The highlight of the day at Tangalooma was without a silhouette of a doubt, being up close with wild dolphin Silhouette and her calf Comet playfully swimming around behind her. Holding a fish like an ice-cream, Harry and I waded out into the water until it was up to our mid-thigh. There were a few small waves rolling in, this part of the shore protected by the pier, and the Eco Ranger told us the dolphins know their names. So, we called out to Silhouette. She glided through the water, stopped in front of me and rolled curiously onto her side to give us a look before taking the fish from our hands held out underneath the water.
How to get there
The day tours include return transfers from the wharf on Holt Street in Brisbane. To maximise your time at Tangalooma there is a 7am departure. The boat ride takes just over an hour. Parking costs $15 or you can park in the streets nearby and walk if you have time. The boat returns to Brisbane immediately after the dolphin feeding. There is no set departure time however on the day of our visit, it departed around 7pm.
Things to see and do
When you check in at the wharf in Brisbane, you will be handed a brochure with activities and times. Consider the tide when you’re planning your activities for the day.
Wild dolphin feeding
The dolphin feeding is a must do experience. Seeing the dolphins from the jetty is still magical but nothing beats being in the ocean with them and feeling them gently take the fish from your hand. The Premium Dolphin Feeding Cruise for $199 per person is the day trip to book for this experience. It might seem expensive but feeding the dolphins was our favourite thing to do and the package includes return boat cruise, resort access including hot showers, $20 lunch voucher, tea/coffee on the boat and choice of another tour. We originally booked the Marine Discovery Cruise as our additional tour but changed our minds on the day to Snorkel the Wrecks instead. This was simple enough to do at Tangatours but I reckon you’d need to be quick and go there early before the other day trippers and people staying on the island.
What we learnt about the dolphins:
- up to 12 wild dolphins visit on a daily basis
- they are only fed 10 to 20% of their daily intake so they still hunt for food
- the dolphins have been visiting since at least the late 70s when the Osborne family that now own and run the resort visited Tangalooma as resort guests
To set your expectations for the experience:
- you can only feed them if you book the experience
- these are wild dolphins, there is no patting the dolphins
- one of the Eco Rangers escorts you out into the water
- no flash photography underneath the water
Personal opinion? Leave your camera behind and just enjoy the experience. At dusk it’s dark anyway except for the lights on the jetty so without a flash the photo might not be any good. It’s not worth the risk of missing the short time you have with the dolphins. There are Eco Rangers in the water taking photos above the water with professional cameras and a low resolution digital photo is included in the Premium Dolphin Feeding Cruise package.
Feeding time is at dusk which was around 6pm during our visit in April but the dolphins started to arrive half an hour earlier. Walking along the pier is the best vantage point to see the dolphins swim playfully along the shoreline and underneath the pier as they return to the feeding area. The pier at this time of day is also where, like us, you might spot a wobbegong shark, otherwise known as a carpet shark. Wobbegong is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘shaggy beard’. Closer to feeding time we took a seat along the jetty and watched the pelicans attempt to secure themselves a seat next to the buckets of fish on the sand.
Snorkel the wrecks
Snorkelling the wrecks is another must do experience. Where else in the world can you snorkel around 15 shipwrecks covered in coral a short distance from the shore? The Snorkel the Wrecks tour includes a boat ride out to the wrecks and guide in the water. We felt more comfortable having a boat nearby and someone with us as the current was strong and there were intermittent downpours of rain. You need to be careful with the current as parts of the wrecks poke up underneath and out of the water depending on the tide. Unfortunately with the strong sweep we didn’t spot any turtles, dugongs or sharks but there were a few strong fish swimming around and the wrecks themselves are interesting to explore. Snorkel equipment is provided including wetsuits, flippers, mask, snorkel and a pool noodle or life jacket if you are not a confident swimmer.
Sightseeing and fish feeding from the glass bottom boat
With a free afternoon we booked the sightseeing and fish feeding tour on the glass bottom boat. Cost is $39 per person. It was sunny during the tour and the water was so clear around the shipwrecks we wished we were snorkelling again. The fish knew what time it was and we were given a set amount of food to feed them. You can either throw the pellets over the side of the boat or put them in the slots in the middle of the boat and watch the fish through the glass bottom swim to where the food exits from. Our boat driver told us the tour before us spotted a dugong on the way back to the beach so we were on the lookout. Unfortunately we didn’t see one.
Where to eat and drink
We chose to have lunch at Fire and Stone restaurant. There are Chinese and western food options. With the $20 voucher each included in the package, we shared a main dish and rice from the Chinese menu and used the full amount with the public holiday surcharge. Because it was raining, we decided to stay a little longer and have a wine. Prices are reasonable at $24 for a bottle. Plan to have lunch before 2pm as the restaurants close around this time until dinner.
There were moments of sunshine and we took the opportunity to have an ice-cream and pretend it was a sunny day on the island. The cafe is open all day and this is where we got the ice-cream in a waffle cone. Rainbow flavour. So good!
You might think after such an amazing day we wouldn’t want to leave, but with a storm forecast we were first in line for the boat home. Just before the crew let us onto the boat it poured with rain. We looked back at the remaining people on the beach lined up to feed the dolphins as the heavy rain droplets on the water made it difficult to see the dolphins. Once on the boat, exhaustion set in and we rested in our seats until we arrived back in Brisbane about 8:30pm. What a day!