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Hervey Bay, Australia: whale watching capital of the world
A mellow holiday destination on the Fraser Coast, Hervey Bay is one of the world’s best places to see humpback whales. It is also widely known as the gateway to Fraser Island, and as a paradise for those who love water sports. However, there are many reasons to linger on the mainland in Hervey Bay; its historic pier and Botanic Gardens are tailor-made for romantic strolls, while its Esplanade, lined with cafes and shops, is best explored on a bicycle with a basket. Not excited yet? Try swimming with sharks (yes, really!) at Neptune’s Reef World Aquarium.
Have a whale of a time…
Hervey Bay is often called the “whale watching capital of the world,” and for good reason. From July to November, humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to the Whitsunday islands, stopping mid-way in the calm, warm waters of Hervey Bay to rest, play, breed, and care for their young. Their arrival is celebrated with an annual festival that traditionally begins in early August and involves all kinds of family fun, from live music and street parades to carnival rides and market stalls featuring fresh seafood, regional wines, and sweet treats. During this exciting season, hotels in Hervey Bay are packed to the brim with eager tourists and their cameras, and the numerous accredited cruise operators in town do an exceptionally brisk business; however, even those who fail to get that perfect shot are unlikely to leave without lasting memories of their time amid these majestic creatures.
Make a big splash…
Because its azure waters are remarkably safe and sheltered, Hervey Bay is ideal for swimming and snorkelling in all seasons, not to mention kayaking, wind surfing, and jet skiing. Another very popular activity here is scuba diving at the Roy Rufus Artificial Reef; located between Hervey Bay and Fraser Island, this fascinating artificial reef is the largest in the southern hemisphere, and is formed around sunken ships, cars, and concrete blocks. Serious divers also flock to Wolf Rock, about an hour and a half’s drive from Hervey Bay. Just off the coast of Rainbow Beach, Wolf Rock is composed of five interconnecting pinnacles of granite covered in stunning corals and spiral sea whips. An astonishing variety of marine creatures make their home here all year---grey nurse sharks, Giant Queensland Groper, manta rays, and three different species of turtle are just a few of them---and, in winter, the humpback whales pass through. Some lucky divers even enjoy the sound and feel the vibrations of whalesong while underwater!
There are plenty of fish in the Strait…
A large estuary system dotted with many small islands, the Great Sandy Strait runs between mainland Queensland and Fraser Island. The waters here are thick with seagrass, and home to a wide variety of fish, from trevally and queen fish to blue salmon, whiting, mangrove jack, and monster flathead. The calm, sheltered environment, with plenty of great places to fish along the foreshore, makes the Strait an ideal fit for young families and newbies; accomplished fishermen are often lured around to the island’s eastern coast, which offers the added challenge of surf as well as a diverse fish population. Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Strait are also extremely popular places for sailing, without a single rod or reel on board. Just about every sort of vessel is available for charter in Hervey Bay, including houseboats, cruisers, and yachts with cabins as luxurious as hotel rooms.
Islands in the sun…
Just off the coast of Hervey Bay lies Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. This bit of heaven on earth features mature rainforests and over 100 freshwater lakes, including the stunning Lake McKenzie: because it is “perched” above the water table, it is composed solely of pure rainwater, and surrounded by sugary soft sand to boot. Elsewhere on the island, travellers will find sand cliffs and blows in a variety of colours, as well as a beach highway that runs for over 70 miles. Guided 4WD tours are understandably popular here, and there are a handful of resort hotels on the island as well. Just off the tip of Fraser Island is Lady Elliot Island, a coral cay and southernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef. There are many stunning dive sites here, as well as guided snorkelling tours and reef walks. Glass-bottomed boat tours depart regularly, and when it’s time to go, you can catch a scenic, 40-minute flight back to Hervey Bay.