Whales are extraordinary creatures with a size and power that is exciting to witness in the wild. Make it a whale-watching holiday you’ll never forget and stay within easy distance of the places the whales love best.
From the cool waters of Canada to the warm waters of Hawaii and Australia, there are locations around the world where you can see enormous blue whales, breaching humpbacks, deep-diving sperm whales, formidable orcas and more. While wildlife sightings of any kind can never be guaranteed, there are places renowned for the number of whales that visit them, giving you the best chance of watching them breach and throw their tails dramatically into the water.
Kaikōura, New Zealand
In Kaikōura on New Zealand’s South Island, it’s possible to spot sperm whales throughout the year and incredibly near the shoreline. A permanent pod of bachelor sperm whales gathers in the Kaikōura Canyon, where two strong sea currents converge, drawing nutrients from the deep ocean into the two-kilometre-deep chasm. These enormous, carnivorous creatures dive deep in search of squid, and whale spotters can see their angular heads and tail flukes at the surface level.
Stay nearby at Hapuka Lodge Kaikoura, an eco-lodge and treehouses between the base of the Kaikoura Seaward Mountains and Managamaunu Bay and be one of a select number of guests in the 12 guestrooms here. There’s a genuine sustainability-led approach to hospitality to enjoy after a day of whale watching — the lodge uses solar energy and locally sourced ingredients and has planted over a thousand native trees on its grounds.
Stroll along Sydney's Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk during the last week of June and the first week of July, and you might catch a glimpse of humpback whales passing by during this short window. These magnificent creatures can also be spotted in early September as they return south with their calves.
For a more certain sighting, head to Jervis Bay, a three-hour drive south of Sydney where you're almost guaranteed to see a humpback whale in the calm and clear waters between May and November. Stay at Paperbark Camp, a bush retreat and elevated camping experience right near Jervis Bay for a real back-to-nature experience that complements your whale watching perfectly.
Vancouver Island, Canada
Whale watching off the coast of the surf town of Tofino on Vancouver Island is a wonderful and windswept experience. In spring, 20,000 grey whales migrate north to Alaska, passing directly by the shores of Vancouver Island. Some linger in the area and can be seen between March and November. While grey whales are the main event in these waters, you may also see humpback whales and orcas.
A trip to Vancouver Island is the perfect wildlife holiday. Not only do you have the chance to spot whales, but bear-watching tours offer the chance to see mighty black bears in their natural habitat. Look skyward, and you might catch sight of a bald eagle circling overhead. After a thrilling day searching for beasts of the land and sea, retreat to a lodge tucked between the beach and rainforest to spend an evening around a campfire, recalling the day's stories. Long Beach Lodge Resort is one of our favourites.
The California coast has excellent whale-watching opportunities. Fresh from a visit to the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium, where there’s plenty to learn about the local marine conservation efforts, head out on the Pacific Ocean to see marine mammals in the wild. Humpback whales can be seen here from March to November, and dolphins and porpoises year-round. You might even glimpse an orca, and in the summer, blue whales – the world’s largest animals – can sometimes be spotted.
Monterey isn’t your only chance to see whales if you're on a California road trip. Dana Point, south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego, is a renowned spot for grey whales, humpback whales, plus blue whales and enormous pods of dolphins. Stay at the Laguna Beach House for easy access to Dana Point and breezy SoCal living when you return from your adventure.
Over on the USA’s east coast, the whale watching opportunities are just as exciting. You can head out directly from Boston – going to show that you don’t have to be somewhere remote to catch sight of these majestic marine mammals – setting off from Boston Harbour to Stellwagen to search for humpbacks, finbacks and minke whales.
There are more opportunities for whale watching around Cape Cod, the hook of land that flexes into the Atlantic Ocean like a bicep curl. If you’re serious about getting under the skin of this region’s relationship with whales, a day trip to the chic island of Nantucket from Cape Cod means you can visit the Whaling Museum, home to a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton and exhibits which reveal tales of 18th and 19th-century whaling and the stories that inspired Moby Dick.
The southern coast of Western Australia is an excellent location for whale watching. In Augusta's Flinders Bay, humpback and southern right whales can be seen playing from June onwards. As you move south, Albany's rugged coastline offers another picturesque location for spotting southern right whales, who take refuge in the bays to mate and calve. Visitors to Albany can learn about whales at the historic Whaling Station, an interactive museum located in the headquarters of the last whaling company to stop operations in Australia. Stay at the family-run The Beach House at Bayside for a warm reception after a day on the ocean.
On Australia’s west coast, Ningaloo Reef is famous for its whale shark swimming experience and has the highest number of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. Around 30,000 of these whales pass through from June to November on their way to their birthing grounds off the Kimberley coast. See them, plus pods of dolphins, when you stay at the only place in Australia visited by bottlenose dolphins every day — the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort.
Hermanus, South Africa
Southern right whales measuring 60,000 kilos and up to 17 metres long need warm, calm waters for mating and calving – and the sheltered bays around Hermanus, 90 minutes from Cape Town, have proved to be their preferred location. The whales spend about six months here, from June to December.
The Abalone Guest Lodge has a clifftop position in Hermanus with a gate that opens directly onto the Scenic Cliff Path, where you can see the whales from the land — and there’s every chance of seeing them from your balcony, too. You can spend a day or two here as part of Alfred&’s Classic Garden Route Self-Drive.
It’s estimated that around two-thirds of the entire North Pacific humpback whale population migrates to Hawaii every year to breed, calve, and nurse their young in the warm waters, travelling over 3,000 miles from the Gulf of Alaska to Hawaii, where they stay for several months from December to May.
A prime place to spot them is the shallow Auau Channel between the islands of Maui and Lānai. If you stay on the west coast of Maui, you’re within easy reach of the whale-watching cruises that head out in search of them. The lovely yet understated The Plantation Inn will do nicely for a relaxing whale-watching holiday unless you’d prefer the bells and whistles of a mega-resort like Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.
Ready to add some marine magic to your next holiday? Get in touch with our travel experts and we’ll plan an extraordinary escape to these whale-watching hotspots.