The deck tilts violently under my feet as I grip my plate in and stumble-run towards the relative safety of the railing.
All around me, less sure-legged sailors perform their own version of my uncoordinated dance as they jockey for the best viewing position. The boat climbs first up the steep leeward side of a towering wave before descending rapidly down its angry, green-grey slope and into the frothy trough below.
The sky, every bit as angry as the ocean it frames, is a bruised motley of blacks and greys that occasionally demonstrates its displeasure with gusts of freezing wind or, worse, fitful spurts of drizzle that cling to eyelashes and curls like tiny jewels.
In many ways, we are just like the whalers whose grisly industry nearly pushed the humpback whale to extinction. All of us eye the unforgiving water with a similar mix of enthusiasm and dread, and all of us are out here to do one thing: hunt whales.
But where the old days say these majestic creatures hunted with harpoons and nets, we’re instead hunting with inquisitive eyes and expensive cameras.
Contemplating this, I tuck into my potato salad and snags, my eyes scanning the grim horizon in search of movement that isn’t another towering wave.
Around me, others clutch paper bags in white knuckles and gaze out at the ocean with eyes set above skin a shade of green. The rough waters have taken their toll on quite a few of my compatriots, and the ripe stink of vomit and sour sweat wafts out from the upstairs lounge where they’ve chosen to quarantine themselves.
We’re out for a spot of Sydney whale watching, and nature doesn’t play along with timetables or idealised imaginings.
She’s making us earn our time with the whales today.
On the Ocean with Oz Whale Watching
The above reads as dramatic and perhaps a little grim, but I found it all very exhilarating.
This was my fifth or sixth whale watching expedition in Australia, and while I’ll never profess to having become tired of seeing these vast mammals making their unfathomably long migration along the Australian coast, it’s safe to say that the rough seas and high drama of my recent excursion immediately made it my most memorable whale watching experience.
My day with Oz Whale Watching had started out under ominous skies over relatively calm Darling Harbour waters, but things had taken a turn for the exciting once our BBQ lunch had been served and we’d left the shelter of the iconic Aussie harbour.
The strong winds had turned the ocean angry, and while some might have felt the ill effects of the lurching boat, I never once felt unsafe as we cut through the sizeable waves in search of whales in Sydney.
Far from it – the crew handled themselves with the practised calm of those who had seen it all before. Our meal was served up while the waters were calm, the crew moved about handing out seasickness bags coolly as the water turned rough, and our fearless guide continued to shout his defiance into the teeth of the storm.
Or perhaps he was shouting whale factoids. I was too busy snapping photos of the towering cliffs and pounding surf to listen.
The point is, the weather and conditions were completely beyond the control of Oz Whale Watching, but our experience remained firmly in their hands.
I had a tasty lunch, saw what I came to see, and felt safe while doing it.
I couldn’t ask for much more than that.
Experiencing the Sydney Whale Watching Season for Yourself
With whales passing by Sydney from April until December, Sydney whale watching is a near year round business that can be experienced on a whale watching cruise or from a number of more stable, land-based view points along the coast.
There is certainly no shortage of Sydney whale watching cruises available for you to choose from, but what I liked about Oz Whale Watching was their attention to sustainable, eco-friendly tourism.
While other cruises I have been on have approached the peaceful whales with all the subtletly of a drunken college boy approaching a pretty girl at a house party, our guide and resident whale expert would periodically shout instructions to our captain.
“Give them more room!”
“Let’s cut across the trough! We don’t want to disrupt their path”
This reluctance to intrude upon the secret lives of the cow and calf we’d come across was in stark contrast to other tours I have been on. We were not here to interact with the whales, but to react to them. Their behaviour influenced ours, and I never once felt like we were distressing the exhausted mother and her enthusiastic, inquisitive young one.
While our time out on the water was ultimately abbreviated due to the rough conditions and a dozen or so passengers looking rather sick and sorry, we spent a good three hours out on the water observing all manner of whale behaviours. I certainly wasn’t unhappy to head in early given how sick some of my companions had become.
This is nature. It isn’t always pretty or idyllic. We got rough seas, but we also got what we came for – the privilege of seeing animals that, were it not for timely intervention, might well have gone extinct.
Have you ever been whale watching in Sydney or elsewhere?
Ever had the conditions combine to make an experience all the more thrilling?