If you want to be guaranteed whale sightings in Sydney, head to Kamay Botany Bay National Park.
Kamay Botany Bay National Park is divided into two areas (La Perouse and Kurnell). The Kurnell area is where you want to go to see whales.
For those of you who haven’t been to Australia yet, remember that the country is full of wildlife native to the country. According to Current Results, 87% of Australia’s birds and mammals are native, and 93% of its species of reptiles, amphibians, flowering plants, and conifers are also unique to the country.
And despite traveling a lot, I hadn’t seen a whale breach before (a brief one in Alaska didn’t count). I will never forget the adrenaline running through me when I saw the entire white underside of a whale jumping out of the water. I want you to experience that when coming to Sydney as well.
Whale Watching Season
The official season for whale watching in Australia is winter, from late May – September. June and July are the peak periods for whale migrations, although the types of whales throughout Australian waters will differ based on region. Read this for more detailed info.
In May, whale groups (including Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales) migrate from colder Antarctic waters to tropical Australian waters for mating season. Rare blue whales also stop in Australia’s waters throughout their migration routes.
I’ve always loved Sydney ever since I first visited in 2014, and the fact that you can go whale watching so easily here makes it one of the main reasons I never want to leave.
Did you know…
- You can swim with whale sharks from March – September at Ningaloo Coast in Western Australia. They’re incredibly docile and absolutely beautiful to see up close!
- You can also swim with Minke Whales around the Ribbon Reefs (of the Great Barrier Reef) during June and July.
- Nearly 60% of the world’s whales are found in Australian waters, which is fascinating.
Cape Bailey Track
To get to Cape Solander Lookout, you’ll need to walk on the Cape Bailey Track, a 7km trail along steep cliffs that overlook turquoise waters. It’s one of the nicest walks I’ve done in Sydney thus far and pretty flat/easy.
For the most detailed map of this track, check out AllTrails (also the best app to track all the hikes you’ve done worldwide).
In about five hours, I saw whales breaching, dolphins, a squadron of pelicans, and a cockatoo perched on the edge of an oceanside cliff.
However, all of the cliffs aren’t fenced off and also don’t have railings, so use extreme caution if you proceed to the edge of any cliffs. I’d advise against going to the edge of any of the cliffs at the start of the trail, since there are multiple signs marked throughout some points that warn you of unstable cliffs.
Cape Solander Lookout
Cape Solander Lookout is the prime area that visitors flock to see whales every winter. A viewing platform is next to the parking lot and offers a great vantage point for seeing the entire oceanscape, but I ended up seeing whales closer at a different spot along the Cape Bailey Track.
If you get lucky and come here in the right months, you’ll have no problem seeing quite a few whales (always distinguishable by the white waves moving in the otherwise flat ocean surface).
They’re easy to see with the naked eye, even from afar. If you have binoculars, that would make your whale sightings even better.
Some whales come as close as 200m to the coast, so you’ll definitely be rewarded if you come to this lookout.
However, don’t just stop here! Hike the entire Cape Bailey Track – it’s absolutely gorgeous, easy, and will yield even better chances of seeing more whales throughout various lookouts along the cliffs.
You should wake up before sunrise and get to the national park as early as possible, regardless of the season you hike in. I wake up at 6 a.m. or earlier when hiking, since you need to allow time for public transport and a fair amount of hours for the entire trail.
Because of COVID-19, there is now a disclaimer on the site to be mindful of social distancing when whale watching at Cape Solander. I would avoid going on weekends (if you can), or get there before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m.
Always follow these tips when hiking:
- Pack a lot of water (a CamelBak is best)
- Pack lunch and enough snacks to last you for at least five hours (there are two cafes outside the national park, but it’s always best to just eat on the trail)
- Wear sunscreen (remember, the sun is stronger in Sydney) and pack sunglasses or a hat
- Pack a decent camera with a good lens (phone cameras aren’t the best for whale watching unless you’re on a tour up close)
- Dress in layers. You’ll get hot on the trail, but it gets windy and breezy standing on the cliffs when whale watching.
- Wear hiking shoes and appropriate clothing
- Bring binoculars if you have them!
A ‘Whale’ly Good Time
As mentioned before, Kamay Botany Bay National Park is probably the best place for whale watching. I didn’t even know this before going, which made my visit that much more special – heck, I was just there for the nice hike!
This track was similar to the Maroubra to Malabar track (where you can also see whales!) with its stunning coastline bordering the high cliffs, which made it a great vantage point for seeing the panoramic views of whales in the distance.
When I passed Cape Bailey Lighthouse, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Multiple whales were spouting in the distance, and I was so overwhelmed with excitement that I started shaking.
My videos and photos made the whales appear as dots. However, there’s nothing quite like seeing these beautiful marine mammals with your own eyes.
I ended up walking further, all the way to Boat Harbour Aquatic Reserve. I wouldn’t recommend this, since I ended up trudging through a lot of slippery mud and narrow pathways that I probably shouldn’t have.
However, right before you get to the reserve, there are some beautiful rock formations and cliffs you can sit atop, and these are worth seeing.
On my way back to the lighthouse, I stopped on the same cliff where a few photographers were standing with their expensive tripods and gigantic lenses (one of the men had been waiting for whale sightings since 6:30 a.m.).
ALL OF A SUDDEN, A WHALE BREACHED.
It was massive; all we saw was a flash of white erupting from the ocean before it crashed back down, but it was big enough for us to still see.
My jaw literally gaped open and remained open for the next few minutes as I whipped out my camera to record any following movements. Thanks to my best friend (and naturalist) Celia, I knew that whales (especially humpbacks) tend to breach more than once, so I knew that more jumps were bound to happen.
Sure enough, the whale breached a few more times. They weren’t as majestic as the first one, but it was still incredible regardless. You’ll need to click on the photos below to see them in full, since I screen capped these from my videos:
I was so excited, I even dropped a pin in Google Maps to save where I saw the whale breach.
After waiting about 30 minutes more, we saw a few more whales lobtailing, fin slapping, and spouting. I considered myself exceptionally lucky to have seen that massive breach, since it’s a bit of luck and being in the right place at the right time for that to happen.
We even saw quite a few dolphins:
For more information on whale behaviour, check out this page.
For detailed descriptions on parking and how to get there, see this link.
If you use public transport (like me), it’s very easy to take a train to Cronulla and then take bus 987 to the entrance of the national park.
From there, it’s just a 30-45min. hike through the main road. When you see a sign for “Yena Trail” on your right, enter that trail and follow all the signs that point you toward Cape Solander. This is the best lookout area for whale watching.
Whether you’re a whale and wildlife enthusiast like me, or if you just want a good hike, this national park is 100% worth it. Save this article for when you’re planning your next trip to Sydney in the winter, and I hope you get the same satisfaction of seeing whales breach!
Like this article? Pin it below!