Each winter about 50,000 humpback whales make the journey north from Antarctica to breed in the tropics of Queensland and Western Australia, in one of the world’s great marine migrations. Southern right whales and blue whales also migrate, but humpbacks are the most numerous and the most interactive, breaching beside boats, tail-slapping and “spy-hopping” (where they lift their heads above the surface to get a good look at you). Dozens of operators offer whale watching boat tours to see the enormous mammals perform their aquarobics. But some go a step further. Sunreef Mooloolaba on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast pioneered swimming with humpbacks in Australia seven years ago. Getting eye-to-eye with one of these giants (which weigh about 30,000kg) in its own environment is a bucket-list experience. Some are more curious and will swim up to you and glide past delicately, showing supreme spatial awareness for an animal so huge. Whale swimming runs July 1 to the end of October.

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Swimmers with humpback whales on a Live Ningaloo outing. Picture: Chris Jansen
Swimmers with humpback whales on a Live Ningaloo outing. Picture: Chris Jansen

Western Australia

Ningaloo Coast near Exmouth is a World Heritage site and has Australia’s largest fringing reef, attracting an incredible variety of marine life throughout the year. Humpback season is August to October and your best chance of swimming with the whales is on a Life on Ningaloo tour. Hosting only a maximum of seven swimmers, Ningaloo Live gives an intimate, natural interaction, away from boats or noise. If you’re lucky the whales will put on a show, rolling onto their backs to show their bellies, turning corkscrews and performing somersaults. Live Ningaloo’s Sonia Beckwith swears that new mothers sometimes bring their calves over to show off — a rare and unforgettable privilege…

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