It’s whale migration season here on the eastern seaboard of Australia, with thousands of these wonderful creatures making their way to the warmer waters up north to breed.
A few years ago when I was still a Sydneysider (or almost!) I went on a whale watching cruise with a friend. We were fortunate enough to see a number of humpback whales up close, and witness a variety of behaviours such as tail slapping and breaching. But I did feel that there was something intrusive about being so close to them on the water.
The Whale Dreamers Festival at Norah Head* offers a completely different approach. Organised every year since 2006 on the initiative of a dedicated trio of women, it is an eco event and great emphasis is placed on whale conservation and protecting the environment. And the watching takes place from a distance. In fact, Norah Head provides the ideal location for this with its panoramic ocean views from the cliffs by the lighthouse.
Icklegen and I decided to join in the action at this year’s festival. We turned up early, which was a good thing as there was no parking at the lighthouse and limited slots in our usual spot by the Rockpool Café. We didn’t have to walk forever, as I had feared (now that would have been a challenge with a little one!) Free shuttle buses trundled up and down the access road to the lighthouse throughout the event making life so much easier.
On arrival, there was a big crowd on the cliff-top, with people peering excitedly through binoculars and very long telephoto lenses. There had been a sighting of a southern right whale a few kilometres offshore. A number of the more common humpback whales were also observed during the course of our visit, as well as pods of dolphins. Alas, we didn’t get to see any whales or dolphins ourselves, but it was enough this time to know they were ‘in attendance’.
We toured around the various environmental stalls, where Ickle befriended a somewhat battered wooden pelican. Then we got creative in the Art Space, a great initiative where, for a gold coin donation, Ickle got to paint and colour in her very own mask. The highlight of the day, though, had to be face painting. My little girl sat very still as a local artist decorated her forehead with a rainbow, flowers and a ziggy-biggy (aka a ladybird), the latter being at Ickle’s specific request.
We checked out the excellent food stalls on-site later on when we got a bit peckish. I opted for a black bean burrito (delicious and very spicy) and Ickle took a fancy to the sausage sizzle. (Well, she is a little Aussie, after all). And we sat in the sunshine overlooking the lighthouse and the ocean, while live music played in the background. And I thought: this isn’t bad for a Sunday afternoon in the middle of winter.
*The Darkinjung Aboriginal people refer to the Central Coast of NSW as ‘Whale Dreaming Country’, and the whale is their totem.