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Sailing aboard a private yacht is the ultimate way to watch whales. One five star family has a very close encounter.

WORDS Hilary Doling

It is a perfect day – the sky is blue, the water is sparkling and the sails of our yacht are gull-white in the sun. My son has binoculars to his eyes avidly scanning the ocean for the telltale signs of whale spouts, which look like fountains on the horizon. The Gold Coast is a fantastic place to watch humpback and southern right whales as they migrate along the ‘Humpback Highway’ from the cold Antarctic to the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef. We are whale watching in luxury, on our own private yacht-for-the-day.

This has to be the most privileged way to see whales. On our yacht we can go where we like guided only by our captain’s knowledge. For seven hours the yacht is ours, so there is no time limit on how long we stay and watch whales. Nor do we have to jostle for railing space on a packed cruise with dozens of other tourists. On larger whale watching boats you can be several decks away from the action. On our exclusive yacht we are so near the water level it feels as if we truly are part of the whales’ watery world, at one with nature and the elements.

The skipper of our yacht, Darryl Franklin, has a 100 per cent record of spotting whales so we are in good hands. We’ve seen several already at a distance but we are alongside two young humpbacks and things are hotting up. There is something about being so close to a sentient being, which obviously wants to be close to you too, that is humbling and exciting and awe-inspiring all in one go. At no point are we worried about being so close to an animal that dwarfs us. Instead there is a strange sense of serenity mixed in with all the adventure.

And make no mistake, these two whales want to be here. Marine law states that we have to stay 100 metres away... but nobody told the whales. Careful not to crowd them, our skipper moves the boat back and they follow us – ‘Hey guys, let’s go people watching today!’



“We are so near the water level it feels as if we truly are part of the whales’ watery world, at one with nature and the elements.”


They definitely want to play. And they don’t want to leave. For over an hour they frolic around us. Sometimes lying sideways, flukes in the air, they seem to be waving. “He’s giving us a high five,” says my son, Alex. At other times the giant black ‘T’ of their massive tails appears as they dive into the depths. Then we know we’re in for a good show because minutes later they race to the surface and explode out of the water in front of us breaching mast-high towards the sky.

“He’s looking straight at me, Mum, and his eye is the size of a soccer ball,” says Alex. “Actually he’s the size of a WHOLE SOCCER PITCH.” My son is prone to exaggeration in his more excitable moments. Nevertheless, I admit that this close up, the young whales do look large – length-wise they’d give our 11-metre yacht a run for its money.

We are so close to the whales we can see every line on their skin, every bumpy barnacle on their impressive heads. Yet it is not the size of them that is the most awe-inspiring thing; it is the sheer joy they bring. “This is the coolest thing EVER,” says my son, eyes shining.

According to Darryl these are adolescent whales and like any teenager they like to have fun, so it may not be a coincidence that they splash my son with a haze of water as they roll over beside us. “Hey,” he says grinning, “they did that on purpose.” Eventually, a larger, more mature whale appears. If I had to guess I’d say it had come over to get the youngsters back in line because soon after they all turn and head towards the open sea.

We go the other way, back towards Runaway Bay Marina but there is one more treat in store, a huge pod of dolphins close to shore. Soon we are surrounded by at least 30 or more riding our bow wave and coming up right under the yacht. “Mum, I know that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says my son when we’re back on dry land, “But wouldn’t it be great to do it all again?”

The final verdict? “Even better than the Dreamworld roller coaster.” Praise indeed.

 Peppers Broadbeach, Gold Coast

 Getaway Sailing
 Gold Coast Tourism

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