Vicky Gray, author of Didgeridoos & Didgeridon’ts: A Brit’s Guide to Moving Your Life Down Under [2nd ed.] (Summertime Publishing 2012), writes about a recent family trip to Tangalooma Island Getaway on Moreton Island, near Brisbane.
No further than a stone’s throw of Brisbane, is a gateway to another world – Moreton Island.
Moreton Island was never really on my to do list, if I wanted a tropical get away I always thought I’d head up towards North Queensland, maybe Magnetic or Hamilton Island, but as I’m in the real world and our families’ budget doesn’t quite stretch that far, the next best thing was within driving distance.
We caught the ferry from the well-hidden terminal in Holt Street Wharf (sat nav recommended) and within 75 minutes we pulled up at Tangalooma Island Resort on the landward side of Moreton Island. The three kids and I were in awe of the sight in front of us – my husband however, had been held captive for the last 20 minutes by a dozen or so Asians posing with photos of him as he was wearing his Australian cowboy hat.
Although I’d seen all the photos of the resort on the internet, part of me did think that for advertising purposes they could have been exaggerated, perhaps the sea may had been given that extra splash of colour, but I was astonished to see it was exactly like it had been portrayed. The resort itself was situated on the beach front, nestled in lush greenery. The clean, white sand ran as far as you could squint, past a distant ship wreck about a kilometre away and with the clear blue sky amplifying the shimmering crystal waters, it really was total unspoiled beauty.
Dorsal fin danger
Once we’d checked in at the reception, we hurriedly made our way to the apartment; sweaty and uncomfortable after heaving our bags along the board walk, we dumped our bags, threw on our swimmers and made the 200 metre beach dash to the shore to cool off in the sea. The water was heavenly; warm, clear and tranquil. For the next ten minutes we simply wallowed in it like contented hippos, grinning at where we were.
We were happily splashing about and making plans for the day, when my teenage son suddenly bolted out of the water, gasping for us to follow him… as there was a shark heading for us. Without hesitation I whipped up the other two kids and clumsily turned to wade out… when my husband calmly, but firmly shouted ‘stop’. My immediate thought was that maybe he was insinuating that I shouldn’t panic and flail about if a Great White is headed my way – but then he started chuckling… it was a dolphin.
This beautiful creature came within arm’s reach, dorsal fin firmly on show and swam majestically between us for several minutes, intrigued by our lack of fins. Once he realised we had nothing to eat and we were actually quite boring compared to his usual marine friends, he turned and swam back out to sea, leaving us with our jaws open.
It was an unbelievable experience and we were blown away by how lucky we had just been.
Deep water terror
One of the main things I wanted to do at Tangalooma, was snorkelling. I’d done it years before on the Great Barrier Reef, so I had no expectations that it was going to as incredible as that, but I was looking forward to sharing the experience of underwater life with my family. So we hired our gear from the kiosk on the beach and took the 1k walk along the shoreline towards the ship wrecks.
The wrecks consist of fifteen vessels deliberately sunk to form a type of harbour for small boats and of course the wreck dive and snorkel site. Many tourists were there when we arrived, all rigged up and ready to go diving. The wrecks provide depths of 2-10m, so great diving if you’re into that.
I’d tried diving when I was on the Great Barrier Reef and it didn’t end well… it was the second time I’d ever had claustrophobia (the first being in the Cheddar Gorge when I was a child, I can’t explain why) and ended up practically with the bends in my panic to get back to the surface. So I wasn’t going to try that again, the safety of being on the surface with access to air suited me perfectly.
From the shore to the wrecks was about a 70 metre swim – easily done with flippers, so I spat in my mask, washed it out with sea water (like the professional snorkelers I’d seen on TV) and made my way out.
I watched under the water as the white sand disappeared from under me until it was no longer visible and all that was left was a dark abyss, then panic took over. I breathed in through my nose sucking all the oxygen out of the mask and temporarily making my eyeballs bulge, so with one frantic swipe I whipped off my mask and flippered back to the shore, coughing and spluttering with sea water stinging my eyes and streams of dribble hanging off my chin.
The rest of my family had made it to the wrecks without a problem… and I felt such a wimp as my eight-year-old daughter was calmly splayed out like a star watching the fish.
It took all my courage (and my son’s body board for security) to head back out, but this time I didn’t look down – just swam like fury till I was with the others. They were all in some weird trance when I got there and when I looked under the water I realised why… marine life of every imaginable colour were beneath us, they were attracted to the wrecks and now living there unaware of their magnificence. It was amazing to be able to be amongst them, to gently swim along and find a school of glittery tropical fish following behind. I was so glad I’d pushed past my initial fear to be there.
The descent of doom
The next day we booked ourselves onto the sand tobogganing trip. We boarded the off-road-style bus and started the 20 minute journey over the cavernous sand terrain. It wasn’t long ago that we’d visited Fraser Island, renowned for its 4 wheel driving activities, so we weren’t too shocked to be flung about in our seats like rag dolls; others didn’t quite expect the ride to be so hairy.
A few of my friends had warned me about sand tobogganing, fears that safety was an issue and that everyone was sliding into one another causing all sorts of crippling injuries, but this certainly wasn’t the case. Every safety procedure was clearly spelled out to us by our Tour Guide before we climbed the towering sand dune armed with our piece of hardwood to lie on for our 35mph descent. My heart was pumping so fast by the time I’d got the top, I wasn’t sure if it was just because I was unfit or it was the fear of hurtling face first down a gigantic steep hill.
I also had my doubts as to whether my 4 year old son should do it, but as he was keen and the Guide assured me that many kids of his age do it, I let him go. Unfortunately my fear unfolded before me as he let go of the edges of the hardwood plinth and planted his face firmly into the sand all the way to the bottom. The tiny spec screamed as he lay covered from head to toe in an overcoat of sand… whilst at the top of the dune an audible gasp was heard before everyone stared silently at me.
‘I’d better go and get him then,’ I said in shock as I lay down on my hardwood plinth. I took practically no notice of the actual ride itself, so whether or not it was exhilarating I don’t know; my focus was on my sad little boy. The teenager and husband had a great time though and went down the giant dune many times; meanwhile I had the task of trying to pry my son’s eyes open to wash out the sand with ice cold water, not so thrilling.
And so ends the day
The evening soon came round and we took advantage of the complimentary dolphin feeding experience. The dolphins have been coming to the same spot since 1992 to be hand fed, so there was quite a buzz on the beach as we all lined up to meet them.
It was a lovely evening; the balmy warm breeze around us; the floodlights from the jetty shining down on the dolphins… and the putrid smell of fish entrails in the bucket for us to feed them.
It just cemented how lucky we were to have had our own personal wild dolphin encounter the previous day… and it was a perfect ending to our whistle stop tour of Tangalooma Island.