With one more day in Mooloolaba, I’d had 2 options. Some of the people at the hostel were renting a catamaran and going sailing for 3 hours, and invited me along. The other option was to explore Mooloolaba’s most well known tourist attraction, Underwater World.
I really wanted to go on the boat, but the weather wasn’t going to be any better than it had been before, I do not have a good sea sickness record with catamarans, they were all bringing hoards of booze, and the time for coming back would make getting my connecting bus really tight. Decided it would probably be in my best interests to do option 2.
Underwater World is a centre dedicated to sealife – not only Australian but with a strong Asian influence as well. Its about $38 to get in, but if you book online, you can get a ticket for $30.
There are 3 levels to the building. On the bottom floor is the tunnel and underwater exhibits. On the middle level (where the entrance is situated) is areas on reefs, seahorses, billabongs and otters, and on the final level is the sealion and jellyfish exhibits. Throughout the day there are multiple presentations at different areas, varying from the very simple, to the polished sealion show.
I started wandering, and made my way back to the entrance when the pool of rays were being fed, before wandering deeper into the building for a tour of the Ocean Tunnel on the bottom floor.
This was recently reopened after a major renovation, and you can pay for the opportunity to dive here if you so desire. The biggest creatures on display were definitely the rays, with Tsunami – a huge manta being the most impressive – almost covering the width of the tunnel. Our guide also pointed out each and every shark, explaining how to tell genders, and the stories involved with some of the animals on display.
The final section of the tunnel is where they keep the sea turtles. Underwater World has a rehabilitation program for turtles found injured in the wild. When they’ve recovered, the final step is to let them regain their strength in this section of the tunnel before allowing them to be released into the wild. At the moment, they had 3 in the exhibit, getting ready to return home.
There was only 10 minutes before the seal show by that point, so ran up to grab a good seat – which turned into a moot point when the staff requested that we all squeeze together so all latecomers could get a seat on the edges. The seal show is short, but displays 3 different type of sealion, and rather than have them performing a lot of circus-like tricks, it was more about showing what they were capable of in the wild (including leaps up to very high rocks, jumping over displays, and their eyesight for catching prey). Not that there aren’t several moments of more trick related antics – including somebody losing their trousers in the water…
At this point I had to make my way back to the entrance again, as I’d paid for an additional tour. For an additional $10, you can go behind the scenes and see what happens during the turtle rehabilitation, and see where food and injured animals come when they’re off display.
Our guide’s name was Mike, and was given the job very last minute (and in fact, was the presenter for every other presentation I saw that day bar one). However, it took it in stride, taking us behind the touch tank and into the working area. Divers were already inside getting ready to feed the fish in the tunnel, and to the left of us was a deep tank with a recovering turtle. No photos, since Queensland disallows any animal not on display to be photographed, but he was still early into his rehab as he was floating.
The biggest issue sea turtles have is floating syndrome. They like to eat jellyfish, and unfortunately mistake plastic bags as food. When they eat too much, it causes infections and the stomach to swell, resulting in them floating to the surface. If not found and treated, they will die from other predators, or from starvation as they can no longer swim underwater or catch prey.
There were 2 other turtles currently with Underwater World. One that has almost completely recovered and will be heading for the tunnel soon, and another that is still early into his treatment and still badly floating. The treatments provided here are about 60% effective, so they’re still not sure if this turtle will make it.
This area also had the top of the ocean tunnel, which has a walkway to the side and a shallow section where divers can prepare themselves for diving in (when its not occupied by a ray or shark anyway). Its essentially an underwater lake, where you can see everything under the relatively clear water, and occasionally get splashed by the fin of a curious (and large!) ray.
The final thing of interest was the shark eggs, which had been laid by several sharks in the tunnel recently. They look more like 2 leather leaves fused together, or a giant caterpillar cocoon. We were given some hatched eggs to look at, and they’re really very strange things to see and feel. One most be quite uncomfortable to lay as its covered in sharp spiky layers!
This tour takes about 30 minutes, and was well worth the extra money – I highly recommend anyone visiting splashes out for this.
The other tours included feeding the freshwater stream fish (including the explosive sounding barramundi), watching the shooting fish fire water spurts at crickets to make them fall, and wandering round the jellyfish enclosure – which includes an area where you can change the luminescent light and see the jellies in different colours, and many many mirrors to reflect the strange creatures within.
Finally, before I left, I went to see the Otter Presentation. There were 3 small clawed otters on display next to the freshwater streams section, and they were being fed. The 3 of them were brothers, and were learning a few tricks as well. They’d already been taught a few things in order to make them easier to see at the vet or general life (one had been taught to wave just to get him on his hind feet so they could check his chest for injuries). And at the end of the talk, the woman training them was teaching one of the otters to put a bottle in a bin as a trick for a future show.
By the time I left, it was nearly 2.30, so headed back along Mooloolaba’s beach for one last stroll, and came across a hidden gem I hadn’t seen before. A shop called Del So, which sold T-shirts and accessories that changed colour in the sun. These are fantastic – you’re wearing a black and white design, then head outside and it suddenly becomes colour. They also had a licence with Disney, so had several Disney and Marvel tops too – really tempted to buy some, but decided to stick with some hair clips instead.
When I got back, the catamaran crew were back. Apparently it had been REALLY choppy so probably made the right call in not going. The majority who didn’t suffer from seasickness had a good time though. Managed to make some small talk (and avoid the dreaded puzzle) and look up a few other tours I might do at some point until it was time for my bus. I’ve really liked Moolalooba so definitely wouldn’t mind coming again. Its definitely a little gem on the Gold Coast.