarctica.
You can spend a lovely morning sitting in the shade of the trees looking out for frolicking whales.
Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse
There is a circular walk around Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse offering many great views out to sea. This is also the northern terminus of the ??km Cape to Cape hike trail that follows the coast all the way down to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse.
You’ll need a four wheel drive car for this track but the bumpy ride is definitely worth it! The track starts just off Cape Naturaliste Road not far from the lighthouse and winds through the bush and over the dunes to the coast. There are many great vantage points along the trail before coming to a sandy carpark overlooking the ocean. Park up and enjoy the view. There is even a drop toilet here for your comfort.
Sugarloaf Rock, Canal Rocks, Wyadup Rocks
All these ancient rocky monoliths are great for whale watching, however, you do have to scramble across boulders to get to the ocean view. There is plenty more to do here than whale watch though. You can admit the swirls of pink granites and gneiss (pronounced ‘nice’) of the 600 million year old rocks of Sugarloaf; take a dip in the Instagram hotspot Injinup Natural Spa at Wyadup, or experience the surge of waves crashing through the natural deep channels at Canal Rocks.
Surfers Point, Prevelly
Prevelly sits a the mouth of the Margaret River and is the site some world renowned surf breaks. The crescent carpark at Surfers Point gives you not only an amazing view of the surf, but out to the Indian Ocean beyond.
The beauty of 4WD trails is that you are often have the beach to yourself. The wide beach here is protected by a scattering of granite boulders forming many little calm pools to explore. Climb atop of one of the boulders for an unimpeded view out to sea.
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Just outside Augusta, and the southern terminus of the Cape to Cape Track, is another historic lighthouse. The best viewing areas here though are from the many small carparks along the road to the lighthouse.
You can stop just before the harbour to watch the whale watching boats departing. By watching where the boats stop when out to sea you can get an idea of where the whales are.
On our last visit we noticed that three of the whale watching boats had stopped at the mouth of the harbour. Between them and us was a mother and two calves. We stayed to watch them for around an hour – and all for free! We even had more time to watch them than those who had paid for the boat tours!
Do you have more incredible whale watching destinations to add to the list? Comment below and share the love x
If you’d prefer to hope on a boat and out to sea for a close encounter, you can find heaps of info here.