Cruising with giants off the coast of Australia’s largest city.
What is it about the sight of a whale that sets the human heart astir? Even a fleeting glimpse of a tail or the arc of a great, glimmering back breaking the surface incites a surge of euphoria – a feeling of pure joy and unadulterated delight.
People didn’t always view whales the same way. Spend a leisurely afternoon cruising with Oz Whale Watching, and guide, naturalist and whale conservation advocate ‘Biggles’ Csolander will explain how much of Sydney’s wealth during European settlement arose from the whaling trade. On our barbecue lunch cruise, as our roomy double-decker vessel departs Darling Harbour, Biggles provides a history lesson on the early days of Sydney Harbour and the whaling industry, which astonishingly only came to an end in Australia in 1979.
Fortunately whale populations have made a remarkable recovery and Sydney has become a whale watching hub for wildlife enthusiasts hoping to catch a glimpse of these majestic mammals making the two-way journey between the Southern Ocean and Queensland tropics.
We finish lunch while still in the calm of the harbour, and soon we’re cruising the open ocean with Sydney’s majestic cliffs and beaches providing a breathtaking backdrop. Finding whales in the middle of the ocean isn’t easy, but the eagle-eyed crew eventually spot four humpbacks a few hundred metres off Bondi Beach.
By law, boats are only allowed to approach whales within 100m, but often the whales come closer of their own accord. A tense few minutes wait, and then out of nowhere, a whale breaches spectacularly within metres of our boat. Gasps and cheers arise from the guests. Having proved their acrobatic prowess to their astonished spectators, the whales return to cruise control mode and we steam alongside them, admiring their grace and power each time a back or fin breaks the surface.
The team behind Oz Whale Watching pride themselves on being a responsible operator, putting education and the safety and comfort of the whales first, while still making an effort to seek out the most active animals, making memorable, up-close encounters more likely.
Returning to dry land, I’m still buoyant from my brief but thrilling encounter. Where does this emotion come from? Without a doubt, their sheer size plays a part in our sense of awe and admiration. There’s something deeply humbling about sharing in the presence of something far bigger and more imposing than yourself. And now we understand whales are intelligent, self-aware and emotional, just like us. In a more ignorant time, we almost wiped these extraordinary beings from the planet. Seeing them in the wild, we realise how fortunate it is that they are still among us, and in our state of wonderment, we understand on the most profound level just how important it is to protect them.
Oz Whale Watching
P: 02 9518 7813
By Fiona Davies