Ripper for flippers

This month P&O becomes the first cruise line to visit Moreton Island in Queensland. Jane E. Fraser reports on what to do when you get there.

Poor Bella is a bit old and confused these days.

She comes over to say hello and then leaves again, with that expression you get when you walk into a room and can't remember what you are there for.

But then she returns and opens her toothless mouth for the plump fish I am holding in the shallows off Moreton Island.

She takes the fish and then nudges my legs, possibly out of curiosity, or possibly because her eyesight is not too flash.

I feel her silky skin against my calves and have to fight the urge to reach down and touch her, which is not allowed.

Bella is about 45, which is pretty old for a dolphin, and the dolphin-feeders are delighted to see her come in for the nightly feeding at Tangalooma Island Resort.

A little further out in the water there is new life: two baby dolphins swimming around off the end of the jetty; a very young one sticking close to its mother's side and a slightly older one enjoying the freedom to play while its mother comes in to get a few fish.

To the dolphin-feeders, these sleek and gentle creatures are like family and even as a one-time visitor, it is easy to feel that you have some sort of connection with them.

Tangles, the mother of the youngest baby, lost her first calf in the terrible storms that hit Brisbane two years ago and this new arrival has been much celebrated.

Contrary to what you might think when you hear that the same family of dolphins comes into the resort night after night, these animals are still wild, with the resort feeding them only 10 per cent to 20 per cent of their daily intake of food, so they have to hunt.

And the dolphins that come into the resort are only a fraction of those who call Moreton Island home.

The morning after the dolphin-feeding, we take a helicopter tour of the island and see about 10 pods of the sociable creatures in the turquoise waters.

The helicopter tour is a highlight of our stay, taking us around the whole island and flying low over beaches and marine shallows.

We fail to see any dugongs, which are apparently sighted regularly, but spot a large sea turtle, a lone reef shark and several huge rays, which flap about on the surface of the water like they're having a tiff.

We fly over the picturesque Honeymoon Bay and Champagne Pools at the northern end of the island, and around the stripy red lighthouse on the northern point.

The island has some surprises, in the form of huge sand drifts and a large tea tree-stained lake in its centre. But from the sandy beach of the resort, you would never know that any of it was there.

The big challenge for those who visit Moreton Island for a day with P&O Cruises will be deciding what to do, as there is enough on the island to keep visitors entertained for at least a week.

Apart from the dolphin-feeding and helicopter tour, snorkelling the Tangalooma Wrecks is high on the list of things to do.

Fifteen vessels have been sunk just off the shoreline, providing a base for coral to grow and creating an excellent snorkelling trail teeming with colourful fish and the odd sea turtle or wobbegong shark.

The variety of fish surrounding the wrecks is impressive, but what I find entrancing is their sheer numbers; swimming through a large school of darting, silvery fish is like being showered in glitter or standing in the reflection of a twirling disco ball.

Another way to enjoy the sparkling waters of Moreton Island is parasailing, which gives you far-reaching views of the island and the Tangalooma Wrecks.

Parasailers are winched off the back of a boat, so it is a very gentle activity and you feel as though you are just hanging in the breeze, even though the boat is moving quite fast.

You don't even have to get wet, although it's fun to have your feet dunked in the water on a hot day.

Many passengers may be happy to just stay at the resort, where there are dozens of free activities, along with bars, restaurants and plenty of space for stretching out on the sand.

The island is turning on a beach festival for each visiting ship, with market stalls, live music and roving entertainers.

So it would be a shame not to spend some of your day just enjoying the scene.

Trip notes

Getting there

P&O Cruises is offering six Pacific Jewel cruises to Moreton Island this year, offering a one-day visit to Moreton Island as part of a four-night short break cruise from Sydney.

The ship departs Moreton Island after the evening dolphin-feeding, so passengers have a full day and evening on the island.

Fares start at $499 a person, quad share. 1300 159 454,

More information