Join with the 'shadow hunters' on a trip through Great Sandy Marine Park.
Join with the 'shadow hunters' on a trip through Great Sandy Marine Park. Greg Sullavan

Hervey Bay's playground of discovery has more than whales

"Milbi, milbi!”

The call comes loud and quick from the spotter at the bow of our boat as the ears of 17 guests prick up with anticipation.

It's what we've all come to see - marine turtles.

You have to be quick as the animal breaches briefly, but for those who missed it the anticipation is heightened as everyone sits a little closer to the edge of their seats.

It's an experience you'd expect to have to travel to the Great Barrier Reef to see, but in actual fact it's at one of Queensland's most accessible coastal gems.

Hervey Bay is just a three and a half hour drive north of Brisbane, and marine eco tour guide Jacqui says it's a town accessible by 75 per cent of Queensland's population within a four-hour drive.

Known mostly for its whale watching, access to Fraser Island and the place many go to retire, the town is the perfect spot for a romantic long weekend or getaway with the whole family.

Aboard the aptly named Milbi (the indigenous Butchulla name meaning sea turtle), a small group of travellers from interstate and the world are experiencing the other natural wonders of Hervey Bay.

Leaving the Urangan boat harbour around 10.30am, the Turtle Marine Eco Tour is an opportunity not only to see the milbi up close, but also dolphins, sea birds, reef fish and dugongs.

They call us the shadow hunters, gazing over the edge of the glass bottom tour boat looking for any and all sea life we can find.

Our tour guides are husband and wife Jacqui and Wil Hikuwai, and indigenous guide Dingka Dingka, who shares his wealth of traditional knowledge of the area with us.

The Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours' Turtle Discovery tour takes place aboard the Milbi, an indigenous term for sea turtle.
The Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours' Turtle Discovery tour takes place aboard the Milbi, an indigenous term for sea turtle. Matt Taylor GLA080419HBAY

While Hervey Bay is not geographically situated on the Great Barrier Reef, it is home to a number of outlying reefs ready to explore, with the ultimate experience an opportunity to swim with the breathtaking turtles.

As you travel through the Great Sandy Marine Park the vast ocean becomes a playground of discovery.

Local landmarks grace the horizon, including the historic Urangan pier, once one of Australia's largest man-made structures stretching nearly one kilometre into the deep blue.

It stands as one of the coast's most important icons, built 102 years ago to export sugar, coal and timber from the Wide Bay hinterland. Today it is used for fishing and recreational activities while providing a unique lookout for tourists who make their way to its end.

Heading through the marine park the tour makes its way to the north of Woody Island section where that first call of milbi comes through.

The marine turtles have been spotted, two of them in fact, and the group decides it's the perfect time to stop, drop the anchor and get in the water to start our hunt.

In the excitement of flippers and masks being thrown on, nobody is worried about looking like a duck as the group congregates at the rear of the vessel to jump in.

Snorkelling in the area is suitable for those of all levels, with pool noodles the perfect flotation device for those less confident.

Jacqui has promised us the group will not be allowed to snorkel where conditions are dangerous, and she is even willing to jump in the water with those needing a helping hand.

The water is shallow enough that if you require a break, you can stand and relax, taking in what's around.

But there's little time for pauses as the group head off in all directions hunting the shadows we saw from the boat, taking on board the skipper's advice that "if it moves, it's probably alive.”

There's myriad fish to be seen, especially close to underwater rock formations resembling underwater mountain ranges, but unfortunately on this occasion, the milbi appear to have swum off.

The experience is a reminder for any eco tour that when you're working with nature, nothing is guaranteed.

As the tour heads off to its next destination, Round Island (ironically shaped like a triangle), the group is reminded that the day's events will be dictated by what mother nature wants to serve up.

On some days the opportunity to get up close and personal with the underwater life is ample. On others, nature simply reminds us that she is in charge.

Hervey Bay life

Famous for its whales, the waters of Hervey Bay are graced by endangered, rare and common species including humpbacks, melon-headed and minke whales.

Common dolphins, bottlenose, and the endangered indo-pacific humpback dolphins are also to be seen in Hervey Bay.

Six of the world's seven marine turtle species reside in the Great Sandy Marine Park, including the common loggerhead and green turtles.

Dugongs are a rare sight.

oaks hervey bay
Oaks Resort Hervey Bay. MAURO RISCH PHOTOGRAPHY +61 4303

Million-dollar views

If you were any closer to the beach the waves would be lapping at your bed.

That's the feeling you get waking up in a Premier Ocean View room at Oaks Resort and Spa in Hervey Bay, situated right on the Urangan beachfront on Charlton Esp.

Generous-sized bedrooms, huge balconies with million-dollar views and plenty of space define these rooms suitable for couples on a romantic long weekend or families looking for a school holiday getaway.

The hotel itself is right in the heart of Hervey Bay within walking distance of parks, shops, public transport and local attractions.

The resort has a range of rooms with one, two and three-bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens and laundries, as well as access to a gym and pool.

Rooms are tidy and well presented, including ceiling fans and air-conditioning throughout for comfort.

While you won't need to spend too much time on your devices while enjoying all Hervey Bay has to offer, the hotel also offers free Wi-Fi.

You won't go hungry either with the Bayswater Restaurant and Salt Cafe on the esplanade.

The Bayswater is a bistro and bar dining experience, with sit-down meals including steaks, burgers, parmigianas and more.

On a weekend there is live music as well, so you don't have to go far from your room to enjoy an evening out.

Open for breakfast and lunch, the cafe is perfect for breakfast or a relaxing coffee, and is a good spot to sit and watch the world go by while listening to the ocean.

If you're heading out for a day of activities or simply want to relax by the pool, there is ample secure undercover parking.

The writer was a guest of Oaks Resort Hervey Bay, Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours and AquaVue Hervey Bay.