For a few months of the year it's all anyone seems to talk about - whale watching. But how good is it really?
The South Coast is well known for being the whale super highway from May to November each year, so I jumped on board a whale watching cruise with Shellharbour Wild to find out.
The cruises from Shellharbour are relatively new, they commenced in May 2022, and are operated by Jervis Bay Wild, which run cruises from Huskisson.
What was the experience actually like?
The operation was efficient, friendly and informative thanks to our onboard crew of Jack (deckhand) and Peter (skipper). There was around 35 people on board, and be warned, if you're keen to go on the weekend you'll need to book ahead.
Did we see whales?
Yes, we sure did. We were only 1.56 nautical miles off shore, or around five minutes past the breakwall, when we saw three humpback whales - two adults and a calf. During our 90 minute cruise we only saw the three whales, but they hung around for most of the time dipping in and out of the water, with tales in the air lots of times.
Calves are around one tonne (ouch!) when they're born, and mothers will generally stay north for a while until their bubs have put on weight before they head to colder southern waters.
Older females who are no longer breeding often act as an escort to mums and bubs, and skipper Peter thought that may be the case in this situation.
Why do they breach?
According to Peter there's a few reasons - they enjoy it, and it helps loosen up barnacles growing on their skin. You'll often see seagulls hanging around on the water where the whales are breaching so they gobble up old skin, barnacles and oils left by the huge animals on the surface of the water.
Whales are more likely to breach when there's a bit of swell, Peter figures this helps them get airborne.
What else could you see?
The majority of whales spotted along our coast are humpback whales, with the occasional minke, southern right and orcas (killer whales).
Dolphins are regularly spotted in the waters, although we didn't see any on this cruise, but we did see an Australian fur seal bathing in the water off Bushrangers Bay.
What to bring?
It's all about layers, layers and layers. It may have been a balmy 22 degrees when we headed out into the waters off Shellharbour, but it's winter and it is, generally, cold. Don't forget a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and flat shoes so you can stand and walk safely around the boat.
More things to do in Shell Cove
If you're keen to hang out in Shell Cove after your cruise, why not pop into the Waterfront Tavern. It's bright and airy, family-friendly and if you're lucky you'll score a table with a view across the marina.
We didn't book so took the only available table in the sports bar (called the Whale Bar), but don't fear the food and drinks menu is the same as in the restaurant. There's big screens, a skeleton of a whale hanging above the bar and water views here too.
There's a casual vibe, quick service and for lunch there's a choice of pizzas, pasta, burgers, seafood and lots more. I had The Royal Cheese burger that came with fries that had just the right amount of crispiness, and washed it down with a rose from Tumbarumba.
Need something sweet? We headed to Bliss Ice Cream and Gelato that's also in the marina. There was a huge selection of offerings - 48 in total - and I went for the rocky road. The chocolate was rich and creamy, there were tasty bits of jelly, but I didn't get any marshmallows.