Under the Waves at Reef World

Today consisted of another bike ride and a trip to Reef World, a little aquarium on the sea front. It had been recommended to us by the hostel owner and I’d read that there were green turtles you could get up close to so I was looking forward to it. I’d also seen that there was an opportunity to swim with the turtles and the sharks but I decided to see how it was first before wading into things like that. The aquarium is made up of all natural corals and is designed to inform visitors about the marine life living off the coast. I thought it’d be interesting to see this as I always wonder what lurks under the surface when we’re out on boat trips or paddling.

Turtle feeding

After signing out the bikes and sorting everything out, off we went along the cycle path. It was a lot more eventful than normal as the tide was in and the sea was quite rough which meant that as we reached the walled bit, the waves slammed against it and soaked us. I was doing ok with swerving the bigger waves until I sneezed and cycled through one. If this had happened at home, it might not have been quite as funny as I would have been freezing but the 27+ C here definitely helped!

Mr Turtle
Mr Turtle

We reached Reef World and locked our bikes up together against the wall and went inside. It’s quite an odd little place as half of it is a restaurant and the other half an aquarium (I hope that’s not where the fish end up!) After paying the $20 each and having our arms stamped with a little shark so we could go back at any time, we went through the double doors and into a reefy world. Straight in front of us was a huge tank filled with all sorts of coral, sharks and bright coloured fish but we didn’t hang around too long as the turtle feeding was about to start outside at 11 (it was 10:55) . As it was such a small place, it wasn’t so hard to navigate our way to them and quickly toddled down the steps to the side of the enclosure. I have to admit, I was expecting there to be a little bit more in terms of decoration or  features as it really just looked like a big, deep concrete pond but I suppose their attraction isn’t to show off their design skills and more to show people about the sea life.

Two cods together
Two cods together

Suddenly, a turtle popped up nearby and swam over to where we were standing allowing us to stroke his shell as he passed over the shallow ledge. I think it was a ‘he’ anyway as according to the guide at 30 years old, his tail is still too stumpy for anybody to really know his gender. There were two others circling the tank, one was about 60 and the other around 40 and these two had huge tails so you knew they were males. Shortly after this, it was time to give them their food which turned out to be iceberg lettuce. This surprised me a bit as although I know that they eat sea weed and grasses, I also thought a lot of their diet was made up of meaty things too. The guide then said that there was an afternoon feed at 2 where they were given chopped up fish so it made a bit more sense then.

Everybody was given a few strips of lettuce and then we were told how to feed the turtles without losing any fingers. Rather than putting them directly in their mouths, you had to hold the lettuce in front of their faces and then drop them before they reached out. Normally I’d be a little bit apprehensive about being bitten but they were just like floating tortoises so I was used to feeding them. The best bit was that as they were eating, they squirted water out of their Codnoses to prevent them swallowing the salty water and becoming ill. It was worth paying to get in just to see that! Everybody had a go at feeding the turtles and some of us even had the chance to stroke a plump little potato cod. Apparently he likes having his back tickled and so swims onto the ledge and waits for people to touch him. When I had a go of touching is strange, slimy scales , he opened his mouth and I could see all inside. I assumed he was enjoying me stroking him but for all I know he could have been screaming underwater. Potato cod often have their mouths cleaned by little fish called wrasse so they often have them open so I’m going to say that he was enjoying his tickles and not trying to say he hated it. At one point an osprey flew over too so that was a nice surprise and a chance to try and photograph it.

Hovering osprey
Hovering osprey

After all the lettuce had been munched and the osprey had flown away, we decided to have a proper look around the rest of the aquarium. The first things we came across where freshwater turtles with the longest necks ever surrounded by some eels which kept leaping up a stream onto a little bank. I liked the fact that there were these tanks showing life in the rivers and streams around Hervey Bay as well, it’s not all about the sea! They are both weird little species though and you couldn’t help but stare at them. The next tank along was a touch pool with starfish and a lot of rocks. They weren’t the  ‘usual’ starfish you’d find at Blackpool Sea-life Centre though, these ones had a lot of spines and bumps and looked quite cross. Codie thought the starfish were fake and so picked them up to see if they had little wiggly legs. They did. I felt a bit mean picking them up as there were a load of children going around and I know they had held them too. I’m sure when they’re trying to do something and are picked up and plonked down somewhere else, it’s the most annoying thing ever especially so many times and so I chose to leave them to it instead.

Codie with George
Codie with George

Passing through, and sadly avoiding, the gift shop we walked back into the main room to have a look at the huge tank we’d passed on the way in. There were so many different species of fish all swimming around and the happiest little pufferfish in the world. He seemed to love either his reflection in the glass or the people watching and would bob over curiously, with a little ‘smile’ on his face. All the bigger fish seemed to be curious as whenever I put my camera up to take a photo, they would appear in front of it and all around. It was a bit like ‘Finding Nemo’ when they’re all looking out of the fish tank together and slightly unnerving. Some children were running around circling the entire tank and the fish would follow them. I don’t know whether this was simply because they were hungry but it was definitely entertaining. My favourite fish though was a big grouper called Greg who was enjoyed lying at the top of the water underneath the air filter bubbles. He was absolutely huge and seemed to stare you down whenever you made eye contact. I can’t imagine coming face to face with one out in the open water, that would be terrifying! I also enjoyed seeing the shark swimming about along with the nurse sharks and wobbegongs that swam around the bottom. There’s something about sharks which is so exciting but creepy at the same time. They’re so elusive and stealthy that you can see why people have a fear of them in the ocean but I do think that they have a bad reputation for not doing much. To me, if you’re out in the water and in the shark’s habitat then they have every right to be a little bit curious and have a taste and you can’t be too shocked if that happens. Of course nobody deserves to be eaten alive by a shark but I do think that you have to expect them to be there.

Another dangerous fish they had in the aquarium was the mean looking stone fish. To start with, I didn’t even know that the rock in front of me was a fish until it’s eye flickered and it caught my attention. You can see why people stand Stone fishon them or walk past them without even knowing they’re there, they are so well camouflaged but equipped with some poisonous spines that if you were to make that mistake you’d know about it! These fish even looked mean and the crab in the tank with them didn’t looked pleased with his tank mates. I think he must have spent his days staring through the glass into the big tank, watching all the happy looking fish swimming about. Poor Mr. Crab.

After a few laps and photographs of the aquarium, we decided to leave and go for lunch and a little ride along the path before the shark and turtle feeding at 2. We wandered outside and found a bench to sit on which seemed like a nice place to begin with until some children decided to climb trees next to us. Never mind, if there wasn’t a risk of me falling and breaking something I think I’d have joined in. Lunch was luncheon meat sandwiches again. I think after this trip, I’ll be happy if I never have to see luncheon meat ever again. I’m a bit sick of the taste of it now so only had half of my sandwich and a drink before we clambered back on the bikes and rode the little way up to the harbour. A bit like last time, there wasn’t much to do here apart from wander to the front of the shops, have an ice lolly and watch the boats. This time I chose a very tasty raspberry and pineapple Calippo as there was not a chance I was spending the rest of the day with sticky hands. It was so hot that the lolly was melting until it was pretty much a drink in a matter of minutes so it didn’t take long to eat at all. It was only about 1 but we were sat in the scorching hot sun and so decided to go back to the aquarium if only for some shade.

Me with some friends
Me with some friends

There was a different man on the ticket sales this time which worried me as I thought he wouldn’t recognise us and let us back in because my shark stamp had almost rubbed off completely with all the sun lotion I’d had to coat myself with. He did let us in though and after a few more walks around, selfies with the fish and a little sit down with the shark bones, it was time to feed the big fish. After mistakenly going to the outside enclosure, we all made our way to the big tank in the middle and gathered around. The guide placed a ladder against the side of the tank and opened the top before telling everyone that Greg the giant grouper was going to be fed his tasty meal of fish heads first. All the adults had the chance to go first but I didn’t fancy it one bit. I’d seen the size of his mouth and didn’t want to get my hand anywhere near it! When I saw other people have a go, I was more than happy to pass this one. He made such a huge splash sucking the food up, it almost knocked one woman backwards off the ladder!  In the end once most people had had a go, the guide had to throw lots of bits of fish in at once to make sure that all the other fish had a chance to eat before greedy Greg ate it all.

IMG_4791 2
Touching a turtle

Back to the outside tank and after making sure we had a fairly good position, we got ready to feed the sharks which I was really looking forward to. With a handful of slimy fish heads and guts, I threw a chunk at a time into the water in front of me with the hope of luring one in. To start with, the turtles ate most of the food but it wasn’t long before two shadowy shapes rose up from the depths and began snapping up the bits of bodies floating about. I was particularly pleased when one of them ate the bits I threw right in front of them as I wanted to make sure I fed them. Once that fun had worn off though, then came the realisation that we now had a hand of blood and fish bits with nowhere to wash our hands. I made the decision to just use my camera anyway as I wanted to at least get a shape of a shark but it got in all the joints and took a lot of work to get rid of the fishy smell. Ewww.

I really enjoyed today’s visit to Reef World and enjoyed seeing the different fish which inhabit the waters around here. I’m not sure whether there’s enough for you to spend an entire day here but I definitely think it’s worth the entrance fees to get up close to the turtles and the chance to stroke a fish. 

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