Lake Macquarie and Newcastle boast top whale watching locations on the 'humpback highway'

Whale watching is proving a popular school holiday activity for families, and with peak hour approaching on the 'humpback highway', the off-shore traffic is picking up.

Today, the top car park at Soldiers Beach, at Norah Head, was busy with whale watchers, some viewing from their vehicles, and others standing or sitting on the grass with binoculars and cameras at the ready.

Local vantage points are among the best land-based locations in NSW from which to catch the convoy of migrating mammals.

A 2017 Destination NSW list of the best spots to view migrating whales included Lake Mac's Redhead Bluff and the headland at the southern end of Caves Beach.

Dudley Bluff, within the Awabakal Nature Reserve, requires a longer walk but provides equally impressive ocean vistas.

Lake Macquirie City Council's acting manager of environmental systems, Dean Chapman, said the elevated positions of all three sites offered excellent shore-based whale-watching opportunities.

A humpback whale breaches in the waters off Port Stephens. Picture: Lisa Skelton - Imagine Cruises

A humpback whale breaches in the waters off Port Stephens. Picture: Lisa Skelton - Imagine Cruises

"We're extremely lucky in Lake Macquarie to have such spectacular spots to watch one of nature's most impressive annual migrations," Mr Chapman said.

"This is a great time of year to check them out. Days are crisp and clear, conditions are often calm and the number of whales migrating north is hitting its peak."

Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORRCA) conducted its 2019 census of migrating whales at the weekend, with hundreds of volunteers counting each whale as it cruised up the coast.

Spokeswoman Jools Farrell, who alone counted almost 100 in a single day, said she was hopeful numbers would continue on their upward trajectory of 10 per cent a year.

"This is really the peak period of the northern migration," Ms Farrell said.

"Headlands make excellent vantage points to see them. Binoculars help a lot, as does a camera with a long lens."

While most whales are still heading north, Ms Farrell said some were already moving back south towards the Antarctic.

"On the southern migration they tend to hug the coast a bit more as they often have calves with them," Ms Farrell said.

"Mothers need to suckle their calves and the calves are slower, so they'll go into bays for protection."

The northern migration usually extends from late April to August, with the peak southern migration from September to November.

Ms Farrell said whales this year had been spotted as early as March.

Some popular whale watching spots around Newcastle include Merewether Beach, Nobbys Headland, Shepherds Hill Lookout and Anzac Memorial Walk.