We’re seeing whale watching deals sell like hotcakes in July when supplier relationship manager Michelle scores the team a half day whale watching tour with our mate Tony from Australian Spirit Sailing Company.
We meet at King St wharf at 12.30 ready to board Tony’s intimate vessel, a 40-foot sailboat named Katrina, who promises to get us closer to the whales than we’ve ever experienced. Ex-Dry July-er Aisling, who’s finished up her month of not drinking with a boutique beer tasting tour followed by an undisclosed number of drinks with friends the night before turns up wearing dark glasses and a coffee in hand, and wholeheartedly accepts the Kwells on offer. The rest of the team bounds onto the boat super-pumped for an encounter with these awe-inspiring mammals of the deep.
Tony briefs us on the Katrina’s safety features, and warns us of how cold it’s going to get. There’s a stack of wet weather pants and jackets in the event that the heavens open on us. (Fast forward a couple of hours and we’re insanely grateful for this attire.) And with that, we head out into the harbour and towards the waters off Bondi Beach where the whales are rumoured to be.
When it comes to the whales, Tony’s an incredibly passionate man. He’s really proud to offer a smaller and more intimate experience than his competition. Sometimes the whales get close enough to touch, he says. It’s nerve-racking to think we, in the equivalent to a sports car, might attract a whale the size of a semi-trailer so close to us, where one flick of its tail might cause us to capsize, but Tony assures us in all his years of sailing that he’s not run into any strife yet. In fact, as playful as they are, the whales truly are gentle giants.
Before we leave the harbour we’re already in for a treat. “Dolphins in the harbour!” an excited Tony cries, and the GoDo team congregate on the ship’s bow. There’s a pod of about ten of them, and they jump and play for our entertainment, racing the boat as Michelle snaps a hundred photos or more.
We emerge from the harbour and out to open sea, and it’s here where the stuff of a good blog begins. The open sea is a challenging thing in a boat as small as ours. GoDo’s come prepared with the necessary meds to keep the sickness at bay, but our mate Kwell takes a bit to kick in it seems, as Ais confesses to a bit of nausea, it’s Michelle, a self-confessed sea sickness sufferer, who’s first bent over the bow and reminded us of what she had for breakfast. Twice. She recovers with a smile. “We saw dolphins!” she says excitedly, happier than a kid at Christmas, yet paler than the ghost of Christmas past. She concentrates on the horizon on the hunt for more marine life. I turn back to Aisling, who has bounced back from the mother of all hangovers and is standing at the head of the vessel doing her best Kate Winslet impersonation. The sea air turns out to be a better hangover cure than first thought.
Our first sighting of a female humpback occurs about an hour into the trip. She’s gentle, cautiously checking us out. The sheer size of these animals is mind-boggling, and Tony reminds us that they’re small in comparison to the Blue Whale, five times the size of our humpback friend. Before long she’s fluked a number of times before treating us to a fabulous breach. We all cheer – it’s amazing how we all get caught up in the moment, forgetting the wind and the rain which only seems to add to the adventure anyway. We stay with her for two hours and towards the very end she comes toward the boat to show off her white belly as she rolls under the water. Tony can’t orchestrate this sighting any better – this is definitely the highlight, even for ghostly Michelle, whose colour doesn’t fully return until we’re safely inside the harbour again. A sensational sunset behind menacing clouds provides a visual feast as we approach the Harbour Bridge and makes for a great few last photos. Aisling keeps her poses up, giving me her best impression of Jessica Watson with a magical shot that truly sums up the day’s adventure.
A big GoDo thank you to Tony and his nausea-fighting minties for giving the GoDo team a whale of a time on Sunday – even reluctant sailor Michelle gave it a big thumbs up and would wholeheartedly do it again to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. Michelle, next time – two Kwells, not just the one.