Orca (Kim Navarre)

10 spots to whale watch

30th November 2011

We know that scheduled tours aren't everyone's cup of tea, so here are 10 spots to whale watch without the pressure of being on someone else's time

Wanderlust team

1. California

Cruise Highway 1 following the grey whale migration, stopping at headlands such as Point Reyes to check for spouts. At San Simeon State Park (exit San Simeon Creek Road  on Highway 1) head toward the southwestern end of the park, where a mile-long boardwalk borders Moonstone Beach. The wooden walkway stretches from the bluffs down to the shoreline. Benches along the path make for perfect whale-watching rest stops.

2. Québec

Stake out whalewatching viewpoints at Cap-de-Bon-Désir, Pointe-Noire and Pointe-des-Monts on the St Lawrence River, where the water is so deep that you needn't leave the shore to catch a glimpse of a spout. Here you can see up to 13 species of large sea mammals, from the massive blue whale to endangered, arctic belugas.

3. South Africa

A 12km stretch of low cliffs at Hermanus provides one of the world’s best vantage points for land-based whalewatching. Every year, over 100 Southern Right Whales come here to calve and mate between July and December. However, whales can be seen from this headland year round. The town has a 'whale crier' which lets people know when to head to the coastal paths.

4. Bay of Biscay

Catch a ferry between Portsmouth and Bilbao or Plymouth and Santander for a chance to spot up to 20 species of cetacean. Sightings here are frequent, with an average trip rewarding passengers' eyes with dolphins, beaked whales and fin whales – the second largest mammal on earth, only beaten by the mighty blue whale. Beware, this trip isn't for the weak stomachs out there as this crossing is considered the roughest around the British Isles.

5. Scotland

Island-hop around the Hebrides and Shetlands on CalMac ferries for a glimpse of orca and minke whales. Humpback whales also make regular appearances in Scotland as well as enough dolphins, porpoises and grey seals to satisfy everyone. The Hebrides also has great land viewing spots from high, rugged cliffs.

6. Azores

Once used by whalers, vigias (watchtowers) on islands such as Pico and Faial are now used by researchers and tourists. Whale season here (May October) is dictated by the weather rather than the migration of the whales which means that sightings are more frequent. Sperm and short-finned pilot whales are common in the Azores, while humpbacks and minkes make appearances every now and then.

7. South Australia

Bunda Cliffs on the Nullarbor coast offer superb views of southern right whales in the sea 70m below. Whales are most likely to be seen here from May through to October when the Southern Right Whale go to Australia's southern coast to breed, give birth and raise their young through the winter.

8. New South Wales

Humpbacks pass below the cliffs of Cape Byron, June-July on their migration from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef. The migration route brings the whales so close to the Byron Bay coast that hopping on a boat to see them is not necessary to get great views.

9. Vancouver

Inside Passage Ferry journeys north from Vancouver are often accompanied by sightings of orca and humpbacks. Orcas are well known in the waters of British Columbia from July to mid-September. Grey whales are best seen here from late November to March and humpback whales all year round.

10. Japan

Bryde’s whales come close inshore at Ogata from March to October. If you get on a boat to Tosa Bay you'll find yourself in the middle of the Black Current which provides the whales with plenty of food, and you with plenty of 'oohhhs' and 'aahhhs'.

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