An Honest Swim With Whales Review With Sunreef Mooloolaba
Wondering if the swim with whales with Sunreef Mooloolaba in Sunshine Coast is worth it? It’s been on our Australia bucket list for a good few years now! If you didn’t already know, Australia is only one of only TWO countries in the world that offers swimming with humpback whales in the wild (the other being Tonga)!
With three locations to choose from on the East Coast of Australia (Coffs Harbour, Hervey Bay and Mooloolaba), we have been waiting patiently to tick off this bucket list item for a few years now. Find out what our experience was like with Sunreef Mooloolaba in Queensland and whether we would do it again if we had the opportunity.
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Let Us Introduce You To Sunreef Mooloolaba
Sunreef Mooloolaba is known as the first company in Australia to offer the swim with whales experience from July to October. While 40,000 humpback whales travel up and down the East Coast of Australia each year, it’s good to hear the migration is growing by 10% year-on-year.
As the largest dive centre in South East Queensland, Sunreef Mooloolaba is also the longest-running dive centre in the Sunshine Coast. With plenty of activities to choose from, their whale watching tours on the legendary Whale One boat is an iconic Queensland experience. Go diving around the ex-HMAS Brisbane shipwreck, take an introductory dive, hire jet skis, SUP, bikes, kayaks and much more.
Things To Know Before You Go Swimming With Whales
Although we had no idea what to expect for our swim with whales with Sunreef Mooloolaba, we thought we’d prepare you some swim with whales tips after we experienced this once in a lifetime opportunity.
1. It is a 100% natural & wild experience
The team at Sunreef Mooloolaba track the whales each day so they know their whereabouts without having to attract them with bait. The knowledge they have is quite remarkable for being able to pinpoint the direction they are heading in when you’re out in the ocean on the boat. They also pull up at least 100 metres from the whale and let it get used to the boat before you’re allowed into the water. They recommend you splash as little as possible to keep the whales interested in being around you.
Watch Our Swim With Whales Video!
We filmed the entire experience for you!
2. There are no other boat companies swimming with whales
One thing I noticed straight away is how there are no other boats around when you go swimming with whales in Sunshine Coast. I’m sure we’ve all been on boat trips before with at least a few other boats around, but you’ll find your boat is the only one in the ocean looking to swim with whales. This makes it feel like an even more special experience.
3. Be careful where you park
We turned up about half an hour early for our swim with whales with Sunreef Mooloolaba and just parked outside in the wharf car park. Although it’s free parking for four hours, we came back to a parking ticket because the tour had gone slightly over the 3.5hours and our early arrival meant we were over the four hours. Make sure you go to The Wharf Mooloolaba / SEA Life car park as there are a few unlimited car parking spots there.
4. You’ll learn fun facts about the humpback whales
Did you know there’s a white albino humpback whale called Migaloo often spotted up and down the East Coast of Australia? You’ll also learn that whales only see in black and white and can see in slightly different directions with each eye!
5. You’ll be wearing a magnetic tag to defer sharks (true story!)
I kinda thought the staff were joking when they announced we had to wear ankle magnetic tags to stops the sharks from coming near us. Luckily a shark has never been sighted ever from the Sunreef Mooloolaba tours.
6. You won’t know if the swim is going ahead until 3pm the day before
We had our swim with whales trip postponed because of the weather, but luckily we were still in town a few days later to jump on board. Just make sure you leave a couple of days free if you’re on holiday in Sunshine Coast.
7. There are no refunds for not swimming with whales
Be aware you won’t get a refund if you don’t swim with whales because the best Sunreef Mooloolaba can do is to get you near to them. Then, it is 100% up to the whale on what it does. Sometimes you might be lucky and they might come right up to you. Other times you might not be so lucky. If you see a whales fin out of the water, it might possibly mean they are diving down into the ocean and the chances of swimming with them aren’t looking as likely.
You may get 50% off your next swim with whales if there are no whales spotted on the tour. To be honest, it’s all up to luck on the day. We were told by the staff that it doesn’t really matter whether you pick the morning or afternoon swim with whales in Mooloolaba because it’s just up to the whale at the end of the day.
8. Bring warm clothes
Because you’ll be swimming with whales in Queensland in Winter, it does get cold on the boat. Luckily the wetsuits are excellent! In fact, the wetsuits are the best quality I’ve ever been given by any company anywhere in the world. Bring warm clothes to change into after the swim, it’s warmer in the water than on the boat!
9. Bring water, snacks and a GoPro
Obviously bring water, snacks and a GoPro with you! You’ll be on the boat for at least 3.5hrs so make sure you’ve had some food beforehand. There are loads of places to eat in Mooloolaba Wharf if you need to get breakfast. The crew will give you a fun-size chocolate bar and packet of crisps during the trip, but bring healthy snacks with you if needed.
Bring your GoPro with you although the visibility wasn’t exceptionally clear when we went. I think maybe we noticed this because the recent snorkelling we’ve done has been in the Great Barrier Reef which is crystal clear. We asked the crew if the water was usually as clear as it was for us that day and they said yes. Potentially the whale would need to come quite close to you in order to capture footage underwater.
Our Swim With Whales Review With Sunreef Mooloolaba
Although it had been on my Australia bucket list for years, I didn’t really know what to expect about the swim with whales with Sunreef Mooloolaba. I hadn’t prepared myself for that day or even the thought of jumping into the water with a whale. What I did know is that I was really excited and couldn’t wait to get the day started.
When we turned up to Sunreef Mooloolaba at Mooloolaba Wharf, we were greeted by really friendly staff. We were led into the back of the reception to try on wet suits and get our snorkel and fins ready.
Quality Gear & Crew
I instantly noticed the decent quality of the thick wetsuits, snorkels and fins. Sometimes when I’ve been snorkelling or diving before, the quality of the gear was less than great. But, with Sunreef Mooloolaba, I turned to Steve straight away and mentioned how it was the best quality I’d had seen to date.
After we got ready, we were led onto the small boat with about 10 other guests eager to spot whales. When we got on board, we were greeted by an all-female crew. I have to say, I found this really empowering and a first-ever to see, which is mad when you think about it.
The female crew all have brilliant personalities and totally made the entire trip for us! They made us feel so excited to search for whales!
When we got going on the boat, they played really cool funk music and we both wondered why we haven’t ever heard any boat tour do this before (with the exception of a themed ABBA boat we went on in Croatia!). It was really fun and totally made us feel like we were properly travelling again on an adventure like old times
Spotting Whales Within The First 10 Minutes
Within about 10 minutes of being on the boat, we were told they had spotted a whale and we couldn’t believe it! Everyone jumped out of their seats and quickly zipped up their wetsuits anxiously waiting to be told if we could jump into the water.
As the crew waited to see what the whale was doing, it had dived under and before we knew it, he’d left us. So, we continued on and found another whale that came up a few times to say hi. During this instance, some dolphins appeared too, and it was time for us to slide into the water as delicately as possible and stay close to our guide. I managed to spot a dolphin underwater but I don’t think many of the other guests saw it.
As I was in the water, I couldn’t help but slightly feel scared at the prospect of a massive whale being nearby. But I knew I was safe and searched and searched in the water to try and find it. We had no such luck. We all got back onto the boat sat at the end in what felt like a fun jet spa as we continued along the flat and almost liquid water on a beautiful day to find another whale.
The Final Attempt
Time was ticking and as the Captain made a decision to head to the spot where the whale watching tour was checking out a mother and calf whale, we thought we had hit the jackpot. We knew it was now or never, and with excitement building more and more on the boat, everyone slid into the water in the hope to spot the whales.
And it was in this moment I heard Steve call out as he spotted the whale underwater. Everyone swam towards him in the hope to see it too and before we knew it, the whale has disappeared deep into the ocean.
When we realised the whale had gone, Steve told me he saw the side of the whale and the fin, saying how huge it was in the water. He was very happy and was so buzzing, I’m glad he got to experience it!
Although most of us on the boat weren’t lucky to see a whale in the water, it didn’t really matter because we had a brilliant time. The suspense of it all was so exciting, it really takes a whale watching tour to the next level.
I loved the all-female crew and found their passion and excitement for spotting the whales really made me feel like they too were doing it for the first time too.
What this tour did remind me is how I have completely and utterly missed travel and adventure. This tour really makes you feel like you could be on an amazing once in a lifetime adventure, which is exactly what it’s all about.
Did you know there are more unique whale experiences in Australia? There are some amazing animal experiences to be had, so we wrote an article about the bucket list experiences you need to know about. While you can swim with humpback whales in Coffs Harbour, Mooloolaba and Hervey Bay on the East Coast Australia, you can also swim with them & whale sharks in Coral Bay and Exmouth in Western Australia.
Alternatively, while you can go whale watching all up and down the East Coast, there’s also an option to go on a blue whale watching tour in Freemantle, WA. We went on a tour during a visit in Sri Lanka and it’s a mind-blowing experience to see the largest whales in the world! While you can only see 20% of the whale out of the water, they are absolutely massive!
You can also swim with dwarf minke whales up in Port Douglas between May to August, which is the only place in the world you can do so.
Find out more about the different animal experiences in Australia in our post below.