COLOUR AND LIFE

AN END­LESS SPEC­TA­CLE OF MARINE CREA­TURES TO BE FOUND IF WE DARE TO TAKE THE PLUNGE INTO DEEPER WA­TER

Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | ESCAPE - WORDS: TERRY MALLINDER

As the sun goes down, and dark­ness de­scends, we’re en­gulfed by an eeri­ness. But, what would you ex­pect?

We are, af­ter all, float­ing in the mid­dle of a grave­yard... of the wa­tery kind – the famed ship­wrecks just off the coast of Tan­ga­looma, on More­ton Is­land.

We’re sit­ting in our il­lu­mi­nated kayaks – call it mood light­ing.

The wa­ter is calm in­side what has been dubbed “The Oa­sis”.

A small safe haven en­closed by giant rusted mono­liths pro­trud­ing from the depths, pro­tected from the rough wa­ters of the ocean be­yond. Their sil­hou­ettes against the back­drop of this moody night sky make for a haunt­ing im­age.

It feels quite the con­trast from the vi­brancy that ra­di­ates just five min­utes away (by boat) at the pop­u­lar Tan­ga­looma Is­land Re­sort, cur­rently hous­ing about 300 guests, and al­most that num­ber of staff, and a bevy of ac­tion-packed land and wa­ter-based ac­tiv­i­ties.

A glance down through the trans­par­ent bot­tom of our two-per­son kayak, how­ever, is a re­minder of the en­ergy that ex­tends out to sea.

There’s the abun­dance of marine life

swim­ming un­der­neath, lit up by the LED lights that line our crafts.

Slowly pad­dling on, through and around the sunken ves­sels, moon hov­er­ing above the clouds, our in­for­ma­tive guide un­locks the mys­tery and magic sur­round­ing them.

It’s not so much about the fish tonight – more on them later – but the place they call home.

The wrecks, now cov­ered in crus­taceans as well as rust, are in fact old steam-driven dredges and barges scut­tled by the Queensland Gov­ern­ment over a pe­riod of 21 years be­tween 1963 and 1984 to pro­vide safe an­chor­age for recre­ational boat users.

There’s 15 of them in to­tal, the most fa­mous be­ing the Mary­bor­ough, built in 1885.

Some of them are more vis­i­ble than others, an enor­mous cog, long hav­ing ground to a halt, among the high­lights.

While this par­tic­u­lar jour­ney can be cruisy, it is not for the faint of heart, es­pe­cially on the outer side of the wreck­age break­wall.

I’ve kayaked in rivers and lakes, but never in open wa­ter. It’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing know­ing you’ve suc­cess­fully tra­versed the choppy wa­ters, work­ing against the strong cur­rent and avoid­ing the odd close call – tip­ping over or pum­melling into the wrecks them­selves.

I had my wife and mo­bile phone with me – I didn’t want ei­ther of them to go in.

Sure, there’s an el­e­ment of dan­ger, but that’s part of the ex­cite­ment.

Re­turn­ing by boat the fol­low­ing morn­ing it is an op­por­tu­nity to re­ally take in every­thing the lo­ca­tion has to of­fer un­der­neath the wa­ter. On a per­fect au­tumn day, with the sun beam­ing down, it is time to don the flip­pers, gog­gles and snorkel.

And what an awe­some ex­pe­ri­ence.

At least af­ter an ini­tial shock to the sys­tem – ac­cli­ma­tis­ing to the chilly con­di­tions, and let­ting the wet­suits we were wear­ing do their thing.

Chart­ing the same course as the night be­fore, with a guide at the front and an­other at the back, the ship­wrecks were this time sim­ply a back­drop to the spec­tac­u­lar dis­play of reef fish (more than 100 species) and coral for­ma­tions.

Tan­ga­looma is an Abo­rig­i­nal word that means “where the fish gather”. It could not be more apt. Ev­ery­where you look, there

they are swim­ming around with­out a care in the world. There is the blue tang sur­geon fish, the clown­fish (made fa­mous by Find­ing Nemo) and the spec­tac­u­lar flu­o­res­cent blue-green par­rot­fish.

I miss the res­i­dent oc­to­pus, even when one of our in­trepid guides swims down to point it out, but I do see the in­cred­i­ble Wobbe­gong car­pet shark, just qui­etly go­ing about its busi­ness, re­turn­ing to its home in the deep­est, dark­est area of the wrecks.

As part of an ac­tion-packed two days at Tan­ga­looma that also in­cluded a thrilling quad bike tour, in­for­ma­tive and fun desert sa­fari tour and a rare chance to feed wild dol­phins, the snorkellin­g was ar­guably the high­light. So much colour. So much life.

Hardly a grave­yard. The writer was a guest of Tan­ga­looma Is­land Re­sort: a 75-minute ferry ride from Pinkenba in Bris­bane’s north to More­ton Is­land. www.tan­ga­looma.com

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