I didn’t know what to expect when I went whale watching off the coast of Geraldton. I thought, surely it couldn’t be as good as more famous places. Somehow Champion Bay didn’t seem to have the exotic appeal of Ningaloo Reef or Rottnest. I thought maybe we might see a couple of spouts off in the distance and then go back to the harbour. But it turned out to be one of the shows of a lifetime. A short ride on the Abrolhos Adventures catamaran — a new Geraldton addition — took us out past the swells at the harbour entrance and the reefs. Still in sight of land, after a few minutes the whales arrived. First we saw some spouts in the distance, then the numbers increased. The guides on the boat told us to look out for smooth patches of water, showing where the whales were beneath the surface. As we moved to some different areas, whales swam by both sides of the boat more than once. They were flapping their tails, spouting and, amazingly, a small whale jumped completely out of the water twice, just a few metres from the boat. Of course, the jump it did off-camera was far better but I’ve never heard of that happening anywhere. It’s hard to judge distance but I was told we were no more than a few miles out to sea, and we were in clear sight of land the whole time. I’ve been very lucky when it comes to animals, maybe luckier than most. I’ve been fortunate enough to see huge crocodiles jump out of the river in Darwin to eat a piece of meat dangled from a rope on a boat, which is enough to scare the living daylights out of a then seven-year-old. I’ve also seen humpbacks before, off Fremantle when heading to Rottnest, and had a huge seal jump out of the water right at me in Rockingham when I cast a fishing line a couple of metres off the beach at night. Its eyes were glowing in the light of the headlamp I was wearing, leaving me to think I had accidentally hooked the world’s biggest fish, and that it was about to exact its revenge. I did work experience at Perth Zoo during high school and patted a white rhinoceros, and at Armadale Reptile Centre, where injured reptiles can be taken for rescue, cleaning turtle pools with the famous (and slightly excitable) snake expert Klaas Gaikhorst. I’ve also seen penguins at Penguin Island, quokkas at Rottnest, been to the Taronga, Adelaide and Pearl Coast zoos, and lived next to a giant panda research sanctuary in Sichuan, China, the city Kung Fu Panda 2 was based on. They really do roll around like Po in the movie, and they really do love to eat. It’s great having huge humpback whales and their calves 20 minutes from home, and I think they’re something Geraldton can be very proud of. It’s at least as good as those other experiences, and even better, I’ll be able to go out and see them again soon.