Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tangalooma: Close Encounters of the Preferred Kind

As an indication of how long we've been in Australia now (11 weeks), we think nothing of rolling off names like Tangalooma, Uluru, Wollongong, and so on. Wagga Wagga still solicits a gentle giggle, but even that's settling down now.

The aforementioned Tangalooma is a resort on the West coast of Moreton Island - another Sandy Island off the Queensland coast, but this time just a hour's boat trip from the Centre of Brisbane. Like Fraser, there's lots to do there, but where Fraser has dingos, Tangalooma has dolphins. Wild ones that swim to the beach most nights, and which you can get to feed under very controlled circumstances. We left Brizzy at 10:am and got back at 9:00 pm, and I'm hard pushed to account for much of what we did there. We didn't do the helicopter rides, we didn't do the quad biking, we didn't even walk as far as the wrecks that lie on the beach, preferring to just snorkel close to the resort itself. The most strenuous activity of the day was a half-hour kayaking which Nina really enjoyed, but Sara considered to be "a little bit boring actually". Partly we were saving money (it wouldn't do to turn up at Duncan's house expecting bed and board after skiting around in a helicopter a few days previously), but partly we were just kicking back and chilling out. As well as the four of us, there was Leah and little Caitlin who came along for the trip, so we six make camp on the edge of the beach within easy reach of sea and pool, and let the day stretch lazily (Leah was kept a little busy taking care of Caity but she a professional and found the time to send Simon - who is doing absurd hours in the office - a little picture of our surroundings. He replied with a picture from his desk. Two screens, he has! I was very jealous. Honestly.)

Another reason perhaps that we didn't run around trying to do everything available on the island is that we were there principally to experience the arrival of the 9 or so regular dolphin visitors to Tangalooma, and if possible, get to feed them. The dolphins come in at sunset, which in Queensland is around 6:00 pm (Queensland does not observe Daylight Saving/Summer time - something related to a morbid fear of sun-faded curtains). By this time we were all nicely sun-tired, and beach-faded, and I personally was experiencing a dramatically reduced attention span, hanging round the jetty, almost forgetting why I was there. Funny how a dorsal fin can change all that.

The dolphins could be seen making their unhurried way from the South, in the shallow water along the beach. There was a hydrophone in the water at this point, picking up the clicks and squeaks they were producing, and playing it to the crowd of 100 or so people waiting around the darkening jetty. There wasn't a single announcement, not a single explanation, from the marine biologists who were managing this event. They just let the dolphins do the talking, and it was sublime. The atmosphere was such that when the animals finally approached the jetty, and we could see them clearly though the shallow transparent water, I felt like I was in an alien encounter. A good 30 minutes passed where the 8 individuals who turned up that night did the talking and put on a beautiful display of swimming, hunting and good old-fashioned jack-assing in front of the delighted crowd. It was clear that some were younger than others, and at least one juvenile was inseparable from its mother. A group of 3 or 4 writhed about together for a while, right in front of where I stood with Nina, until they stopped, and one by one stuck an eye above the surface to look right at us. One family, gazing at another. Each as curious, it would appear, as the other.

At 6:30 it was time for the public to feed the dolphins, so we queued up on the beach, and followed the precise instructions of the biologists: rinse off any sun cream - it irritates the dolphins' eyes; wash hands thoroughly in disinfectant, and no touching the animals. When it was time for Nina and I to enter the water, we held the fish in the way we were told, put our hands under water, and watched spellbound as Storm and Silhouette rolled over, approached us, and very very gently relieved us of the fish that had been stinking up our hands in the queue.

I've never been one to get too excited about dolphins - I certainly would never ascribe to them the human level of intelligence that some New Age commentators seem to do. But this was unmistakably an encounter with intelligent, beautiful, graceful beasts, that will have a lasting effect on how I see them. Once more, in the age of TV, we feel like we've already seen everything. And it a way, we have. There was no surprise to me in their physical appearance, or in the grace and strength they displayed in the water. I've seen Jacques Cousteau documentaries since I was younger than Nina and Sara. But for some strange reason I was as excited and moved by the actual physical proximity to these 8 dolphins as were Nina and Sara. I can't quite say why, but I'm glad it felt that way.

Letizia has posted on Tangalooma, and as ever has included some great photos. All of the dolphin shots were taken by Leah, except for the ones with the resort logo in the corner.

If you find yourself in Brisbane, and don't have the time to go to Fraser, then make it as far as Tangalooma. You won't be sorry.


Simon Moore said...

v jealous of your beach photos but here's a serious question. what do you guys use for sun protection? esp. the more sun-averse amongst you?

Brendan Lawlor said...

The local advice is Slip, Slop, Slap but you can't keep a good Italian down. Letizia has been going commando now for a number of weeks (no sun cream, lest you misunderstand) and the girls, having built up their resistance and colour, are just covering their shoulders. I, on the other hand, put on plenty of 30+ (In Oz, you can't advertise sun cream strengths to be any higher than 30, though most of them have an effective protection level of much higher than that).

I've managed to approximate a lobster on one or two occasions over the last 11 weeks, but 13 years of Sardinian summers have kicked in, and I'm actually slightly less white than normal - I need a light to read in bed, for example.

Ludi said...

I too am very jealous of you beach photos. We nearly anchored off Tangalooma on our way north once. But the swell was uncomfortable so we kept going. Next time!

ds99 said...

When I was a tacker I liked this
poem with its use of Australian place names.

Slightly more famous is I've Been Everywhere, originally written with Australian town names, but since covered and adapted extensively, including by Johnny Cash.

Oodnadatta has a starring role in both, you may have to make a pilgrimage there !

ds99 said...

So close !
Try I've Been Everywhere.

Linking in comments in blogger is so much harder than it needs to be.