Shall I tell you a secret – a really well kept secret? There is an island, a tropical playground only 75 minutes by ferry from Brisbane. I’m talking about Tangalooma Island resort, on Moreton Bay island just off the coast from Brisbane. In my ten years in Australia I’d say that pretty much every local and about 50% of imports and visitors I have talked to have heard of Moreton Bay Island, and yet I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve come across who’ve heard of Tangalooma. I suspect if I lived in Brisbane that number might be higher, but for the rest of us, its been a secret for far too long.
Tangalooma Island Resort, a trip back to the seventies.
Moreton Bay Island is a large sand island surrounded by beautiful shallow turquoise water teeming with sea life. Its 95% National Park, so if you are on Moreton Bay island its likely that you are at the Tangalooma Island Resort. In spite of their excellent efforts to modernise the accommodations, what I love about Tangalooma is how it feels like a step back into a good seventies motel. Here’s a holiday spot where I can embrace my inner bogan. Bring out your beer brand t-shirts, your hawaiian shirts, your tracky-dacs or your checked bush shirt and you will feel right at home here. I order a XXXX Gold – no, I don’t have a choice, its the only beer on tap – at least it is lovely and cold. I mull over my choice of fish and chips, pizza or meat pie for dinner, order from behind the bar, sit outside in the beer garden, watch the sky turn deep orange and realise I really don’t need any other mod cons.
It may be the 1970s but there is a raft of brilliant things for us to do. First off we are staying on a beautiful sheltered white sand beach with calm shallow clear blue waters. As well as swimming, we can snorkel, kayak, or go for a ride on a water trike (giant three wheeled floating tractor for those who haven’t yet had this thrill). Around the resort there is tennis and archery. Heading inland there is sand tobogganing and quad biking. But we are looking at the sea, so we head off for an afternoon of whale watching. The boat heads around to the seaward side of the ocean, where from June to October each year the humpbacks migrate right past the island. We see a lot of humpbacks, including a few that come right up and swim under and around us, slapping their tails, blowing through their blow holes, but sadly no spectacular breaches today.
Hand feeding wild dolphins.
Night-time brings the most unusual entertainment – hand feeding the wild dolphins. Now this doesn’t immediately sound very ecologically sound to us, but we are reassured that it is in fact a highly controlled program, only about 11 of the population of around 600 local wild bottlenose dolphins participate (at their choice), and they are all feed only a small proportion of their daily requirements so that it doesn’t stop their normal hunting and feeding patterns. Re-assured that we are not doing anything bad, we line up for the process of dolphin feeding, which goes like this:
- Strip down to swimwear.
- Stand under a cold shower and make sure we’ve washed off any trace of mossie repellant, sunscreen, moisturiser or any other lotions and potions, as these can irritate the dolphins.
- Stand in a queue waiting our turn, getting colder and colder - warm sunny day has turned into cold windy night
- Wash hands again in a special antibacterial solution to ensure we don’t pass any bugs on to the dolphin
- Pick up nasty slimy smelly fish from bucket and try and hold in the approved fashion, which is “just like an icecream “, the head is poking out toward the sky and the tail resting in my palm, as apparently dolphins prefer to munch their fish head first.
- Then its my turn and I shuffle forward hip deep in the cold water with one of the biologists, hold my fish a foot under the surface, and wait while one of the dolphins swims up and and swallows it straight out of my hand. I notice what big teeth it has as it opens its mouth wide.
- There is a strict no touching rule (we can’t touch the dolphin) but the dolphins have their own rules, and my dolphin starts nudging my shin – the biologist says it OK so I stand there with it nudging me until it gets bored at my refusal to play, and off it swims – the whole time I am desperately trying to stop myself from reaching in and giving it a huge hug – dolphins do have that effect on us humans!
- We wade back onto the beach and start dancing around in excitement – again its that joyful effect dolphins seem to have on us.
In the morning we go for a walk up to the northern end of the beach, where there is a large man-made ship graveyard just offshore. This has been created deliberately in recent decades, and has turned into a spectacular dive and snorkel spot, with rusting skeletons of boats in shallow clear warm waters housing a colourful parade of fishes and sea life.
Then we jump on another boat to go Dugong spotting. Dugongs are a protected species, are notoriously shy, and can swim a long time under water without having to come up for a breath, so they can be hard to find. Thats why we head to the sand banks, in some very shallow water between Moreton island and the mainland, as it is easier to spot them when they are close to the surface. The dugong are large, up to 3 metres long, and have a rather ugly bulbous head which rather belies their legend of being the animal that made sailors think they had seen a mermaid. But when spooked they can instantly accelerate and speed off like a missile, no speed boat has a hope of keeping up with them. So both we and our boat try and stay as quiet as we can, and we are rewarded with a mass of sightings, pod after pod of dozens of dugongs, and we are under their spell for the next couple of hours, watching as much of their antics as they will let us.
As the afternoon shadows lengthen, we head back to the jetty and are soon on the ferry and heading home to Brisbane, very happy with our sea mammal encounters for the weekend.