Swim alongside some of Australia's most magnificent marine life.
By Jessica Wilkinson
Australia has no shortage of awe-inspiring marine wildlife, and fortunately there are equally as many remarkable ways to interact with them. Experiences span from Australia's west coast to the serene waters of South Australia, where guided encounters allow you to swim with humpback whales, fluorescent cuttlefish and an array of sharks.
Just once a year, these striking underwater creatures congregate for their breeding season, with their unique array of luminescent patterns and colours on display. Eco Treasures in Sydney offer tours where you can see the cuttlefish just off shore. Giant cuttlefish are usually spotted between April and September at the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve during their breeding season. While snorkelling here, you’ll also get to witness the Eastern blue groper, who inhabits these waters year round. Simply swim straight off Manly's Shelly Beach to catch sight of the endangered species and iconic fish of New South Wales.
Swim with the Giant Cuttlefish is a tour in South Australia that takes you snorkelling with the amazing giant cuttlefish at Stony Point, located on the coastline of the Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park in Whyalla. Their two-day itinerary has departures available to book during the cuttlefish migration season in July, and is packed with added extras that include exclusive cuttlefish insights by a marine expert, sightseeing through the wilderness of the Southern Flinders Ranges and hiking along the rugged Alligator Gorge in the Mount Remarkable National Park. The tour includes return transport from Adelaide.
Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia is an existing hot spot for swimming with whale sharks, and operators have now extended their seasons (March - July in Exmouth, and March - June in Coral Bay) to accommodate for the humpback migration (July - October annually). They offer full-day tours and keep the groups very small with a maximum of ten guests, so all interactions with the whales are safe and intimate. If the humpbacks are behaving accordingly and the weather permits, you'll be able to get in the water with them. There are numerous operators that run whale shark and humpback tours, including Kings Ningaloo Reef Tours, Ocean Eco Adventures and Coral Bay Ecotours.
In this experience, you can dive - without the cage - in Western Australia’s Shark Bay where some 29 species of shark lurk. The marine scientists who run Ocean Park have started offering shark dives and even PADI dive certificate training with tiger sharks, sandbar sharks (one of the biggest coastal sharks in the world) hammerheads, lemon sharks (stocky and powerful sharks that can grow to over three metres [nearly 10 feet] in length) and more in their shark lagoon. No previous experience is required for this two-hour shark dive, and includes all dive equipment, SCUBA diving training, and a shark awareness briefing. If you want to see these sharks in the wild then Shark Bay Dive & Marine Safaris run diving, snorkelling and scenic tours to Steep Point and Dirk Hartog Island.
There's only one place on Earth you can swim with dwarf minke whales, and that's within the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef. These six-tonne (6.6-ton) creatures are renowned for their fascination with humans – they’re so curious, in fact, that they've been known to spend hours swimming back and forth around divers, making eye contact and even bringing their calves for a look. However, they only congregate on the Great Barrier Reef for a brief period each winter, and only a few lucky swimmers have the chance to experience this powerful wildlife encounter. Only a small number of operators are licensed to offer the experience, including Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, Spirit of Freedom and Silversonic. Most tours leave from Cairns, where you'll wait for friendly minke whales to approach. Then all you have to do is dive into the water for a better look.
Australia's coastlines are home to countless pods of dolphins, and you have the opportunity to share their water in several places around the country. Port Stephens, a coastal town in New South Wales, is known as Australia's dolphin capital. Embark on an expedition with Dolphin Swim Australia, who offer the unique opportunity to be pulled slowly alongside local dolphins. If you're in Melbourne, make your way to the waters of Port Phillip Bay, where you can swim with the friendly bottlenose dolphins known to live here. Hop on board with Temptation, which operates in the abundant waters of Adelaide's Glenelg; there are so many dolphins here, you're virtually guaranteed to see a pod. Western Australia is no stranger to incredible animal encounters, and their dolphin population is no exception. Swim with the playful resident dolphins with Dolphin Discovery in Bunbury and Rockingham Wild Encounters just a one-hour drive from Perth.
With a playful - and sometimes mischievous - nature, seals and sea lions are some of the most sociable animals you can meet. Dive into the turquoise waters of Jurien Bay in Western Australia to snorkel among sea lions as they glide, dive and circle you in the water. South Australia's Eyre Peninsula is one of the best places to meet sea lions, which are so friendly they've been nicknamed the 'puppies of the sea.' Calypso Star Charters runs tours from Port Lincoln and bring visitors to interact with sea lions in their natural habitat, while Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience operates from the west side of the peninsula. Three hours from Canberra you'll find Narooma, a coastal town known as much for its incredible cultural experiences as its unforgettable wildlife encounters. Climb on board with Montague Island Discovery Tours or Island Charters Narooma to snorkel with seals.