Whale Watching at the Head of Bight
The Head of Bight is known as one of the best whale watching spots in Australia. Each year, Southern Right Whales migrate north from Antarctica to Australia’s southern coastline to give birth in warmer waters. Being the northern most extent of the Great Australian Bight, the Head of Bight offers an incredible view over the ocean and is perfect for spotting whales in the cooler months.
The picnic area, viewing platform and information boards provided at the Head of Bight Whale Watching Centre, make it a must stop on the Eyre Highway across the Nullarbor. You can read more about whale watching at the Head of Bight below.
About the Head of Bight
The Head of Bight is the northern most point of the Great Australian Bight. This huge open bay expands across the southern coast of Australia from the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia to near Esperance in Western Australia. The area is covered by the Great Australian Bight Marine Park because of its unique natural environment and underwater ecosystem, which is home to a variety of marine life.
The Head of Bight is located in the middle of the Nullarbor Plain and is a quite a remote place to reach. However, it’s just a 12km detour along a sealed road off the Eyre Highway to the Head of Bight Whale Watching Centre and is definitely worth your time. From here, you can spot whales in the winter months and admire spectacular views along the Bunda Cliffs and sand dunes.
The Bunda Cliffs are the longest uninterrupted sea cliffs in the world. The limestone cliffs mark where the Nullarbor meets the Southern Ocean and run for more than 100km along the coast and stand around 90m high. Standing on tops of these cliffs at the Head of Bight, you really feel as though you’re at the edge of the world. This high vantage point provides a great spot to see across the ocean and spot whales and their calves frolicking in the water.
How to reach the Head of Bight
The Head of Bight is roughly halfway across the Nullarbor, however, it’s easily reached off the Eyre Highway. The turnoff is signposted on the highway and along a good road suitable for all vehicles. Whether you’re travelling from Ceduna and heading across west or coming to Ceduna from Western Australia, it’s an easy place to stop just 11km off the highway.
If you’re not travelling across the Nullarbor to Western Australia, you can also visit the Head of Bight as a day trip. However, it’s a quite a long drive from Ceduna to make it there and back in a day. You could consider taking a day trip to the whale watching centre from Penong instead, which is 73km or an hour closer, shaving 2 hours of travel time off your day. There are accommodation options in either Ceduna or Penong.
Depending on which direction you’re travelling from:
• From Ceduna to Head of Bight: 285km or 3.5-hour drive along the Eyre Highway west of Ceduna town.
• From Eucla to Head of Bight: 221km or 2.5-hour drive along the Eyre Highway east of Eucla.
Whales in the Great Australian Bight
The Great Australian Bight is an important habitat for the Southern Right Whales. These endangered marine mammals come to breed in the warmer waters of the Bight each year from around May until October. Those with calves generally remain within just a 15km long section of coast, with more than 150 of them appearing near the Head of Bight on average each year. They tend to begin the long trek back to Antarctica from early October.
The months between June and August are considered the best time, with majority of people spotting large number of Southern Right Whales from the Head of Bight during these months. The whales give birth in the waters along the coast, with around 60 or so calves being counted in recent years.
About Southern Right Whales
Southern Right Whales can grow up to 14-18m in length as adults and are usually just 5-6m in length as calves. They can be as heavy as 80 tonnes at full size, with females generally giving birth every three years. They are identified by large heads with a bowed jawline. Their flippers are broad and triangular with their body colour ranging from blue-black to brown. They often have white markings on their belly and their two blowholes produce a V-shaped blow.
They are considered an endangered species, but have enjoyed complete protection since 1937. While this has allowed numbers to slowly rise, their population still remains lower than in the 1800s. Some of the same whales return to the waters off the coast of the Head of Bight for many years in a row, with around one third of the total population of Southern Right Whales having been born in the Great Australian Bight.
Other marine animals in the Great Australian Bight
You may also get the chance of spotting Humpback Whales, Great White Sharks and dolphins, which all congregate around the coastline at this time too. Humpback Whales tend to head towards the even warmer waters of Western Australia during winter, but they can sometimes be seen off the coast from the Head of Bight as they begin their journey west in June.
The Head of Bight Whale Watching Centre
The Head of Bight is widely considered to be one of the best land-based whale watching spots in the country (and perhaps, even the world). The high cliffs along the coast provide incredible views of the Southern Ocean and Great Australian Bight.
At the Head of Bight, you will find the whale watching centre. This includes a large car park and covered picnic area, boardwalks and viewing platforms, toilets, water tanks and informational boards. It’s the perfect place to have a break from driving and make yourself a cuppa or picnic lunch while you enjoy the views.
The boardwalk takes you to the two main viewing platforms for whale watching, one to the east and one to the west. They are sloped and accessible to people of all ages and abilities, including for wheelchairs. If you bring along some binoculars or zoom lens on your camera, you will get an even better view from the platforms.
The centre is also an educational facility with a number of display boards that provide information about the habits, behaviours and other scientific curiosities of the Southern Right Whales and incredible fragile environment of the area. It’s meant to provide cross-cultural awareness of the land and sea along the coast of the Great Australian Bight, especially of the Great Australian Bight Marine Park and Nullarbor National Park.
Even if you visit outside of the whale season, the centre still provides an unparalleled view of the 90m-tall Bunda Cliffs and incredible huge sand dunes along the coast.
Whale watching boat tours on the Far West Coast
If you prefer to get a bit more up close to these beautiful mammals, you can also opt for a whale watching boat tour. These tours generally depart for a few short months each year from June until September.
Fowlers Bay is one of the best places to jump on a whale watching tour. During their annual migration, Southern Right Whales and Humpback Whales often spend several weeks in the waters of Fowlers Bay. You can easily head to Fowlers Bay from Ceduna, just 142km or a 1 hour 45 minute drive away.
Daily departures of tours head off from the jetty and last around two hours. You will get possible sightings and close interactions of Southern Right Whales, Humpback Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins, Australian Sea Lions and Long Nosed Fur Seals. You might also be able to spot White Bellied Sea Eagles, Albatross and Little Penguins as well.
Depending on what you prefer, you can join a group tour on a 50ft passenger vessel or even opt for sunrise or sunset kayak tours from where you can be even closer to some of these incredible marine animals.
Southern Right Whales often approach boats closely, but boats are not meant to approach closer than 100 metres to a whale. A vessel should also not separate a mother or group and its calf, but experienced tour operators will understand and be well versed in the whale watching code of conduct allowing you to just relax and enjoy the amazing encounters.
Whale watching scenic flights on the Far West Coast
Another option and perhaps completely unique way of whale watching is to opt for a scenic flight over the Head of Bight and Bunda Cliffs. There are exclusive scenic flights along the Nullarbor and Far West Coast, which have the option for heading over the Head of Bight during the winter months. This way you can spot the whales and calves in the water below, against the backdrop of the cliffs and semi-arid plain. Flights can last from 20 minutes up to an hour, but are not allowed to fly lower than 500 metres above a whale, again, your pilot will take care of all that while you take in the experience and take some of the most unique photos of your tour album to date.