They’re a competitive lot in Port Stephens. And it doesn’t matter if you’re on one of the local sporting fields or out on the water. Inside or outside the heads, it makes no difference.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re on one of the local sporting fields or out on the water. Inside or outside the heads, it makes no difference.
Take whale watching for instance. Everyone is keen to be the first to spot a whale each season. And the reigning champs… drumroll please… are Moonshadow-TQC Cruises.
Apart from being one of the oldest whale-watching cruise companies in the region – which means they have loads of expertise - they were also the first to spot a whale in 2016 and 2017.
“Yes, it was one of our crews both seasons,” says, Matt Johnstone, who has been a full-time Captain for Moonshadow-TQC Cruises for almost 20 years. He has clocked up more time on the water (working with dolphins, whales and other marine life) than any other in Port Stephens.
“All of our crews are keen for that first whale to be found, as it signals the start of the season,” he explained. “After that, the gloves are off. In fact, each crew member takes great pride in spotting the first whale of the day on each cruise. It is a huge competition, and after doing it for almost 20 years (and being very good at it) my crew mates love nothing more than beating me to the call “thar she blows”.”
My crew mates love nothing more than beating me to the call “thar she blows"
But if you think the competition is hot… wait, it gets hotter. The biggest prize of all is spotting Migaloo, the hypopigmented, all white humpback whale, believed to be the only white humpback on the eastern coast of Australia and only a handful in the world. For whale watchers, it’s the holy grail.
Port Stephens is regarded as a whale watching hub with around 25,000 humpback whales passing the mouth of the harbour and up the coastline on their annual migration each year (they migrate north from May to August and then head back to their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic from September to November).
While you can catch a glimpse of their acrobatic antics from lookouts along the coast undoubtedly the best way to see them is on a cruise.
Most passengers will have their eyes glued to the water waiting with bated breath to see the ultimate experience – a whale breach high into the air. Watching a massive 15-metre-long, 40 tonne humpback leap from the water in a blazingly fast few seconds and splash back down is an epic Insta moment, but it’s also one of the hardest to capture on camera.
Matt has experienced many wonderful sightings, including observing humpbacks feeding (long before it was thought they did during their migration).
“But my fondest moment was of a young whale that gently approached the boat, gracefully raised his head vertically out of the water for a few moments to look at us (called a spyhop), then dipped back slowly into the depths,” says Matt. “It showed the incredible intelligence and curiosity of these magnificent animals. There was not a dry eye on that ship, myself included.”
As mind-blowing as these gentle giants are, Port Stephens is also known as the dolphin capital of Australia thanks to its pod of 140 bottlenose dolphins that call the crystal-clear waters home.
The playful dolphins love streaking alongside boats and many have distinct marks so are easily recognisable. Around Soldiers Point there’s a fab foursome known as The Beatles and another well-known dolphin is named Flopper because of a floppy fin.
“On most cruises, dolphins will actively seek out the boat and play on the boats’ waves,” says Matt. “But there are times when they want their space, even the more “popular dolphins” will sometimes become shy or preoccupied with daily tasks. If that’s the case, we move on and usually find a group that’s a bit more playful.”
You’ll be glad to know it doesn’t matter what time of year you visit, you’ll see dolphins.
They have just as much fun in the cold, as they do in the warmer waters of summer.
99% success rate in dolphin sightings
Moonshadow-TQC Cruises offers morning and afternoon dolphin watching cruises year-round – with a 99 per cent success rate in dolphin sightings – and daily whale-watching cruises from May to November. If you’re unlucky and don’t spot a whale, they’ll give you a free return cruise so you get another chance!
Moonshadow-TQC Cruises has made it easy to explore the wonder of Port Stephens with their 'Winter Wonder Package'. An all inclusive package to ensure you enjoy the best the water has to offer with dolphins and whales followed by a twilight dinner cruise. See below for more details.
Written by: Brenda Christian