Special Moment: Swimming with sea creatures

The Eyre Peninsula offers plenty of ways to get up close and personal to the wildlife, but nothing beats swimming with wild sea lions. The puppy dogs of the sea, these endangered marine mammals are insatiably curious, and love to play. The sea lions are never fed, and all interaction is initiated by the animals. They come to you. But the more you interact with them, the more they like it -- after all, no one likes a boring playmate who just stares! The more you splash and duck dive, the more they respond, often mimicking your actions, circling when you do, diving and surfacing with you. Believe me, making eye contact with a wild animal in its own habitat, on its own terms, is an experience you'll not soon forget.

Ocean Eco Tours, between Streaky Bay and Port Lincoln (tel. 08/8626 5017; www.bairdbay.com), offers half-day trips swimming with sea lions at Baird Bay, and depending on weather, swimming with the resident pod of bottlenose dolphins. You must be able to swim and parents or guardians must accompany children under 12. The best season is from September through to May. It costs A$140 for adults or A$70 for kids, and wet suits are included.

The Port Lincoln-based Adventure Bay Charters (tel. 0488/428 862; www.adventurebaycharters.com.au) runs trips to the colony at Hopkins Island, around a 90-minute cruise from Port Lincoln; the half-day tour includes a swim in a tuna farm afterward. It costs A$195 for adults, kids A$145. (A separate 2-hr. tuna-farm tour is available for A$95 adults, A$65 kids.)

Both sea lion tours are excellent, but the Baird Bay tour is a little more personal, has a stronger conservation ethic, and you'll learn a lot more about the animals than you do on the more commercialized Adventure Bay trip.

Whatever you do, don't visit the replica of the biggest white pointer shark ever caught by rod and reel (a very scary 5m/16 ft. long and 1,520kg/3,344 lb. heavy) before you take the plunge. The shark, which was caught in the waters off Streaky Bay in 1990, is on show at the Shell Roadhouse in Streaky Bay. If you are interested in getting a closer look at a real, live great white shark, you can go shark cage diving with Calypso Star Charters (tel. 08/8682 3939; www.sharkcagediving.com.au), based in Port Lincoln. It's a full-day trip and costs A$495, and you don't have to be a certified diver to do it. You may have to be certifiably crazy however, and I must admit I haven't quite worked up the courage yet to do it.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.