It was sunset and as the sky turned orange above Brisbane I stood knee-deep in the sea, in one hand a camera, in the other a dead fish.
Moments later, a free ranging bottlenose dolphin appeared out of the darkness, cruised across my feet and eased the silver biddie from my fingers.
It’s always a privilege to interact with animals in the wild, an opportunity that usually comes by chance but at Tangalooma Island Resort on magnificent Moreton Island, wild dolphin feeding has become a sensitively managed nightly event under the command of Dolphin Care team manager, Susan Hassard.
A sunset ritual, it’s the resort’s most popular attraction accessible to guests, to day trippers and to passengers aboard Pacific Jewel as part of a four-night P&O SeaBreak cruise from Sydney, the first ship to include Moreton Island as a cruise port anchoring off Tangalooma.
Lying 40km east of Brisbane off Australia’s east coast, Moreton Island is 38km long, nine kilometres across at its widest point and about 90 per cent national park, an ecological jewel with towering sand dunes, tidal wetlands, kilometres of sandy beaches, secluded swimming coves, rocky headlands and crystal clear creeks and lagoons.
Tangalooma has partnered with P&O to offer passengers a selection of regular resort activities during their one-day visit and tours to access many of the island’s natural beauty spots, some of which I was invited to check out.
I’d always regarded quad bikes as dangerous things that kept falling over and hurting people and mounting one for the first time, I still did. But after a safety drill, a jerky start and a practice run along the beach, I decided I had its measure and followed a guided tour up into the high dunes.
Bouncing over tree roots and rough bush tracks we emerged onto a sweeping, sandy desert roaring around the steep banks, twisting, lurching and accelerating up along a ridge with gob-smacking vistas across the island and Moreton Bay.
By the time we braked down an almost vertical drop to the beach, I was ready to take on Casey Stoner. Instead, I took on a snorkel and flippers.
Tangalooma’s wrecks are a line of old steel vessels that had reached their use-by dates and were sunk just offshore near the resort to create a small-boat shelter and artificial reef.
It was late afternoon when I joined a snorkel tour on a slow boat out to the wrecks with three young guides from Tanga Water Sports, there to reassure the newbies and the nervous.
Weaving between the wrecks I was escorted by schools of small fish, a gang of slightly larger fish and what seemed like a teenage parrotfish but on the day, the water wasn’t sparklingly clear so I plumped for a swim off the beach and a cold beer before a beef and barramundi dinner in Tangalooma’s Rotunda Restaurant.
It was sunrise and, from the balcony of my Deep Blue luxury apartment, I watched early birds parasailing offshore and elderly Asian guests exercising on the beach.
Chopper pilot, Tom Kennedy, who operates joy flights from the resort, was ready for takeoff. We climbed above the world’s third largest sand island sandwiched between the largest, Fraser, and the second largest, North Stradbroke.
We flew east over a broad sandy desert, north past Mount Tempest, 285m high and reputedly the world’s highest coastal sand dune, then over streams, sedge and paperbark swamps, banksia heathlands, open woodlands and forests and the long ribbon of ocean beach.
We circled the big Blue Lagoon and its smaller sibling, Honeyeater Lake and thundered past a large sand-slip named Yellow Patch before banking around Queensland’s oldest lighthouse (1857) on Cape Moreton, the only rocky part of the island.
We flew back to join Tanga Tours parasailors and on the back deck of a speedy launch, we were fitted with life jackets and harnessed in tandem to a pretty coloured parachute connected to a winched lifeline.
As the winch paid out, the chute caught the breeze rising high behind the boat, which was by now describing tight circles around the ocean. It was peaceful and eerily silent yet exhilarating in a siesta sort of way and a lone butterfly flickered past my ear as we were eventually winched back down onto the deck.
For a last look at the beautiful island, the 4WD Northern Safari tour took us up the eastern beach past the tiny villages of Cowan Cowan and Bulwer, bouncing across the island and up to North Point, gliding across the smooth sandy wilderness of Yellow Patch and stopping at the surfside swimming holes known as Champagne Pools.
In the late afternoon, we climbed a hill and down again to the secluded blue-green waters of Honeymoon Bay then took the short walk up to the old lighthouse with glorious views down the island and, far below, a lone snorkeller and four lazy manta rays shared the serene green ocean while, back at Tangalooma, the dolphins were getting hungry.
Story and Images ©Copyright David May 2013 (Copyright Agency Limited)