By Julietta Jameson
Snorkelling in the ocean, a 70-kilo fish comes out of nowhere at the speed of lightning, takes food from your hand and is gone as fast as it came. That’s the thrill that made Port Lincoln’s Swim with the Tuna an award-winning and popular attraction.
It may have closed several years ago, but a new operator has moved the unique aquarium that made the experience possible to a location closer to Adelaide and he’s excited to say, though the superfast tuna are a big part of the marine encounter, it’s not all about them.
“South Australia has an amazing, huge marine system and the most species in our whole country are on the South Australian coast,” says Michael Dyer of the new Oceanic Victor in-sea aquarium. “We have great access to the Southern Ocean and there are plenty of species that we can have in the aquarium.”
Dyer has painstakingly transported the 45-metre-round set up to Victor Harbor on the Fleurieu Peninsula, 84 kilometres from Adelaide. The facility sits next to Granite Island, Victor Harbor’s rocky, lichen-coloured recreation park that’s home to a little penguin colony and which affords great whale watching at certain times of the year. The SA Whale Centre is nearby, too. Off the coast is the Encounter Marine Park, some of Australia’s best-preserved ocean wilderness and home to important fish breeding grounds and shelter – a perfect place for fish feeding and interactive swimming.
Oceanic’s ingenious aquarium is a system of concentric rings with a viewing pontoon, swim platforms and hospitality area at the centre. The rings play separate home to tuna, and a variety of local fish including snapper, mulloway, whiting, small pelagic fish, shellfish, crayfish and Port Jackson sharks.
“Just to see a snapper in the wild is pretty cool,” says Dyer. “It’s rare and they are hard for a person to see other than on the end of a hook. And we have blue morwong that will come and eat out of your hand. You can pat them. Give them a bit of bait and they’ll sit in your lap. And it’s all in a safe and controlled environment.”
Oceanic Victor has an onshore education centre where you can discover interesting facts on the fish and environment you will encounter and get kitted up with wetsuits, booties and all-important gloves for feeding. “The onshore marine centre shows footage on how species are caught, highlights legislations, how the commercial fishing world works and more,” says Dyer. “It’s focused on education and fun.”
Guests are taken to the aquarium by a boat that can take up to 70 people, and there, you can opt to swim, or not.
“Even just the viewing platform is a fantastic experience,” says Dyer. “You can kneel down and handfeed from the surface. The fish will come right up. And if you want the underwater experience without getting wet, there’s the underwater viewing area and a touch tank on board where guests can explore the likes of scallops and sea snails.”
For Michael Dyer, it’s a special privilege to give others the opportunity to witness the amazing marine environment of the Fleurieu. Having been in the fishing industry since he was 16, and working as a marine surveyor, he is relishing the opportunity of making the waters he loves and the creatures in them more accessible by stationing the aquarium closer to the city.
“We think adventure seekers, tourists and school groups will love it,” he says. “To be able to just arrive and walk out onto Granite Island, do the swim and hand feed fish then onshore, find out how marine parks work, is a unique opportunity. And of course, the tuna are the big drawcard. You can’t feed and swim with tuna anywhere else in the world. They are so fast. Even though they get up to 70 kilos and 1.2 metres long, they’ll shoot by and eat from your hand. It’s like feeding an eagle.”
The 1.5-hour Oceanic Victor experience is $85 for adults, $65 for children. The onshore facilities only are free. Oceanic Victor provides use of wetsuits, goggles, gloves and booties for participants, included in the price.
Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are located at Adelaide Airport.