Start with calm, glassy seas, then add a dash of cordon bleu splashed with old fashioned hospitality. Generously season with 12,000 humpback whales, lightly bake for seven hours in the warm Queensland sun and soak in the vitamin sea. Add in the sleek lines of Freedom III and the expertise of Captain Keith Reid and voila, you've got a winning formula for a great day on the water in Australia's whale watching capital, Hervey Bay.
“What can I say, our guests come for the whales and come back for the profiteroles”, French-Chef-Turned- Whale-Skipper, Keith Reid, laughs.
Captain Keith spent his formative years steering his way around French kitchens in New Zealand and serving tucker in his own restaurants in Hervey Bay, before answering the call of the wild. With wife Sue, he purchased a 58-foot catamaran - the Freedom III - from legendary Australian conservationist and filmmaker, Ben Cropp, and went in search of Hervey Bay's humpbacks. Freedom Whale Watch & Charters was born and the rest, as they say, is history.
These days Keith and the crew of Freedom III are one of a handful of operators in the Fraser Coast region to offer a full day out on the water, all season round.
“We used to run half-day tours, but found when we were watching the clock we didn't have the freedom to stay with a humpback if it was mugging us or the freedom to just go with whatever Mother Nature threw at us,” he said.
According to Keith, he already had a reputation for never coming home on time, so launching a full-day tour for the 2017 season was an absolute no-brainer.
“Whale watching in Hervey Bay is not just an excursion, it's an experience.” he said. “It's just like seeing elephants for the very first time – there's a very real emotional connection with these animals from the moment you spot the sheen on their backs to the very last breach.”
“And, at the end of the day, people leave our boat with a huge smile on their face, and an appreciation for the ocean, the animals that live in it and the need to protect it for future generations.”
With around 30,000 whales expected to make the journey from Antarctica this year, Keith is not one resting on his laurels when it comes to his passenger experience. This year he has introduced small-group photography sessions aboard Freedom III, under the expert eye of local wildlife photographer and gallery owner, Michael Smith.
“Essentially, six lucky passengers on Freedom III's August 21 and September 2 tours can sign up to learn the finer points of whale watching photography from an expert,” he said. “It's the ultimate souvenir!”
“Plus, there are regular guests on board to remind them to put their camera down every now and then and just enjoy the show in front of them.”
Along with guaranteed humpback sightings during the season, Freedom III passengers are also guaranteed to roll off the boat a couple of kilos heavier thanks to a scrumptious on-board menu spanning morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea, and their cordon bleu Captain wouldn't have it any other way.
Whales and photos tours are a steal at $270pp and must be pre-booked. Regular whale tours are priced at $140 for adults and $100 for children. Family packages are available. Tours run from July to October every year. For more information visit: http://www.visitfrasercoast.com/whales.
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Author: Jodi Clark
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