With so much to see it turns out there’s little time to be scared when you’re diving with sharks in a 2.5 million litre aquarium. Sandbar whaler sharks glide silently past, stingrays create shadows overhead and schools of silver bream sparkle in the distance. Qualified divers can jump straight into the huge SEA LIFE Mooloolaba tank but novices like me have to do a quick on-site scuba lesson first.
Our instructor dubs me ‘one of a kind’ when I confess to being more nervous about learning how to scuba dive than I am about swimming with sharks. I could have done a Shark Snorkel Adventure instead but the dive experience sounded more exciting. The guy beside me loves the idea of diving but is terrified of sharks so we agree to team up and cheer each other on during our scuba diving experience.
Our Shark Dive Xtreme experience includes admission to SEA LIFE’s regular attractions as well as the chance to come face-to-face with over eight species of sharks, stingrays and hundreds of fish. We’ll also inadvertently be providing entertainment for visitors exploring the walkthrough tunnel. After we are kitted out in the requisite gear, we slip into the practice pool where we learn how to breathe through a regulator and clear our mask under water.
The instructor spends a few extra minutes easing my first-timer nerves and my new best friend gives me an encouraging ‘thumbs up’ as I join him on the floor of the pool. Breathing under water feels strange but is easier than I expected. We climb out of the pool for a safety briefing and orientation session before we slip into the underwater viewing tunnel for a 30 minute visit with the denizens of the deep.
Scuba diving trips can be disappointing as what you see (or don’t see) comes down to luck. However, there is no chance of a boring underwater experience when you are diving in a massive aquarium. We quickly work out that the best way to ensure we don’t miss any of the underwater action is to watch the kids in the viewing tunnel. Whenever they start pointing at us there is sure to be something big coming our way. As our instructor takes photographs, a massive shark cruises alongside the group and swims past at eye level, treating us to an impressive up-close-and-personal view of its razor sharp teeth.
Stress-induced bubbles erupt from our regulators as my friend looks at me with saucer-eyes. Now it’s my turn to give him an encouraging thumbs up. I could swear the shark is grinning when it sidles back to the opposite side of the tank. It quickly becomes apparent the joker and his cronies have zero interest in eating a bunch of tourists which is a good thing as there are still plenty to things we want to see and do. SEA LIFE Mooloolaba is home to the largest jellyfish exhibit in Australia, Jellyfish Kingdom, and some high-tech surprises. Our family is expecting to see tanks of jellies – which we do – but not interactive electronic ones.
Our visit begins with no hint of the surprise waiting at the end of the exhibit. We marvel at clear cylinders of moon jellies which look like something out of a science fiction movie. Next we look at tiny jellyfish the size of a finger nail through a telescope and stop to give a tank of blue blubbers a colourful new look using a light dial to make their distinctive bell-shaped bodies change from pink to blue, white, red and back again. These are the most common sea jellies found along the coast of south-east Queensland and are instantly recognisable although in reality they are white.
We would have missed the last exhibit if it wasn’t for a friendly staff member. She directs us to a blue section of the floor resembling a pool of water and tells us to wait. Overhead a hidden projector simulates the ocean’s ebb and flow and we bend down to create ripples with our hands in the ‘virtual water’. It only takes a few seconds for pink jellyfish to appear.
We are told that a group of jellyfish is called a ‘smack’ and watch as they slowly approach us, moving in time with the ocean below our feet. Apparently the ‘virtual’ jellies will retreat if we touch them. Our son can’t resist reaching out and the jellyfish pull away in a flurry of tentacles. Whether you prefer the real-life thrill of diving with sharks or playing with a friendly family of ‘virtual’ jellyfish, there is plenty here to keep you entertained at SEA LIFE Mooloolaba, even if you’re not travelling with kids in tow.
Disclosure: The writer and her family visited as guests of SEA LIFE Mooloolaba.
If you’re after some things to see and do in Noosa, you could go dolphin spotting, cruise the Noosa Everglades in a vintage wooden speedboat or on a kayaking trip, get fit with some healthy Noosa activities, go on a Kanu Kapers Everglades Tour, a Noosa helicopter tour, or a dolphin spotting adventure with Noosa Oceanrider. Find out all you need to know with The Ultimate Guide to Noosa.