Whale Watching on the Nullarbor – it’s a long way to go but it is worth the drive. At the Head of the Bight you can see a unique whale nursery from the top of the Bunda Cliffs and experience the isolation of the Nullarbor Plain.
One of our favourite travelling activities is nature spotting. Dolphins, wombats, platypus – you name it, we love seeing it in the wild. For this reason, a trip to the Head of the Bight to see the whales had long been on our minds.
In South Australia, the whale season runs from June to October. You can see them in the waters around Adelaide but for the best experience you need to go to the Great Australian Bight. Get on the Eyre Highway, go across the Eyre Peninsula, past Ceduna to the Head of the Bight Whale Watching Centre.
The last time we were there it was February – no whales. It was just us, a boarded-up visitor centre and six billion flies. When Nat and I finally found ourselves with holidays one July our whale watching pilgrimage was on.
So close yet so far
After an enjoyable but whale-less whale watching cruise in Fowlers Bay that morning, we arrived at the Nullarbor Road House in the late afternoon. We set up camp quickly, eager for some sunset whale watching action.
Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the Head of the Bight lookout only to discover that the gates closed at 5.00pm and we’d have to leave the viewing platform by 4.30.
It was our fault – the opening times for something are usually details you check. As a result, we only had forty minutes of viewing time before needing to make our way out of the park. We’d come too far not to see whales. We handed over our $15 per person entry fee and made for the viewing area.
There they are!
You make the short walk from the visitor centre to the cliff tops along a zigzagging wooden boardwalk. As you zig, to the west you see the Bunda Cliffs standing tall out of the ocean. Zagging to the east you see mountainous sand dunes behind a long white beach that you suspect has had very few people set foot on it. But it was the space in between that we were most concerned with.
We turned onto the final ramp, fixed our gaze at the ocean and there they were. They weren’t close but as we did a 180-degree scan of the water we spotted a dozen spouts, tails and long dark bodies belonging to southern right whales. In minutes we had seen more whales than all our other whale watching experiences combined. Our time at the lookout went quickly but we already felt the drive had been worthwhile.
We arrived back at the lookout early the next morning, weaved our way down to the front platform and were greeted by more southern right whales than the previous afternoon and some distant humpback whales. As well as the spouts and bodies dotted across the across the water, there were now four or five pairs of mothers and calves right in front of the platform. It was magnificent.
The mothers rolled onto their backs – giant fins and tails lifting from the water – trying to get some rest from their calves. Pairs grouped up as if they were having a whale play date and the calves swum around, over and under the adults. Calves were breaching – lifting themselves out of the water and splashing back down. Signs explained that one reason they did this was for the sheer exhilaration. Well, it was pretty exhilarating to watch.
After nearly four hours the nearest whales moved further out to sea. In that time, we had barely moved from our position. Our stiff legs creaked as we made our way to the western lookout where we saw more calves leaping out of the water in front of the cliffs.
Reward for effort
It’s true, there are more convenient places to get a whale photo than the Nullarbor Plain. For travellers making the crossing in winter stopping at the Head of the Bight is a must do (just don’t get there too late in the day!). If you just like whale watching, this is one of those trips where the reward outweighs the effort. No, it’s not a day trip. But it is a trip worth doing one day.
The Head of the Bight
Nullarbor Road House. Make no mistake, this is a rest stop not a caravan park. That said, as well as hot food and fuel there are rooms, powered sites, campsites and showers available. It’s also home to the fifth hole of the Nullarbor Links Golf Course – the 538m Dingos Den (clubs available at the road house). It’s about 15 minutes from the Head of the Bight lookout. Our kids will also remember it as the most expensive place to buy a Paddle Pop.
whale watching Nullarbor
Where: The Head of the Bight
COST – Whale season $15 adult | $6 child [5-15yrs] | $35 family.
Food, Refreshments, Interpretive Centre.
June – October but best viewing in July – August