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Tangalooma Island Resort | Day Trip – Holiday Review

Tangalooma Palm Trees
 

If you are looking for a slice of paradise only 75 minutes from Brisbane, you will find it at Tangalooma Island Resort. On the leeward side of Moreton Island, Tangalooma is a resort that offers a wealth of tours and activities all year round, all within a pleasant ferry trip from Brisbane. A visit to Tangalooma can make an awesome day out or a fantastic family holiday with memories to cherish forever.

Families Magazine Brisbane was invited to visit Tangalooma Island Resort to put some of the activities to the test. We saw exactly what can be done in a day, and why it’s worth extending your stay a little longer.

A day trip to Tangalooma Island Resort

Can Tangalooma be done in a day? Yes – and no. Yes, you can visit Tangalooma Island Resort for one day and have an excellent time, but there are so many activities on offer it’s recommended that you plan your day and build an itinerary to make the most of your time here.

We visited in August, with Dad making the trip home the same day and Mum and the kids staying overnight. Here’s how day one went.

There are several boat transfers to Tangalooma each day, but times can vary so check the website to see what time suits you best.

Departures can be as early as 7am, getting you into Tangalooma approximately 75 minutes later. We travelled on the 9am ferry, arriving shortly after 10:15 in good time for the first of our planned activities. Catch an earlier boat and you can fit even more into your day!

Eco Centre

Tangalooma Eco Centre

The Eco Centre is located just off the jetty and is a fascinating source of information. Learn about the history of the island and its inhabitants, the dolphins that regularly visit, and Georgie – the resident swift. Georgie is a rescued bird who can no longer live in the wild so the Eco Centre is now his home. If you’re lucky Georgie may even choose your shoulder to sit on while you view the exhibits on display.

Eco Centre details:

Cost: Free (included in visitor packages)
Duration: As long as you like.
When: Open daily – a great place to visit whenever you have a spare moment.
Suitable for: All ages and abilities
What to bring: No special requirements

Pelican Feeding

Pelican Feeding

The pelican feeding was a lovely introduction to the island’s abundant wildlife. Staff member Daniel invited us onto the seating area at the jetty and gave an informative and entertaining talk about the birds that call Tangalooma home, whilst throwing fish into gaping and hopeful beak pouches. We not only learned about how the pelicans came to live at Tangalooma and interesting facts about the species, but were also introduced to some of the more colourful and interesting characters who put their personalities on display.

We saw pied cormorants and a black shouldered kite, and the island is also home to other birds of prey including sea eagles, wedge-tailed eagles and whistling kites.

Pelican feeding details:

Cost: Free (included in visitor packages)
Duration: 15-20 minutes
When: Daily at 11am, no bookings required, no special requirements.
Suitable for: All ages and abilities
What to bring: Hat, sunscreen, and maybe a pack of wipes in case a cormorant decides to gift you a good luck charm (not us, but the person behind us!).
Note: All the birds are wild. Their attendance is not guaranteed.

Whale Watch Cruise

Tangalooma Catamaran Top Deck

The whale watch cruise was something special. Humpback whales travel the Humpback Highway to breed in the southern winter, with peak season locally being from May To October. In August, when we went, most whales were travelling back south, although a few were on their way north.

Departing at midday, the catamaran cruise took us to the northern end of Moreton Island to witness humpback whales on their annual migration. The catamaran has three levels guaranteeing you a good view of any action.

On the journey out a light lunch is provided, with accompanying commentary on the island and some of its history. The lunch was picnic style in an individual pack and included a sandwich and wrap, fruit, cheese and crackers, and a sweet muffin, with free cordial or the option to purchase other drinks and snacks.

We recommend eating lunch inside (the lounge – middle level – was perfect for this) before venturing onto the bow or open top level to take in the fantastic views and bracing fresh air.

Rounding the tip of Moreton Island, we slowed to a stop just past the Cape Moreton Lighthouse as the first whales broke the surface. We saw a good number of humpback whales during our cruise, mostly juvenile or adult on the day we visited, and for each whale spotted on the cruise Tangalooma Island Resort makes a donation to charity.

Whale sighted

Typically, I managed to be on the wrong side of the boat for each exclamation of “ooohh” as a whale breached, but my husband and son were lucky to have a whale breach very close to where they were standing. I was also on the wrong side of the boat when the cry of “hammerhead shark” went up, but my daughter was right there and got the best view. I did get the see the pod of curious bottle nose dolphins, and witnessed some lovely whale fin slaps and tail waves, and the views of the island were magnificent.

Daniel again was our guide revealing insightful facts about the whales and other marine life around Moreton Island as we cruised.

Tip: Try to get a seat on the island side of the boat (the right) going out. There is a commentary about the island and its history as you travel, and being on this side will give you the best sightseeing opportunity.

Whale watch lunch cruise details:

Cost: From $89 per person at the time of publication (check for special offers). Bookings essential. If you’re planning a day trip, booking on a “Cruise with Whale Watching” includes your transfer from Brisbane, a little free time in the resort (try some of the other activities!), and – depending on the package chosen – wild dolphin feeding. Souvenir photos available for purchase.
Duration: Whale cruise time 3 hours.
When: Daily during whale watching season, subject to favourable conditions.
Suitable for: All ages. The lunch may be too big for small children (take a cooler bag and save some for later!). The catamaran is wheelchair and pushchair accessible though access will be limited to the indoor lower level. Stairs are quite steep to upper levels.
What to bring: A jumper or coat (it can be cold in the wind), sunscreen, a hat, and your camera!
Alternative activity? Yes. If you don’t enjoy being out on the water there is the option of a whale watch bus safari for land-based whale watching off the tip of Moreton Island.

Kookaburra feeding

Kookaburra feeding

Arriving back at the jetty around 3pm, there was time for a coffee in one of the lovely cafes while the kids played a quick game of pool, and some relaxing on the beach before the next item on our itinerary: the kookaburra feeding.

There are several families of kookaburra on Moreton Island and they put on some wonderful demonstrations of natural behaviours as they guarded their part of the Tangalooma Island Resort from the others. Kookaburras are quite fascinating – a lot more so than I had thought – and as we watched them enjoy their snack of lean meat with calcium and listened to the informative commentary, my son exclaimed “I have learned so much today!”

Kookaburra feeding details:

Cost: Free (included in visitor packages)
Duration: 15-20 minutes
When: Daily at 4:45pm, no bookings required.
Suitable for: All ages and abilities.
What to bring: No special requirements other than sun safety.
Note: All the birds are wild. Their attendance is not guaranteed.

Dolphin feeding experience

Dolphin Feeding Tangalooma

THIS is what Tangalooma is famous for! Tangalooma Island Resort is one of the few places in the world – and of only two in Australia – where visitors can experience hand-feeding a wild dolphin.

The experience was created quite by accident. Dolphins would swim close to the jetty at night, drawn by the bait fish who were attracted by the lights. Fishermen on the jetty would throw scraps of fish into the water, and so, concerned that dolphins were not getting enough of the right nutrition, Brian and Betty, the owners of Tangalooma Island Resort, would leave buckets of the right fish on the jetty for fishermen to throw to them instead. Eventually, some of the braver dolphins would come closer and take food directly from Betty’s hand, leading to the establishment of the Dolphin Care Protocols and approval by the Marine Park Authority to hand-feed.

Nowadays, Tangalooma Island Resorts guests and day-trippers are invited to step into the water by the jetty after dark and present a fish to the dolphins. The dolphins are not given more than 20% of their dietary requirement to prevent them becoming dependent, and the dolphins that visit are all named and known by the staff. You can read all about the individual dolphins – past visitors and present – in the Eco Centre.

Wheelchair accessibility

One of the great surprises about this experience is that it IS wheelchair accessible. Tangalooma Island Resort has a special beach-going wheelchair to take guests with limited mobility right to the water’s edge, where they are then assisted into the water to feed the dolphins.

Tip: I was so focussed on holding the fish correctly and smiling for the camera that I think I forgot to actually look at Nari! Take a moment to be ‘in the moment’ and make the most of this close-up experience.

Dolphin feeding details:

Cost: Free (included in visitor packages). Bookings essential. Souvenir photos available for purchase.
Duration: Depends on the line, number of people participating, and how many hungry dolphins turn up; actual time in water with the dolphin is a couple of minutes.
When: Daily, shortly after nightfall.
Suitable for: All ages and abilities, but please contact the resort beforehand if you have any questions about suitability and access.
What to bring: Clothes that you don’t mind getting wet in. Chest height waders are available for hire if you really want to keep dry, with a portion of each hire cost donated to charity.
Note: The last boat leaves the island at approximately 7pm, after the dolphin feeding experience concludes. If you’re booked on the 7pm return trip and want to feed the dolphins, the lovely staff at Tangalooma will make sure you won’t miss your chance. You will arrive back in Brisbane at approximately 8:15 pm.

Extending our stay at Tangalooma Island Resort

Tangalooma Island Resort must have the BIGGEST range of activities available. There’s so much to do that it’s worth extending your stay and making a small – or big! – holiday of it. We stayed one night to take part in some of the adrenaline activities the resort offers before heading home. Here is our day 2 itinerary:

Desert Safari with Sand Tobogganing

Desert Safari Tobogganing

Looking at photos of the sand tobogganing beforehand, I thought this was surely going to be the equivalent of an adrenaline junkies trip to the beauty salon. I fully expected a facial dermabrasion and sand-blasted teeth whitening experience, and to be honest, if you don’t listen to safety brief this is probably what you’ll get! But first, let me tell you about the journey to the sand dunes.

For those who don’t know, Moreton Island is the third largest sand island in the world, and has the highest coastal sand hill in the world at 280 metres (don’t worry, that’s not what you’ll be tobogganing down!). The dunes you actually sand down are inland, and a pretty steep 35-40m high.

The journey there is aboard an all-terrain six-wheel-drive coach through sand tracks with the forest close enough to touch each side of the vehicle, and hills and views aplenty. Make no mistake; this trip is bouncy! The kids and I were in fits of giggles as we were rocked and jostled about in the seat, “getting air” several times. It was a theme park rollercoaster but at low speed and with entertaining commentary!

I don’t know how long the journey took, but suddenly the forest opened out in front of us and we were atop a great sandy plateau that was simply breathtaking. It was a desert but with sand so pale and fine as to appear almost like snow … and then we saw the sand hill. If you’ve never been there, imagine a scene like a movie set. I expected Lawrence of Arabia to appear with his camels, though looking back towards the coach as we climbed my impression rapidly readjusted to Priscilla Queen of the Desert!

Sand Tobogganing

Our guide gave a very humorous and engaging safety brief and instruction, detailing exactly how to avoid that aforementioned dermabrasion and teeth-whitening experience (pay attention!), and then we were handed our boards and began our climb. Now make no mistake, I’m a mother-of-teens just barely the right side of 50, but anything they were going to do I was going to join in! The climb is physically challenging. Initially I was racing up determined to keep pace with my offspring, but I peaked too early and had to stop for a rest about 3/4 of the way. It’s not that it’s a long climb, but it is fairly steep and the sand is soft. Stopping to rest, my feet slowly sank below the surface until the sand was well above my ankles. Notwithstanding, I’m proud to say I made the climb three times to the kids’ four.

Tobogganing back down the hill was a blast! Apparently speeds of 40km per hour can be reached, and it was a surprisingly smooth ride with only a few minor bumps and ripples. I glided the furthest, which I’m sure had absolutely everything to do with technique and absolutely nothing at all to do with weight advantage (who am I kidding!). If you do end up with sand in your teeth, there is access to cold water and cordial on the bus, included in the price.

The bouncy bus ride, climb, and tobogganing was an exhilarating start to the day!

Tip: If you don’t want to wear the goggles you are welcome to wear your own sunglasses as eye protection instead.

Desert Safari details:

Cost: $49 for adults and $32 for children at the time of our visit. Souvenir photos available for purchase.
Duration: The entire tour lasts approximately 90 minutes.
When: Daily, three times per day dependent on weather and numbers.
Suitable for: This is a tricky one to answer. The bus is accessible via steps and the ride quite bouncy. A certain level of physical fitness is required for the climb up the sand hill, though you can just go for the bus tour and watch the tobogganing. Small children can ride on the backs of their parents at the parents’ risk and discretion, but I’d advise checking with the resort regarding the appropriateness of this activity before booking.
What to bring: Comfortable clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, camera, Go-Pro etc.
Note: Tobogganing can not go ahead if the sand is wet so the tour will operate as a sight-seeing tour to the wrecks in wet weather.

Segway beach tour

Segway on the beach

This turned out to be my son’s favourite activity. He’d always fancied having a go at riding a Segway, and I honestly thought it would be a lot harder to do than it was.

The tour goes along the beach towards the wrecks, with lots of ‘free play’ involved. We were given instruction on safely controlling the Segway and ‘followed the leader’ for a practice run before being allowed to try our skills at hands-free gliding (yes, we all did it!), crouching on the foot plate, swooping turns and reversing. It was a most freeing experience akin to flying; in fact, I think I now know how a seagull feels when it skims the surface of the beach!

We entertained ourselves drawing hearts, snakes and patterns in the sand with our wheel tracks and then it was time to head back. The kids didn’t want the fun to end so they were given the task of bringing all the Segways back off the beach – a responsibility they relished!

Segway tour details:

Cost: From $35 per person.
Duration: 25 minute tour or 45 minute tour options.
When: Daily, several times per day.
Suitable for: Adults and children over 30kg. Must be able to stand and balance independently.
What to bring: Sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, Go-Pro etc. Either full shoes to be worn or bare feet – no sandals or thongs.

Quad bike tour

Quad biking Tangalooma

The quad bike tour takes you inland on your own quad bike (two-seaters are available if you prefer) to a specially constructed quad bike track in the sand and a quick detour onto the beach included. My daughter and I had only ever been passengers on a quad bike – driven by son! – but were keen to give it a go.

OK, I confess – I was scared! It’s not that they were particularly difficult to drive or steer, it’s just that I’m used to the security of hard shell, four doors, a gearstick and handbrake, and these seemed so big! The children were all up ahead behind the instructor on their own bikes, and I brought up the rear of the line pretending I was brave. I committed myself to fully making the most of the experience though and gamely slid around around the bends throwing up sand in my wake, and nervously attempted to cant the bike up the inclined turns like a speedster in a velodrome – and then one of those strange quirks of motherhood happened…

We stopped atop a hill to take photographs of the amazing view, and I brought my bike up alongside the kids to take a picture. The adults who had been in front of me offered to let me in so that I was riding directly behind the children – and suddenly I was brave again! My maternal instinct to lead by example and encourage my kids’ confidence fully kicked in, and on the return trip from the tour I finally stopped praying and enjoyed the ride. If it hadn’t been for the last remaining hint of self-consciousness in front of other riders I most definitely would have been whooping at the thrill of it!

ATV Quad Bike tour details:

Cost: From $60 per person. Souvenir photos available for purchase.
Duration: Approximately 45 minutes.
When: Daily, several times per day.
Suitable for: Adults and children over 5 years of age. Children aged 5-9 years ride behind a parent if the parent has a valid drivers licence. Children 10 and over can ride their own smaller quad bike, chaperoned by an adult.
What to bring: Sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, enclosed shoes. Anything you carry MUST be secured on your person (deep or zipped pockets, or bumbag).

The quad bike tour was the last item on our itinerary. We collected our souvenir photos from the photoshop and our boarding passes from the kiosk, and headed back to the catamaran for the return trip to Brisbane. With a last longing look at the resort, pelicans, clear aqua ocean, long sandy beach and the wrecks in the distance, we found our seats – and began planning our return trip!

Why we loved Tangalooma Island Resort

It’s very easy to fall in love with Tangalooma. The island setting is sublime with some of the best scenery and most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. For me it rivaled the Whitsundays, without the hassle of the flight to get there.

The staff

First credit goes to the staff. Only a handful of staff members knew we were representing a magazine, but ALL staff members made us feel incredibly welcome. They were friendly, professional, humorous, and entertaining in a very relaxed and accommodating manner. Nothing was too much trouble and we were welcomed like family wherever we went. We felt that the staff everywhere – tours, dining, housekeeping and reception – were solely focussed on making sure we enjoyed our stay and the activities provided.

The accommodation

Beach Lodge Accommodation

We stayed in one of the ground level air-conditioned beach lodges, which was spacious, clean and comfortable. The main room had a king-sized bed, sofa, dining table and desk, with a wardrobe and a small in-line kitchenette including sink, kettle and refreshments, combination oven-microwave, bar fridge and all the crockery, cutlery and utensils you could need for your stay. There was also a separate bedroom with a queen-sized bed and a single bed, and the separate spacious bathroom had a lovely rainfall shower. There was access through the front of the lodge to a small outdoor seating area and the beach with spectacular sunset views.

Other accommodation includes houses, villas and wheelchair-accessible accommodation.

Dining

In the interests of fairness we did attempt to visit all the cafes and restaurants while we were there, but didn’t manage to fit in the Bar or Copper Grill. The Coffee Lounge made a most delicious French Earl Grey tea and coffee, and had a range of cakes, savoury snacks and ice cream on offer.

As big fans of Chinese food, we had our main evening meal at Fire & Stone. The kids coerced me into trying the signature cocktail (love you, kids!) and the staff member’s advice was invaluable in preventing us from over ordering – the servings were huge and designed for sharing! Sadly they had sold out of deep fried bananas by the time we came to order dessert, but deep fried ice-cream went down just as well.

The Beach Cafe serves quick meals of pizza, pasta, salads, fish & chips etc with indoor or outdoor seating. In such a beautiful environment naturally we chose to sit outside with the curlews and watch the boats go past.

Tursiops Breakfast Buffet had hot and cold options including international favourites and that must-have for kids – the pancake maker!

We found the prices for dining only marginally higher than prices paid on the mainland, which is much to be expected at an island resort. If you’re happy to self-cater, there is a great range of frozen meal options available at the resort shop.

Shopping

There is a shop at the resort that has the most well-thought-out range of goods for sale that I’ve ever seen. The shop is not huge but you could feel as though it is. It has the usual souvenirs, a range of clothing (I don’t think I spotted spare undies, though, so make sure you pack them!), toiletries, first aid items and OTC medications, frozen food, groceries, DVD hire, wine, plastic plates and picnic items. Honestly, you could go for a day trip to Tangalooma and buy everything you needed if you made a last-minute decision to stay the night.

Other activities

As mentioned above, Tangalooma must have the biggest range of activities available in one place than any other holiday destination in the world! I couldn’t possibly list them all, but they include

  • Fat-wheel mountain bike riding on the beach
  • Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling
  • Kayaking (sunset, clear bottom etc)
  • Mini cruises
  • Beach volleyball
  • Tennis
  • Parasailing
  • Helicopter flights
  • Swimming in one of the pools
  • Swimming in the sea
  • Tennis
  • Fishing
  • Stand-up paddle boarding
  • Cruises
  • Jet boats
  • Sea scootering
  • 4WD hire

And so many other water craft, ball sports, cruise and tour opportunities that you really will have to check out the website to discover them all!

Plan your Tangalooma visit

Whether you intend a day-trip to the island or a family holiday, we recommend drawing up an itinerary of all the things you want to do. Of course you can just chill on the beach and splash in the sea, or wing it by picking activities when you get there, but you’ll be able to pack a whole lot more thrills, spills and experiences in with an action plan in place. Contact the resort directly for bookings and suggestions.

Phone: 1300 652 250 or 07 3637 2000
Website: www.tangalooma.com

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