Swimming with Humpback Whales

Day 436

I signed up for a tour to see whales, check out Fraser Island, and do some kayaking with Tasman Venture. My pickup time was 6:40 am. I am not a morning person, so I stumbled in the dark to use the toilet. I didn’t put my glasses on or turn on the bathroom light. Once I finished my business, I turned on the lamp in the room and started to get dressed. I needed to put my contacts in, so I turned on the bathroom light. And there he was.

I jumped backward when I saw a wolf spider the size of my palm on the wall, just above the toilet. I started breathing heavily, looking at the hairy beast. I heard they can jump and run super fast. I was in a standoff. I needed to get my contacts on the sink, just inches away from the monster. 

When I was in South Australia, I showered with a poisonous spider when my lack of eyesight failed me once again. Then in Broome, I almost tripped on my shorts when a frog frantically tried to jump out of my toilet. Let’s not forget about the night of bush camping while creatures surrounded us. I guess I expected those in more remote parts of Australia, but now I was on the east coast where most people live!  

When I was around 13 years old, I went to a sleepover for a friend’s birthday. Five young girls watched the movie, Arachnophobia. I’m not that extreme with my fear of spiders, but I instantly get goosebumps when I see one. I’ve also had many nightmares that have involved spiders. That night at the sleepover, I woke up several times in a panic, thinking there were spiders inside my bag attacking me. Each time, I would scramble out of my sleeping bag screaming, and turn on the lights. Only to find there were no spiders; it was all in my dream. 

I took some pictures of the beast near my toilet and a short video to show people the insanity Australia can sometimes bring. It freaked me out that I used the toilet in the dark without knowing he was there.

I didn’t want to miss my tour, so I bravely walked to the sink. I made a deal with the spider that he wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t bother him. I just wanted to brush my teeth and put in my contacts. It worked. The wolf spider didn’t move at all. I grabbed my items for the boat ride and left. I would have to deal with the hairy monster later.

I had to walk down the long driveway to the main road. I went out of the back sliding door to save time, but then I had to cut through the forest. I ran as fast as I could through the fallen leaves and brush, afraid more wolf spiders were lurking. 

I was picked up for the tour and taken to the harbor. There were about 20 people on the boat, and we departed at 7:30 am. One of the guides was in his late 30s to early 40s, tall, very fit, and had dark curly hair. He explained that on the way to Fraser Island, we’d watch for humpback whales. 

About 40 minutes later, we saw some whales! The driver turned off the engine and said they’re not allowed to go towards the whales, but if the whales came to us, they could get as close as they wanted. 

A girl in her late 20s was on the speaker giving us information about the whales. She told us that whales are just as curious about us as we are of them. She encouraged us to wave our arms up and down, making large gestures while making noise. The girl assured us that the whales could see us from the water.

A baby and its mother came right up to our boat! I’ve been on several whale-watching tours around the world, and this was the closest I had ever been to a whale. The baby was still at least six feet long and was only a month old!

The baby was so curious; he was swirling, flipping, and jumping. The mom actually let the baby get a couple of feet from the boat’s side while she was on the outside. They said it was unusual for the mom to let the baby get so close. The father leaves the mother after insemination to meet more women.

Two male guardians appeared, and the girl on the speaker said the males help escort the mom and baby to make sure they make it back south safely. 

The whales migrate from Antarctica to the waters in Northern Australia to breed and give birth. Then they move back south to feed. We were in the sweet spot of their move south because they weren’t feeding or breeding, so they were peaceful.

The milk that comes from the mother is 45% fat, and the consistency is like yogurt. No wonder they grow so fast!

Humpback whales are enormous!! The females are larger than the males. The mother swimming around us must have been close to the size of our boat. Sometimes they’d disappear under the boat and pop up on the other side. I raced around the front bow, the sides, and to the back to see as much as I could. I was in awe, watching them play around.

The four whales were around our boat for at least 20 minutes. They started to swim away, and in the distance, other whale watching boats were watching too. Our guide told us that we could get in the water with the whales, but they couldn’t allow it if a baby were nearby because the mother could become aggressive.

They turned on the engine, and we continued towards Fraser Island. About 15 minutes later, four large males approached us! They turned off the engine, and the guide said if we wanted to swim with them, we needed to quickly put on a wetsuit, grab a snorkel, and get in the water. There were ropes attached to the sides and back of the boat. Each section of rope was about 20 feet, and it was draped from the sides. This allowed people to put the rope under their chest and bend their legs backward, so their knees hit the boat.

I was so excited that I could hardly contain myself. Every time I’ve gone whale watching, I have desperately wanted to jump into the water with whales. This time, I actually could! The guide told us that if the whales left, we’d lose our chance, so time was of the essence. 

I had my swimsuit on under my clothes, so I quickly took off my clothes and put on the shorty wetsuit. Some people were waiting for the bathroom because they didn’t have their swimsuits on. I grabbed my snorkel set and raced to the back of the boat. 

About five people were already on the side, all being held close to the boat by the 20-foot section of the rope. Another five people were at the back. I found a rope that was hanging off the right side, and it had a loop around the end. I put my hand through the loop and hung on. I was able to stretch out at times, so my feet were directly against the boat. Other times, the waves pushed me back, so I bent my legs backward, and my knees were touching the boat. 

Thankfully, I have long arms. I had to switch which arm was holding the rope, though, because the strain hurt after a while.

I put my snorkel in my mouth and planted my face in the water. It was so shocking to see a massive humpback whale so close to me that I lost my breath. Then I started breathing extremely fast. I paused and told myself, “Calm down. It’s ok. Breath.”

I quickly calmed my breathing, but the adrenaline raced through my body. Four male humpback whales were swimming in front of us and below us. The whales were black and white, and some were blue. They moved slowly and gracefully. It’s hard to tell distance in the water, but they seemed to be just a few feet away. 

At one point, one was in front of me, and one was below, and I didn’t know which one to look at! The whale below me was about ten feet down, and he moved slowly towards the other side of the boat, and then I couldn’t see him any longer. 

I could see clearly for at least 15 feet, and then the whales turned into dark masses as they got farther away. One of the whales was so close to me; I could see every barnacle on his fin and all of the scratches. He moved so slowly that I could see everything, taking it in. His size made me feel so small.

The gracefulness of the whales was surreal. They glided through the water like a ballet. I was in love. At one point, I stretched my arm out as far as I could and was just inches from being able to touch him. I was close to letting go of the rope because I just wanted to be as close to them as possible. 

Maybe it’s because I had been told that I was an animal whisper for months in Australia. Like when a kangaroo let me scratch his face, a baby kangaroo french-kissed me, a camel kept nudging me for scratches, and a quokka sat on my lap. I wanted to be a whale whisperer too. I tried to send out positive energy and love to the majestic creatures. 

We were in the water with the whales for at least 20 minutes. Towards the end, a whale below us blew air, and hundreds of bubbles came rushing past us. The whales were playful and gave us a bubble bath! 

The whales eventually swam away, and we all climbed back on the boat. The guide asked me what I thought, and I couldn’t stop smiling! I told him that it was a once in a lifetime experience. Definitely in the top three things I’ve done! He was thrilled and said they got a show last Sunday, but not much during the week. That day, he said we got one of the best shows and turnouts he’s seen. In total, we ended up seeing more than 20 whales. 

In the 1960s, Australia banned commercial whaling, and the population keeps growing. Just before the ban, their numbers dropped to 200 and now there are estimated to be 60,000. They realized that they could make a lot more money on whale tourism than killing them. The guide said that season they had seen more whales than they ever had, giving him hope that their numbers had returned significantly.   

I asked the guide why the whale let bubbles go underneath us. He said scientists still don’t really know why they do that, but many (including him) believe it is a playful sign. I agreed. Scientists also don’t know why whales breach and splash, but many believe it is to see their surroundings and have fun. 

A few people on the boat missed swimming because they were too slow getting changed and were hesitant to be in the water with the whales. How insane – they missed one of the best experiences! The other tour boats aren’t allowed to get in the water with the whales, so I felt incredibly fortunate.



We continued to Fraser Island and kept seeing whales! Each time, we’d stop and watch them. Some were two feet from our boat, while others were 100 feet away. When they were farther away, they were splashing water with their tails and fins. A few times, the whales breached. There were also so many babies!

When we arrived at Fraser Island, we got on a smaller power-raft, which took us to shore. Once everyone was on the island, we made our way to a steep section of sand. The guide told us to climb to the top to see the views. 

The sand was the whitest, softest, and the purest sand that I’ve ever touched before! We were headed to a lookout point, but it was steep! The sand was so soft and delicate that when I’d put one foot up the hill, it would slide at least a foot back down. It was exhausting, and we all took several breaks. 

When I reached the top, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was! The sand was so pure that I almost couldn’t feel it at all. In front of us was the ocean with bright colors. The views behind us were of a forest of trees. 

Apparently, they used to collect the sand on that island to make glass because it’s so pure. Thankfully, they put a stop to that, so the sand doesn’t get used up.

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. It stretches 123 kilometers (76 miles) long and 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) wide. The guide told us that if you were to drive around the island (by using a ferry), it would take four to six hours, so it’s better by boat. The tides frequently change, making it difficult for cars to make it around the island. Because of that, hire cars (rental cars) aren’t allowed on the island. You also have to adjust the tire pressure, so you don’t get stuck in the sand. 

We climbed back down the hill and walked along the shore. There was clear, shallow water left from the tide, so we walked through it. We arrived at a freshwater pool, and I got in about waist deep. Only a few of us got inside. I was used to the natural pools in Australia. 

Then we took the raft boat back to our main boat. After driving for ten minutes, we took the raft boat to a different section of the island. We split into two groups, and my group went kayaking first. There were six of us and two guides. I was assigned to go with Leah. 

Leah was from Germany, only about 20 years old, had blonde hair and was in her gap year. She hurt her knee when she was in New Zealand a couple of weeks earlier and had a brace around it. Leah already scheduled and booked her east coast trip to Australia, so she was determined to do all those things. 

Leah and I kayaked through the marsh, and I was in the back. I had a hard time steering because the swamp snaked its way through the trees and bushes. There was also a surprisingly strong current. There were many turns, and it was difficult to avoid the branches in the shallow water. I felt embarrassed that I was struggling to control the kayak, but then I realized that the other groups all had males with them, and their arms were much more muscular than mine. 

Once we finished kayaking, we switched places with the other group. We each got a turn on an inflatable raft that was like a couch! I sat on the beach watching each couple, and they were flying around, bouncing off waves! 

It was time for Leah and me to get on the inflatable couch. The guide asked how fast we wanted, and I said medium, especially with her knee in a brace. I held on to a handle tightly, and it was a blast! The driver took us all over, swirling us as we hopped over waves. 

Once we finished our turn, I sat on the beach, watching the others. I talked with the guide, who was around my age. He was attractive, tall, and fit. He seemed to be flirty with me at certain points, and I told myself, “Nope, not going there again.” We talked for a little bit, and he said it was unusual to have such a young group. Usually, they have a mix of older and younger people, but for some reason, this tour was all people in their 20s and early 30s. It was also mostly couples. 

When we got back on the boat, I sat on the top section. There were only a few seats there, and I sat on a bench that held two people. I didn’t care; the couples dominated the top on the way there. There were some small windows, which helped block the wind and the cold. I bought a beer and enjoyed it while the sun hit my face. I dozed off a little bit, crashing from the earlier adrenaline rush. 

I was dropped off at the eco-lodge at 5:30 pm and thought surely the wolf spider had disappeared. Nope. He was on the wall in the exact same spot. I walked to the lobby and talked with the woman who had checked me in. I told her about the spider and, not being from Australia, she cringed. She grabbed her husband and told him to help me. 

The man walked back to my room with me, holding a flyswatter and a folded newspaper. I stood in the bathroom doorway while he got close to the creature. The man hit the spider with a flyswatter, and the beast jumped to the other wall and then the floor. I screamed and backed up. The man hurried and scooped the spider up with the newspaper and used the flyswatter to hold him down. 

The beast wasn’t dead; he was just stunned. The man walked outside and almost set the spider in a bush two feet from my door. He paused and realized it should be farther away. He walked a few more feet from my door and set him down in a bush there.

He looked back at me and said, “I hope he doesn’t make his way back into your room.” Fantastic. That’s the thing about eco-lodges; you have to accept cohabitating with creatures. Maybe I’ll become a spider-whisperer? Unlikely. 

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Published by Christy

I quit my corporate job and sold my house in Los Angeles so I can travel and write. I grew up in St. Louis, MO and moved to the Los Angeles area after college. I worked in the business world for 15 years. Follow along to see pictures and hear stories of people I've met along my journey so far - driving to Alaska.

4 thoughts on “Swimming with Humpback Whales

  1. Oh my God, how awesome!! It looks amazing, and those whales! A lot of the videos weren’t working though, so I could only watch three of them 🙁

    Wish I was on that island right now, how beautiful.

    1. Thank you for letting me know! I talked with WordPress and there was something wrong with my site. I’ve fixed it so please let me know if the videos aren’t working! The videos are pretty cool!

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