If you google “dolphin feeding in Australia” or ask people about it, Monkey Mia will be the place you are told about. Now, Monkey Mia is a small place in Western Australia, half way between Perth and Broome – not exactly an area which is easily accessible! [single_map_place] Monkey Mia, Western Australia, Australia [/single_map_place]
But that doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on the experience of feeding a wild (!) dolphin by hand. Tangalooma Island Resort just a few hours from the heart of Brisbane offers the same opportunity – and it’s doable in just one day!
[single_map_place] Moreton Island, Queensland, Australia [/single_map_place]
How to get there
Tangalooma Island Resort is situated on Moreton Island, one of the islands forming Moreton Bay just outside Brisbane. The Resort’s own ferry departs from Holt St Wharf in Pinkenba, an industrial suburb in northern Brisbane. On their website it says that there is no public transport to the wharf but don’t despair: If you don’t mind walking the last 1.5km down Holt Street, you can catch a bus to its start – in the morning at least. If you return at night, you will have no other option than to take a cab or book the Resort’s hotel transfer which, unfortunately, will add another 25$ to the cost of your tour.
The ferry will take you down the Brisbane River and out into Moreton Bay, passing various factories and Brisbane’s container port in Wynnum – not the most beautiful view if you ask me but there were quite a few people on board who seemed to be very interested. Once out in the bay, you are surrounded by Australia’s typical clear and blue-green water. If the weather allows it, look out for the other islands of the bay and some impressive mountains in the distant Sunshine Coast Hinterland!
As the ferry approaches its destination, Moreton Island grows bigger and bigger on the horizon. Despite being the third largest sand island in the world, it is surprisingly green. Only occasionally the bush land gives way to high dunes. Together with the turquoise water, the white sand and dark green plants provide for an almost magical first glimpse of Moreton Island.
Don’t expect too much
Unfortunately, you won’t see much of this paradise-like nature in the Resort. If you are staying overnight or have booked a day tour through the Resort’s travel agency, you are allowed to use the Resort facilities. As someone who has seen big hotel resorts in Turkey and on Fuertes Ventura, I was expecting beautiful, well-maintained grounds with palm trees, a huge swimming pool and a few sport facilities. Not that I am someone who normally cares about this luxury during my travels. But the price I paid to be there for just one day had raised my expectations quite high. Thus, I was a bit disappointed when I saw Tangalooma. The two swimming pools were both tiny and from a building, whose purpose remained a mystery to me, you could see loose parts of concrete hanging down and steel poking out. The area marked as “Mini Golf” was nothing more than a small patch of grass.
Swim between the flags?
The beach was completely empty as well, no lifeguards or signs. Unlike the rest of the Resort, this is a huge bonus though! No lifeguards means no “swim between the flags” which in turn means that for once you are allowed to use the whole vast length of the beach. For once, you won’t be cramped up between other swimmers in the tiny area between the flags while you can see nothing but the empty ocean beyond the swimming area’s boundaries. If this now sounds dangerous to you, don’t worry. The beach in Tangalooma Resort faces the bay, not the open sea and is thus well protected. Measured against Australian standards, there are no waves, which means that you can fully enjoy the crystal-clear water while swimming up and down the beach or just floating on the surface. Even without any snorkeling gear, an occasional glance towards the sea bed is well worth it. I spotted a starfish bigger than my hand just walking through waist high water! And don’t forget to look towards the horizon: If the weather is clear enough, you might be able to see the skyline of Brisbane.
Snorkeling the Wrecks
If you get bored in the Resort itself, you can book an additional tour or borrow water sport equipment – at extra cost of course. I, for instance, booked a guided snorkeling tour to the Tangalooma Wrecks. Just off the coast of Moreton Island, a dozen old cargo boats were dumped in the sea to create a habitat for fish and coral. After a short introduction, a boat takes you out to one end of the line of wrecks from where you swim with the current to the other end. There are more than a hundred different fish species to be seen and if you are lucky you might even spot a turtle or a small harmless shark. This trip is definitely worth it if you are new to snorkeling. It’s simply amazing how close you can get to the fish – before you know it, you are part of the swarm! It might not be the Great Barrier Reef but to me it felt like a good preparation for it.
Finally: the dolphins!
While everyone is busy watching the beautiful sunset, they suddenly arrive, only a hand full at first, then more and more. Up to twelve dolphins visit the Resort to play in the shallow water near the jetty and wait to be hand-fed by the visitors. The moment the first dolphin is spotted, the beach is closed off. But the view from the jetty is even better than from the shore. In the crystal-clear water below, illuminated by spot lights, the dolphins play, splash and eye their observers up. Until the actual feeding starts, almost an hour is passed watching those beautiful creatures who never vanish out of sight.
The dolphin feeding
In order to be allowed to feed the dolphins, you need to have registered in the afternoon. After your name has been ticked off the list, you line up behind a bucket of fish. I would recommend watching the first people in line as closely as possible. Then you will hopefully be able to choose the queue with the dolphin care person who will make the most out of your experience. After washing your hands with an antiseptic, you will grab a fish and walk into the water. While some staff members will now talk in detail about the dolphin in front of you, others will proceed right to the feeding. You will hold the fish under water and the dolphin will snatch it from your hand immediately. Touching the dolphins is strictly forbidden, but playfully splashing some water at them and watching them splash back is not – at least not if you are with the right instructor. In any case, the experience is an incredibly short one. The more memorable moments are the ones spent watching the dolphins from the jetty.
Stars over Moreton Bay
If you have booked a day trip only, the ferry will bring you back to the mainland right after the feeding. On a clear night, I would recommend sitting on the upper deck, despite the salt spray and the cold wind. Even with the board lights switched on, you will see more stars than in any city. What could be better to finish off a long and exciting day?