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Blog: Whale tales

Paul Chai journeyed up the NSW coastline during the 2012 whale migrating season. Recount his trip.

Flying High

Posted by: Paul Chai | |
Inside the Helicopter

It's a stormy night at Steele Point Cottage in Sydney Harbour National Park, and the chances of seeing a whale are slim. But the chances of a glass of red wine are about 100 per cent and, as ours has a picture of a humpback on the label, I feel vindicated. It's a shiraz from Margaret River, where you can whale watch on the Australian west coast, and it goes well with the cozy cottage atmosphere.

Steele Point Cottage was built in 1880 as a barracks for the nearby battery; it's also just around the point from Nielsen Park and Shark Beach - one of Sydney's most stunning harbour beaches. We arrive to see a squall take over the sky, crack the whale-themed red, crank up the heaters and settle in for the night.

Slip and slide

The morning is as beautiful as the night was stormy, which is fortunate as I'm booked on a morning flight with Sydney By Seaplane. But first we manage a walk along the Hermitage Foreshore walk that starts outside the cottage and winds down to the tiny crescent of Milk Beach. It a bit slip-and-slide from the rain but worth the effort.

We drive down to Rose Bay Marina, where Sydney by Seaplane takes off from. They offer coastal flights and I'm hoping for some aerial whale watching. I'm one of five passengers ferried out to where our seaplane bobs around on the lightly choppy sea and I score the seat next to pilot, Steve Krug.

Up, up and away

I grew up on the island-hopping adventure series Tales of the Gold Monkey that saw pilot Jake Cutter flying around the South Pacific in his seaplane Cutter’s Goose, and there's an undeniable childhood thrill as we skip across the water and take flight, the Sydney Harbour Bridge framed by the cockpit windows.

We fly out over North Head (also part of the national park) and up to Palm Beach before turning back along the coast out over the water. Steve spots some boats and wagers they're watching whales so we head over to check it out. He’s right - three humpbacks are swimming together just off North Head.

Steve circles around them so we can get a better look just as they crest the surface of the water below us and spout water, one after the other as if choreographed. We are the closest I have been yet to these amazing creatures, and you can feel the excitement in the plane. Though how much comes from the whale sighting and how much comes from being suspended above them in a six-seater plane tilted on its side is hard to tell.

There's time for one more buzz past the bridge before we land and decamp. There have been a few ticks today - childhood dream of flying in a seaplane: tick. Whales viewed from the air: tick. Slightly wobbly legs after the experience: also tick.

Sydney Harbour National Park by Air

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  • NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service
  • NSW