I am not only a lover of hot tub rivers, like the one we hiked to in Iceland. I am also a lover of cold, wide-open waters and the animals that live in them. Specifically, I love seals. I believe they are one of the cutest animals on the planet. It may be because they are fat and happy and oh so curious. Or it may be because they are clumsy yet agile, much like me.
Either way, in Australia, I got to swim with them, and their good buddies, the bottlenose dolphins. I don’t want to call swimming with seals and dolphins a life goal, but it certainly was pretty close to one for me. Some people may want to be the MVP of a sports league or have a corner office, but for me, my goal is to swim with every cute sea animal on the planet. And as I stated earlier, seals are the absolute cutest.
For part of our recent stay in Australia, we chose to stay in Melbourne, on the southern coast of Australia. Melbourne is a cosmopolitan city on a calm harbor. There’s a lot to see and do in Melbourne, which I will discuss in an upcoming post, but there are no seals there.
For our seal swimming adventure, we headed 47 miles (76 kilometers) south of Melbourne to the town of Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula. Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula are part of the Australian state of Victoria, which also happens to be known as the shipwreck capital of Australia. We didn’t get to see it but apparently there is a shipwreck that people can walk to at low tide. However, now there is a police man who rides a jet ski around this wreck and warns people to stay out of it because a lot of people have gotten stuck.
As a tip to those looking to make that drive from Melbourne to Sorrento in the future: allow plenty of time for this drive. My husband and I chose an early morning seal swimming session on a Tuesday and it still took us about 1.5 hours to reach the town of Sorrento. I blame the length of the drive on the excessive use of roundabouts by the Aussies.
One of the things that my husband and I love to do on trips is to rent cars to visit new places. We do this so that we can stop and see the sights along the way and have the freedom to go off the beaten path whenever and wherever we want. In general, renting a car is about the same price, if not cheaper, than taking a tour bus to an attraction. For those who are not so interested in renting their own vehicle, there are buses that will take folks down to the Mornington Peninsula. However the buses stop only in Frankston and Rosebud and do not take folks to Sorrento.
When leaving Melbourne, the signs for the Mornington Peninsula are well labeled by large, brown signs along the highway. However, after reaching the Mornington Peninsula, the signs for Sorrento and its pier are not so well labeled. We attempted and failed twice in finding the way to Sorrento. Once we had to stop at a McDonald’s and another time at a gas station. McDonald’s gave semi-good directions but the gas station did not even know that the town of Sorrento existed.
I seldom recommend using GPS on trips, since I think getting lost is often part of the fun, but we had a firm time we needed to arrive for our seal swim in Sorrento (and there were no signs pointing us to Sorrento) so we turned on the GPS, which made everything so easy. Once in Sorrento, follow the signs to Sorrento pier. There is plenty of (paid) parking at the end of the pier’s boardwalk. If you’re looking to park for free, drive up the hill from the parking lot and park across the way from The Hotel Sorrento. There is plenty of parking and there is no charge!
Our seal and dolphin swimming trip was booked through Moonraker Charters. We booked everything online and they emailed us the night before to confirm times. Moonraker provides flippers and wetsuits and goggles. The wetsuits are pretty thin for the icy cold water, which we knew prior to booking the tour, so we brought our thick wetsuits from home. My wetsuit is 5 millimeters (mm) thick and my husband’s is 3mm. I get made fun of for my wetsuit on every boat because it’s so thick. However, I am cold in a room with air conditioning so it’s best I wear something warmer. For those who have never felt a 5mm wetsuit or tried to put one on, think of wearing the outside of a tire.
The Moonraker boat is comfortable and the crew are friendly. The Moonraker tour starts with an introductory snorkel in the Mornington Bay to see the sea dragon, the state sea animal of Victoria. Two guides join the swimmers in the water and point out the sea dragons, leather jacket fish, and stingrays. We saw so many sea dragons and stingrays, but they were far below us and didn’t care to come up and visit! This swim also gives guests a taste of how cold the water will be for the rest of the dive (and it’s cold!). In between each dive, Moonraker provides hot chocolate, tea, and coffee to help warm everyone up. There is also a large covered area on the boat to keep shelter from the wind.
The second snorkel session brings us to dolphin country. The dolphins recognize the boat’s noise and immediately swarm the sides of it. They can be seen easily from all four sides of the boat, jumping and bouncing out of the water. For this stop, Moonraker deploys ropes off the back of the boat and invites people to hold them. Once on the ropes, the dolphins swim right past you. I couldn’t even get a photo off because they were so close that it would have just turned out as an extreme close up of a dolphin snout. The local dolphins are a protected species, so we couldn’t touch them, but they could touch us and they sure did! I just spent the whole time giggling.
The third and final stop on Moonraker brings us to my favorite spot, aka seal paradise. There is a large freestanding platform in the middle of the bay, covered in seals of all shapes and sizes. Seals aren’t as noisy as sea lions, which makes them even more adorable. There were giant, fat daddy seals and baby ones and they all rolled and fell and jumped off the dock. The one rule to obey is not to swim under the seal platform because the seals fall off and may land on you. They are not light, so it would not feel too good. The seals were incredibly excited for their human visitors and curious and swam right up close to my camera and me. One little one swam right up to me from underneath and we almost touched nose to nose. One of the most amazing animal experiences I’ve ever had. I was the last one out of the water here. I didn’t want to leave. I just wanted to be transformed into a seal for a little while and stay. I believe I was in the water with my seal buddies for about 20 minutes before they called me back to the boat. No one was laughing at my thick 5mm wetsuit when I was the last tourist in and getting all the seal attention.
After the seals, we were taken back to the pier and returned all of our borrowed items. We were cold when we got off the boat, but I booked hot springs tickets for directly after the swim. Watch a future post for information on the Peninsula Hot Springs, very near the town of Sorrento.
Bottom line, rent a car if you’re ever in Melbourne, and drive down to the Sorrento Pier. The seals and dolphins will love to see you and you’ll get to experience an animal encounter you’ll never forget!