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Published: February 9th 2016
The bus was full-ish when it arrived and Steve and I had to sit separately initially. I sat next to a lady who was getting off at the next stop, Maroochydore (as it happened I could pronounce that - we should have stayed there instead!), just 10 minutes down the road so we were able to sit together again. The route took us through varied countryside; lowlands, wetlands and hills, all green and full of trees. I saw geese for the first time in Australia - probably attracted by all the water which occasionally blossomed into colourful lily ponds. We saw wild horses at one point and it made a change to see road warning signs for those rather than the elusive kangaroos. Thankfully, the journey avoided all the motorways and associated traffic jams. The bus gradually emptied out as our journey progressed, particularly at Noosa Heads, where our three companions from Mooloolaba got off, at the backpackers' hostel. Noosa was very pretty and the coastline leading up to it was amazing. We noticed that all 'creeks' had become 'gullies' for some reason that was beyond us. Our driver became quite grumpy when some people didn't return punctually from our comfort
break and I'm pretty sure he stuck to his guns and left one behind after he had beeped his horn resoundingly. The whole journey was picturesque, if somewhat grey, and we arrived in Tin Can Bay about 5 pm.
Our motel, the Sleepy Lagoon Motel, was literally just around the corner from the bus stop - Steve had obviously got his mojo working when it came to choosing convenient places to stay. We had a lovely, chalet style room (1b) on the edge of the motel complex, with a huge lounge, bathroom and kitchen. It was clean and spacious and right next door (but not too close) to the only pub in town and the backpackers' lodgings. Ideal. We had enough time to take a leisurely walk around this very quiet, pretty town before going to the pub for something to eat and drink. We were the last people in there at the end - not because we're dirty stop-outs but because the pub shut at 9 pm and we had clearly outstayed our welcome! We had some noisy neighbours one night of our stay - not the backpackers, who also seemed to go to bed after the pub
shut, but a family with small children who all seemed to be practising some sort of clog dancing routine, but not quite in sync.
Steve had specifically arranged to stop at Tin Can Bay for me because it has a pod of wild dolphins which tend to visit every morning for feeding. I say 'tend to visit' because they are wild creatures which do as they please and are unpredictable - that's nature for you. Still, we were staying for two nights so I hoped to be able to see them on one of our mornings there. Given that I had to set the alarm for 4.45 am, Steve hoped we would see them on our first morning so he wouldn't have to get out of bed in the middle of the night on two consecutive days!
That first morning we took a stroll down to the bay where the dolphins came to visit. There's a couple of stories about how this came to happen originally. One goes that, years and years ago, an injured dolphin came into the bay and the locals took pity on him, tended to his injuries and fed him until he was well
again. Instead of saying 'So long, and thanks for all the fish' he kept revisiting, bringing with him his mate and subsequent offspring and the pod grew in numbers over the years. The second story goes that when Tin Can Bay was in its infancy as a settlement the people were dependent on successful fishing. Instead of competing with the dolphins for the fish they worked together, the dolphins coralling the fish to be caught by the people who thanked them by sharing the catch with them and the dolphins have continued to visit ever since, to be fed, though they no longer have to work for their dinner. Whichever, although interested in the backstories, I just wanted them to turn up (as did Steve, though for different reasons)!
There is some disagreement within the town about the ethics of charging people to feed the dolphins. I understand that it used to be free, then a nominal charge was introduced to cover the cost of the fish. Fair enough. The prices have now risen and it does seem to have a significant commercial element to it, with the associated cafe doing roaring trade from the business and the adjoining
patch of beach being declared private, so that no-one can get close without buying a ticket to either watch or feed the dolphins. Hmmmmm. It does seem somewhat unethical to make a profit from nature and there is support for the suggestion that a proportion of the profits be given to the local coastguard group or some conservation project which sounds a good idea to me. Whatever, there are fish to be procured and some staff and maintenance costs, though I think most of the 'helpers' are volunteers.
It was quite busy first thing in the morning as people queued to get their tickets, many still bleary-eyed like us, then waited to see if the dolphins would arrive. It was a lovely sunny day and all eyes were scanning the blue waters to see if we could spot anything. The atmosphere and tension were almost palpable. Would they come? How many would there be? Would they be hungry? Suddenly, it seemed they were just there! No great fanfare or display, just 'here we are, what's for breakfast?'. Everyone viewed the dolphins swimming around for about thirty minutes, before the feeding began. There were four dolphins that day - a
mother, father, son and auntie - all of them known to the helpers who were able to tell us their name, sex and age and any interesting things about them in terms of personality and war wounds. They are riverine Australian humpback dolphins and are quite rare I think. The Australian Fisheries Department (or something like that) monitors and dictates how much they are fed and, one by one, each armed with a bucket holding a dead, smelly (but fresh) fish, we took our turn to approach each helper who, almost by design, had a dolphin at their side waiting for breakfast. Our buckets of fish came without lids and the local cormorants and pelicans were keen to take advantage of a free meal so we had to guard our gifts with care (back to that arm-waving, wafty movement again). Despite everyone's best efforts some of the fish went down the wrong throats (those cormorants are pretty quick and sneaky and the pelican used size and bullying tactics), though no-one seemed to mind too much and replacement dead, smelly fish were passed along the line. No-one is allowed to touch the dolphins (they have very sensitive skin apparently) though one
of the helpers said that was a one way rule and she had taken a dunking one day recently when one of the more playful dolphins seemed determined to trip her up, swimming around her legs and bashing her with his tail, and there was nothing she could do to stop him. Standing knee deep in the sea (you can tell how much I wanted to do this - I don't normally go more than ankle deep!) the helpers guided us on how to hold our fish and how to present it to the dolphins. My dolphin's name was Ella and she was 36 years old (I had no idea they lived that long). She was very gentle and my fish was gone before I knew it, but it was a wonderful experience for me, one I'll never forget. I FED A WILD DOLPHIN! Woohoo!
We spent the rest of our time in Tin Can Bay exploring the area on foot. This was not at all difficult as it is quite a small place, though we found a whole strip of shops with everything the local community and visiting tourists could need. There are many lovely properties there, some
with outstanding sea views. I was told that the major industry is tourism (mainly for the dolphins so they are contributing to the economy of small town Australia!) but also from contractors who stay there when they are working at the nearby military base (I had no idea it was there but it is quite huge apparently). There are some lovely walks along the sea shore and riverside, all well maintained and dog-walker/jogger/baby walker/cyclist friendly. Everyone was extremely welcoming. We ended up back near the dolphin feeding area during the afternoon of our second day and spent a lovely hour or two as we had a late fish lunch at Barnacles restaurant while watching them swim up and down and back and forth in the river, mingling with the local small-boat sailors and fishermen and only us and two old salts to see them. Of course, the river is their home so they can also often be seen outside feeding time, doing what dolphins do, in their natural habitat. Wonderful.
We were due to catch our bus from Tin Can Bay at 4.25 pm so we got there, diligently, 20 minutes beforehand at 4.10 (well, nearly diligently!). As we
waited, with our luggage, no-one stared at us or shouted rude comments, so that was a bonus. In fact, the barmaid arriving for work passed the time of day with us, enquiring about our travels and plans (we really hadn't used the pub that much, honest!) and the motel manager wandered by, I think just checking that we were OK. Our bus eventually arrived only 30 minutes late, with the same driver who had dropped us off there, and he greeted us like old chums. I felt we were really starting to fit into Australia and left Tin Can Bay with some extremely fond memories of some wonderful experiences in a beautiful setting. I thought it was fantastic.
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