It was like Christmas morning. I woke up and burst out of bed.
Time to see the whales.
I have seen whales in the wild before, both up close and from far away. Rather than diluting my excitement, my previous experiences only enhanced it. There is just something about whales – their size, their song, their dwindling presence in the ocean. Personally, I suspect my affiliation for whales stems from the whale unit we did in fifth grade, which was capped off with a viewing of ‘Voyage of the Mimi,’ featuring a young Ben Affleck.
Jared and I drove from Newcastle to Port Stephens, which took less than an hour. The harbour was clean and sparkly, a good omen.
Behold, our ship. It wasn’t the Mimi but the MV Spirit, stocked with free seasickness tablets and tea. A good start.
We spotted three orcas before even boarding the ship, which I took as an additional good sign. Jared took it as a sign that I was weird for getting excited about blow up whales.
Both of us took two ginger tablets and a regular, non-natural seasickness tablet. Just for good measure. We watched in horror as a girl in her early twenties, wearing a green track suit and sporting long, gelled hair, cracked open a can of Jim Beam and Cola. It was ten in the morning.
The captain sailed us out to the open sea, where we would merge onto the Humpback Highway, a virtual gridlock of whales, according to media reports.
I took a seat right at the front of the boat, clutching to the rail as we crashed over the swell in our bid to reach the HH.
“I don’t see any whales yet,” the captain announced. “The boat to our left has just seen a few breaches, so let’s sit tight and keep our eyes out.”
Why would he tell us about what others have seen? I scanned the choppy horizon for puffs of blowhole water, as instructed by the skipper. The two Japanese girls on either side of me squealed in excitement whenever they saw white foam crest over the top of a wave, escalating my heart rate for no good reason.
“We’ve got some whales directly in front of us,” the captain said.
Fssh, I heard. Fssh.
“There,” Jared said, pointing slightly to the right.
“I see them,” I cried.
“Ooooh,” sighed everyone on board.
“Eeee!” shouted the Japanese girls.
The whales broke the surface of the water, showcasing their long, grey bodies and arced dorsal fins. A large curved tail was all we saw before they both descended back into the deep.
“Some more whales behind us,” the captain said. “I’ll just swing the boat around.”
They were everywhere. While it wasn’t exactly rush hour, we encountered at least three separate groups of whales, the last of which decided to put on a small show.
After a few appearances diving in and out of the waves, one whale torpedoed its whole body out of the water, spinning in the air before crashing back down. I got a blurry photo of the sky as I tried to abstractly capture the action without looking through the viewfinder of my camera. This is a spectacle better seen by the naked eye than through a lens.
After an hour or so of stalking the whales around, it was time to return. This was just as well as it was absolutely freezing, between the cool winter temperatures, icy ocean spray, and vicious blustery winds. I went down to make a cup of tea in the small sheltered section of the boat.
Green track suit girl was bent double in the corner, refusing to talk to her friend, flammable hair hanging in her face. No whales for her. Welcome to seasickness, idiot.
Jared and I found a warm ledge that must have housed the engine and sat on it until we returned to the harbour. On the way back, we spotted fur seals and dolphins, which were small fries compared to the whales.
At this very moment, hundreds of humpbacks continue their journey north, spiraling into the air whether or not anyone is watching.
And I saw them.