Our winter is a whale’s summer as these gentle giants make their way from the cold Antarctic waters to the Southern Ocean to breed, birth and raise their calves. Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland are the main vantage points on the Winter Whale Trail – and the only places is the world where you can watch whales nursing their babies just 100m from the shore. Get ready for a show as Southern Right, Humpback, Blue and the occasional Orca Whales breach, chin slap, flipper and spyhop. And if you’re lucky you might see some young calves playfully splashing around too.
When whales come to visit Warrnambool they love to stay in the warmer waters of Lady Bay. So it’s only fitting that we checked into a self-contained apartment at the Lady Bay Resort. Located directly opposite the beach and overlooking Merri Creek you just might spot a whale from your private, ocean view balcony.
Lady Bay Resort is located directly opposite the beach of Lady Bay. A few minutes wander will take you to the Warrnambool Breakwater where whales sometimes come so close you might cop a spray!
To help fit the Winter Whale Trail into a weekend, start your Saturday with an express whale watching tour with Fiona from Warrnambool Tours. No one is more enthusiastic about watching whales than Fiona, she’s been spotting these Southern Right’s for over 18 years. Climb aboard Fiona’s comfortable bus and she’ll take you to Logan’s Beach custom-built platform where you’ll spend an hour spotting new mothers and their calves at the Whale Nursery. Fiona will supply you with binoculars but you might not need them, whales can come in as close as 100m to shore. They stay here for several weeks, helping their babies build strength for the long journey back to sub-Antarctic waters.
Whale watching is hungry work and for fantastic food, cocktails and coffee in a luscious, tropical atmosphere head to Tilly Divine Kitchen & Bar. Located in the heart of Warrnambool, the friendly staff serve up generous sized, contemporary meals focused on fresh, local produce. Fuelled up, you’re ready for the next stop on the Whale Trail.
Take a short but stunning 25-minute drive along the Great Ocean Road and Belfast Coast to Port Fairy. You’ll travel past rolling hills, nature reserves and rocky coasts and cliffs to the fine white sands of Port Fairy’s East Beach. Whales spend three months a year and you can watch them while you walk along the 5.km shoreline from Reef Point to the harbour wall or use the fixed binoculars to play I-Spy.
From the mid 1830’s until 1843 Griffiths Island served as a base for a bay whaling station. Thankfully, today it is a protected sanctuary for plants, birds and animals. Walk the 1.8km path across beaches and sand dunes to the historic lighthouse whilst keeping an eye out for whales swimming past this stunning piece of coastland. You’re guaranteed to spot loads of wildlife – echidnas, wallabies and over 80 species of birds call this island home.
It’s time to continue down the Princes Highway to the historic town of Portland, which dates back to Victoria’s very beginnings. Make the most of the 1h drive by taking the turn off for the ‘The Crags’ – 10 minutes west of Port Fairy. From the lookout you can see the cliffs that create the eastern entrance to Portland Bay and the volcanic land of Lady Julia Percy Island (Deen Maar), home to a colony of fur seals.
As you drive into town, stop off at Wade Street viewing platform see if the whales have arrived too. The whale lookout offers a great view of Portland’s Harbour all the way down to parts of Dutton Way.
We stayed at the tastefully restored iconic ‘Mac’s Hotel’ located opposite the Portland foreshore. Many of the 14 heritage rooms have balconies with spectacular views of the harbour and Portland Bay. Make sure to keep an eye out for Southern Right and Humpback Whales, they have been known to stop over in the calm, deep waters of Portland Bay on their annual journey too.
You don’t have to travel far for one of the best dining experiences in the district. Located opposite our hotel, Clocks by the Bay offers French Provincial charm on Portland Harbour. Surprise yourself and your tastebuds with the ‘Feed me’ menu – a selection of the chef’s favourite plates that celebrate the season and local produce.
Start your Sunday with a Game On Charters Whale Watching Tour. For 2 or 4 hours skipper Joe will put on a show following the whale’s migratory passage off Cape Nelson and Cape Bridgewater. Playful dolphins will often join you for the ride. You’ll also stop at the local fur seal and gannet colonies on Lawrence Rocks and Danger Point – the largest on mainland Australia.
Step off the whale watching charter and straight into the rib cage of a 14m Sperm Whale skeleton at the Portland Maritime Discovery Centre. Here you’ll learn about Portland’s whaling history, explore the lost treasures from the shipwreck trail and hear stories of Portland’s rich maritime past. Grab a coffee and a bite at the café then pop into the Portland Visitor Information Centre (located in the same building) to find out if there have been any more whale sightings in the area – they will fly a yellow flag if there’s been a recent sighting in the area.
Whaling and whale boats played an important part in Portland’s economy in the early years of European settlement. It was demanding and dangerous work onboard these 6-man row boats and rivalry was fierce amongst the crews. Luckily today these graceful and speedy historic wooden vessels are purely used for recreation and racing – where competition is still intense! We joined The Portland Maritime Heritage Group for a training row on their replica traditional whaleboat, launched in 2010. It’s a regular contender in competitions and special events such as Portland’s Upwelling Festival.
Travel 10 minutes from Portland to Cape Nelson Lighthouse for a great vantage point to view these gentle giants. Locals joke that both Southern Rights and Humpback whales swim so close to these cliffs you can hear them sing. This is also a premier spot for sightings of the rare Blue whale as they travel through in the summer months and feed of the millions of krill brought to the surface in the ‘Upwelling’ (Nov – May).
You’re spoilt for choice of great spots to see whales around Bridgewater Bay. Whether it be while wandering on the Great South West Walk, above the fur seals colony on the tip of Cape Bridgewater, from the platforms of the Petrified Forest and Blowholes or beach-side on the sand or café of Bridgewater Bay. It’s incredible watching big nature in our own backyard.
The Winter Whale Trail runs through Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland. Start the trail in Warrnambool – 257 kilometres from Melbourne CDB via the inland route.
Seeing Southern Right Whales and their calves so close to shore
Whale watching from the water on a Game On Charter
Watching other wildlife too at the fur seal and gannet colonies
Rowing back in time onboard a historic whaleboat
Stepping inside a whale skeleton at Portland Maritime Discover Centre
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawuurung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Ancestors, past present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.