Tangalooma shipwrecks on Moreton Island.
Tangalooma shipwrecks on Moreton Island. DarrenTierney

Tangalooma's shipwrecks a snorkelling paradise

As the sun goes down, and darkness descends, we're engulfed by an eeriness.

But, what would you expect?

We are, after all, floating in the middle of a graveyard... of the watery kind - the famed shipwrecks just off the coast of Tangalooma, on Moreton Island.

We're sitting in our illuminated kayaks - call it mood lighting.

The water is calm inside what has been dubbed "The Oasis”.

A small safe haven enclosed by giant rusted monoliths protruding from the depths, protected from the rough waters of the ocean beyond. Their silhouettes against the backdrop of this moody night sky make for a haunting image.

It feels quite the contrast from the vibrancy that radiates just five minutes away (by boat) at the popular Tangalooma Island Resort, currently housing about 300 guests, and almost that number of staff, and a bevy of action-packed land and water-based activities.

A glance down through the transparent bottom of our two-person kayak, however, is a reminder of the energy that extends out to sea.

There's the abundance of marine life swimming underneath, lit up by the LED lights that line our crafts.

Slowly paddling on, through and around the sunken vessels, moon hovering above the clouds, our informative guide unlocks the mystery and magic surrounding them.

It's not so much about the fish tonight - more on them later - but the place they call home.

The wrecks, now covered in crustaceans as well as rust, are in fact old steam-driven dredges and barges scuttled by the Queensland Government over a period of 21 years between 1963 and 1984 to provide safe anchorage for recreational boat users.

There's 15 of them in total, the most famous being the Maryborough, built in 1885.

Some of them are more visible than others, an enormous cog, long having ground to a halt, among the highlights.

While this particular journey can be cruisy, it is not for the faint of heart, especially on the outer side of the wreckage breakwall.

I've kayaked in rivers and lakes, but never in open water. It's exhilarating knowing you've successfully traversed the choppy waters, working against the strong current and avoiding the odd close call - tipping over or pummelling into the wrecks themselves.

I had my wife and mobile phone with me - I didn't want either of them to go in.

Sure, there's an element of danger, but that's part of the excitement.

Returning by boat the following morning it is an opportunity to really take in everything the location has to offer underneath the water. On a perfect autumn day, with the sun beaming down, it is time to don the flippers, goggles and snorkel.

And what an awesome experience.

At least after an initial shock to the system - acclimatising to the chilly conditions, and letting the wetsuits we were wearing do their thing.

Charting the same course as the night before, with a guide at the front and another at the back, the shipwrecks were this time simply a backdrop to the spectacular display of reef fish (more than 100 species) and coral formations.

Tangalooma is an Aboriginal word that means "where the fish gather”. It could not be more apt. Everywhere you look, there they are swimming around without a care in the world. There is the blue tang surgeon fish, the clownfish (made famous by Finding Nemo) and the spectacular fluorescent blue-green parrotfish.

I miss the resident octopus, even when one of our intrepid guides swims down to point it out, but I do see the incredible Wobbegong carpet shark, just quietly going about its business, returning to its home in the deepest, darkest area of the wrecks.

As part of an action-packed two days at Tangalooma that also included a thrilling quad bike tour, informative and fun desert safari tour and a rare chance to feed wild dolphins, the snorkelling was arguably the highlight. So much colour. So much life.

Hardly a graveyard.

The writer was a guest of Tangalooma Island Resort: a 75-minute ferry ride from Pinkenba in Brisbane's north to Moreton Island. www.tangalooma.com