Grab your blanket and your binoculars and get out there.
Grab your blanket and your binoculars and get out there.
It’s the season to go whale watching! Every year from May to November we are blessed to have thousands of Humpback Whales passing through the Gold Coast’s warm waters. Everyone knows the magical feeling of spying one of the majestic mammals from afar so, in the spirit of sharing, we’ve found the top six spots to see them (for FREE) from the shore.
Point Danger Lookout, Coolangatta
Point Danger Lookout is right on the NSW – QLD border and features the Captain Cook Memorial Statue and some pretty amazing views to the north and the south. Duranbah Beach (D’bah to the locals) is right below, so keep your camera ready to capture the surfers in action. Oh, and of course it’s a great place to watch whales play out in the ocean, they even have public binoculars. For a fresh juice or acai bowl, stroll on down into closeby juicery Liquid Dreams. You won’t be disappointed.
Kirra Hill, Kirra
Just a bit further north is Kirra Hill, another picturesque piece of land. You can either drive or walk up (be warned, it’s quite steep) and then just enjoy the view, it’s pretty special! Once you’re done, head back down into Coolangatta and check out one of the trendy eateries along Marine Pde (our hot eating tip is Little Cooly – because who doesn’t love pizza and pasta).
Tumgun Lookout, Burleigh Heads
Sitting atop the Burleigh Heads National Park is Tumgun Lookout. It’s higher than Burleigh Point and gives you a different angle all together (on a clear day you can see all the way to Coolangatta). Put on some activewear, run up Tumgun Lookout through the National Park and enjoy the breathtaking view, and keep a lookout for the BIG SPLASH!
Burleigh Point, Burleigh Heads
Burleigh Point is paradise, the most peaceful place on earth not to mention a perfect Tinder-date location. It’s easy to spend a whole day here and not get bored. What a coincidence that it’s also one of the best whale-watching vantage points on the Coast. When you have had enough whale sightings, have a bev at Burleigh Heads Bowls Club or for a fresh Vietnamese takeaway bite head to Bunlee Bun & Brew.
Miami Hill, Miami
Located in between North Burleigh Surf Club and Miami Surf Club is the Miami Hill lookout. The all-wooden verandah stretches around the headland and offers you great views to the north and south. We suggest going in the afternoon for whale watching and staying ’til dusk to see the sunset over the hinterland. Then take and easy walk down the hill to pop in for a G&T at recently renovated The Miami.
The Spit, Main Beach
The Spit may not be the highest lookout on the Coast but it surely is closest to the action as it stretches way out to sea. It’s a great place to take your doggo for a walk and enjoy the scenery (go for a swim if it’s warm enough – we dare you!).
Now if you do want to see the whales for an up close and more exhilirating experience, check out Spirit of Gold Coast for a 2.5hr whale watching cruise.
By Louisa von Ingelheim
Life on the Gold Coast is synonymous with the outdoors, so naturally it makes sense that we make the most of that and squeeze in some wild animal encounters to round it out! From four-legged felines popping in for a pat while you sip your piccolo to encounters with native Australian wildlife and so much more, we’re all about taking a walk on the wild side and getting up close and personal with creatures great and small.
So, when we were looking for the ultimate animal experiences it was no surprise that there were a boat load to get amongst the action right in our backyard. Whether you like your friends furry or feathered, we’ve found the best animal encounters to add to your bucket list.
Tiger Island Dreamworld
Get up close and highly personal with some of the animal kingdoms most majestic creatures. Tiger Island is a true one-off as you’re able to watch daily shows — before the next minute finding yourself side by side and patting the big cats themselves for a photo opportunity like no other! It’s the only place in Queensland where you can actually feed the big cats, so what are you waiting for? Go get ‘em tiger.
Where: Dreamworld, Dreamworld Parkway, Coomera
Mountview Alpaca Farm
How does meandering your way around a vineyard with a glass of wine and your very own alpaca in tow sound? Be careful though; there may be some confusion around who is walking whom! These guys can be found at O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyard, where you can pat and feed them to your heart’s content. Why not make a day of it – kick back and set up with one of their delish picnic baskets or pizzas, there’s even a full menu with special options for the kiddies so everyone is looked after.
Where: 852 Lamington National Park Road, Canungra
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
One of the best places for anyone on the Gold Coast to experience wildlife since 1947! There’s a long list of animals and encounters to find yourself involved with here, from crocodile feeding, bird shows, and having your picture taken with a koala. The highlight is one of the southern hemisphere’s largest aviaries, where you’ll mingle with red pandas, tamarins, and ring-tailed lemurs! Another fave of ours is the Capybara Encounter – you’ve problem seen these little guys going viral on TikTok and for good reason, they’re pretty much giant guinea pigs so you know where you’ll find us. If you’ve already seen the Sanctuary by day, why not try a Twilight Tour for an after-dark look at your favourite furry and feisty friends.
Where: Tomewin Street, Currumbin
One of our favourite times of year, whale watching season is still upon on us for just a little longer (May — November), and you’ll be hard-pressed to see the spectacular sight of migrating whales from a better location than the sunny waters right off our coast. Spirit Whale Watching tours will take you right into the action as groups of whales make their way north around the Whitsundays to give birth before then returning south later in the year. The operator has a history of getting their guests wet with whales breaching and tail slapping the water from proximity. And if you don’t see any whales, they’ll take you on another trip free!
Kokomo Cruises, a family-owned and operated business on Queensland’s Gold Coast, offers include whale watching and sunset cruises during the winter, as well as island adventures and exclusive charters in the summer. Jump aboard their Whale Watching Gold Coast cruise and observe mother whales caring for their calves, and encounter a variety of other wildlife, including sea turtles, dolphins, fish, and sea birds.
Where: Spirit Whale Watching, 60-70 Sea World Drive, Main Beach and Kokomo Cruises, Marina Mirage, Main Beach
Australian Outback Spectacular
Saddle up for the night of a lifetime at Australian Outback Spectacular. A hot tip is to arrive early to get photos with the dogs and horses, the stars of the show! Once inside the arena, you’ll then get a three-course dinner. Followed then by one of the most spectacular shows you’re likely ever to see, filled with animals, Aussie songs, and a guaranteed few laughs as riders frolic about on stunning steeds — all while you look on in awe. Expect stunts, special effects, and not forgetting a tasty meal. Making for a night, you’re unlikely to forget!
Where: Pacific Motorway, Oxenford
As far as aquatic encounters go, this is your one-stop place to see and learn about a plethora of water-based animals. From Polar Bears to penguins, seals to sharks, there is guaranteed to be an animal that will captivate everyone’s imagination. If this isn’t enough, you’ll come across a selection of shows where splashing around and seeing these magnificent creatures do their thing will leave you speechless, or maybe a dolphin encounter is more your thing: spending time in the water with these animals and their trainers! If you’ve ever wanted to get up close and personal with a ray, Ray Reef is the place to be where you can touch some of the little guys – perfect fun for the whole fam!
Where: Sea World Drive, Main Beach
Paradise Country Aussie Farmyard
Sometimes there are so many adorable animals, yet so little time. From native Aussie wildlife to farmyard animals and even an animal nursery, you’ll be spoilt for choice at Paradise Country. If you’ve never been to a farm, this is the perfect place, only minus the hard work! It’s a great weekend adventure if you need to escape city life. They’ve got their own mob of Meerkats and Marmoset Monkeys (the cutest), as well as a pack of cheeky Tasmanian Devils — making your decision to visit, simples.
Where: Pacific Motorway, Oxenford
Crazy Cat Café
If you’re feline like you need your animal fix alongside your daily coffee hit, we’ve got the purrfect spot for you. If you’re more of a love from a distance kind of cat person, the café section is separated by a window that allows you to look in on the cat lounge while your crazy cat friend gets in there amongst the action while the kitties leap around, swat each other, and generally enjoy their cat castle. We reckon you’ll be the coolest among the cats if you get up close and personal for a sesh of zoomies and selfies with the fluffy friends.
Where: 63 Centre Arcade, 3131 Surfers Paradise Boulevard, Surfers Paradise
David Fleay Wildlife Park
Right in the heart of Burleigh is an intimate, heritage-listed wildlife sanctuary home to a vast array of animals — and most people drive past without even realising! Wander around at your own pace and soak up the serenity or go on a guided tour and learn all about everything from Dingoes and Rock Wallabies to Bilbies and Owls. There are shows throughout the day too; so be sure to carve out a good chunk of time for a visit.
Where: Loman Lane, Burleigh Heads
Words by Jacqueline Bojanowski.
Perhaps the best thing about Winter on the Gold Coast is the fact that we get front row seats to the migration of whales along our coastline. And now that it is prime time to see these majestic creatures, we thought it best to get to know Marine Biologist Shari Kempshall from Spirit of Gold Coast about her love for the giant mammals and the Gold Coast!
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I was born and bred on the Gold Coast! I moved away for a few years for work and study but moved back at the beginning of this year.
Tell us about your professional career to date.
Since graduating with a Bachelor of Science in 2016, I worked for a few years as a Marine Biologist and Tour Guide on Lady Elliot Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. I left at the beginning of 2020 to start my Master of Environment, and I’m currently studying full time while working at Spirit of Gold Coast. My days consist of watching these beautiful animals as they travel past the Gold Coast on their winter migration, and sharing information with all of our excited passengers about what they’re seeing!
What’s the one thing you love the most about whales?
Everything! What’s not to love? They’re so big, majestic, intelligent and acrobatic. The sound of their blow is my #1 favourite sound in the world because it means that whales are close!
Tell us an interesting fact about whales that many people may not know.
While I think people understand whales are big, it’s hard to grasp exactly HOW big they are! Each of their lungs is the size of a small car, and whales can weigh the same amount as 11 elephants!
How many whales have you seen at once?
Generally humpback whales are more solitary, however we often see small pods of 2-4 migrating together. There has, however, been a few times this season where we are surrounded by multiple pods and don’t know where to look! The most I’ve seen close-up is 10-15, a courtship heat run came past fast and it was all over very quickly, but it was one of the most exciting moments of my life!
How close do whales travel to the Gold Coast shoreline and roughly how many whales pass the Gold Coast each year?
When heading back down south, the whales tend to hug the coastline, particularly mothers and calves. This means they can be just a few hundred metres offshore! We are lucky to see around 30,000-35,000 humpbacks travelling up and down the east coast each year. This number is growing by about 10% each year, as the whale populations are still recovering from intense whaling where there was an estimated 300-500 whales left on our east coast.
Do you have a favourite memory of a time when you were out on a cruise?
Recently we had a pod of around 70+ common dolphins stirring up three humpback whales! While the dolphins love the whales, sometimes they’re just a little too playful for the humpbacks. But on this occasion it resulted in the whales throwing their fins around and they all put on quite a show for us!
What are your Gold Coast favourites…
Café: Stable Coffee in Currumbin
Coffee spot: Any coffee on the beach is a winner! I love getting takeaway and walking Burleigh Hill or heading to Point Danger Lookout.
Restaurant: Balboa Italian
Bar or pub for a drink: Currumbin Surf Club – that view!!
How do you choose to spend your weekends? At the moment I’m spending them watching whales! But if I’m not whale watching I probably heading out into nature with my loved ones.
For discounted tickets to Spirit of Gold Coast Whale Watching – click here.