Go totally wild
Tooth and nail: Shark cage diving, South Australia From the commercial shows of the Queensland Gold Coast’s Seaworld to the wild but heavily regulated populations at Monkey Mia in Western Australia and Tangalooma in Queensland, there’s no shortage of natural and man-made locations to see dolphins at play. For unforgettable human-meets-Flipper moments, however, you’ll need to visit Baird Bay on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.
Allan and Trish Payne’s Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience is renowned for giving nature lovers the chance to swim with sea lions, but just across the protected bay there’s a resident population of dolphins that also enjoy frolicking with humans.
Twice-daily four-hour tours head to the sea lion colony, then to the dolphins. Snorkellers are dropped among a pod and left to interact freely with these friendly mammals. For best results, dive beneath the surface and swim alongside them; their natural curiosity will reward yours. $120 adults or $60 children. More: (08) 8626 5017; www.bairdbay.com.
Swimming with dolphins is also guaranteed in suburban Adelaide aboard Temptation, a sailing catamaran that operates from Glenelg. It takes 50 passengers and is the first vessel in SA to obtain a dolphin swim licence More: www.dolphinboat.com.au.
Koalas always make good photo ops Hervey Bay and they are arguably still the best in the business. Unlike other east coast whale-viewing spots, Hervey Bay is the one place where the leviathans are in limbo rather than mid-migration, ensuring a captive population and easy viewing.
The first whales arrive quite punctually in mid-July and leave by October 31; the average population in the bay during this period hovers between 50 and 100 whales, so everyone gets an eyeful. The best way to beat the crowds is to board a 7am sailing aboard the fast new vessel That’s Awesome; it’s first on the bay each day and passenger numbers are limited to 32. $110 adults or $70 children; tickets aboard the larger, wheelchair-accessible QuickCat are $100 adults or $60 children. More: 1800 653 775; www.herveybaywhalewatch.com.au.
More than a half-dozen Tasmanian wildlife parks offer up-close encounters with the island’s most irascible residents. But for a truly authentic experience head to the far northwest, south of Marrawah, where Geoff King’s Run Wildlife Tours takes small nocturnal groups into a hide to witness devils au naturel. King pegs roadkill carcasses (usually pademelon, a devil delicacy) outside the hide on a rugged foreshore south of Smithton, giving guests a gory, front-row seat to a carnivore’s feast.
Tours run just five nights a fortnight to prevent the animals becoming dependent on food handouts. Sightings are 95 per cent guaranteed, King says, though for some unknown reason the animals rarely show themselves in early March. Tours from $100 to $125 a person. More: (03) 6457 1191; www.kingsrun.com.au.
Who’d want to climb into a cage suspended in an ocean seasoned with blood and guts, then wait for a great white shark-feeding frenzy? Plenty of people, judging by the popularity of Calypso Star Charters Shark Cage Diving. The action takes place 21/ hours off the coast of SA’s
2 Port Lincoln at the Neptune Islands fur seal colony, a fast-food joint favoured by killer sharks. Guests aboard the Calypso Star Charter enter the cage four at a time, cameras at the ready, and wait.
Operators claim there is an 85 per cent chance of shark encounters year-round, although the monster females, some up to 6m long, are more prevalent in winter. The 12-hour outings are restricted to 19 passengers, each of whom gets about 45 minutes in the drink. The cage is partially open, allowing unobstructed filming of like encounters while preserving body parts intact. $495 a person. More: (08) 8682 3939; www.calypsostarcharter.com.au.
From November to April turtles waddle ashore on the Queensland coast for their annual egg-laying marathon. Among the best places to see them are Heron Island or Mon Repos Conservation Park near Bundaberg, home to the eastern seaboard’s largest concentration of nesting marine turtles. More: www.heronisland.com; www.bundabergregion.info.
The Aboriginal town of Mapoon on the western Cape York Peninsula allows tourists to work alongside rangers studying turtles during the July-November nesting season. Four marine turtle species — olive ridley, green, hawksbill and flatback — are found there; volunteers measure and tag turtles, destroy lethal fishing nets and collect data for the Marine Turtle Conservation Project. Five nights at Camp Chivaree costs $2125 a person, flights to and from Weipa not included. More: (07) 4069 9978 or 0428 283 380; www.capeyorkturtlerescue.com.