It looks like the lair of a Bond Villian, but Oceanic Victor’s floating HQ just off Granite Island near Victor Harbor, South Australia actually conceals something far more exciting – tuna fish you can swim with and sharks you can cuddle! It’s an easy day trip from Adelaide – as we discovered when we went in for a dip with both.
Disclosure: I was given the chance to swim with the tuna for free in return for an honest review – see more details below. Some links in this post are affiliate links. That means I earn a small commission if you book through them. This does not cost you any extra.
What It’s Like to Swim With Tuna
I’m lying face down in the water. Just past my head is a dead pilchard and, barrelling its way towards it with its hungry face on, is about 40kg of tuna fish!
A tuna fish that, if it puts its mind to it, can accelerate to 75kph (47mph) – I’m really hoping my one isn’t short-sighted.
Thankfully, he/she seems to have their fish detection radar intact – he swoops in, grabs his snack and is off back to the other side of the Oceanic Victor aquarium pretty much faster than I can blink.
All around me I can hear people whooping as more tuna do the same, leaving just a spray of water in their wake – we’re in the middle of a fishy feeding frenzy and it’s mindblowing.
How did the Tuna Swim in Victor Harbor Start?
The idea of swimming with tuna was first started by Oceanic Victor in Port Lincoln, South Australia, but in 2017 the team towed their enormous 74-tonne in-sea aquarium to a new space about 2km off Granite Island, close to Victor Harbor, a seaside town that’s an easy 90-minute drive from Adelaide.
It’s currently the only place in the world that offers this type of swimming with tuna experience.
Two or three times a day, the team pick up swimmers in their catamaran, the Tuna Express, and whisk them across the water to tuna central where about 50 huge fish are swimming around eagerly awaiting your arrival.
Once you’re togged up in a snorkel, mask, wetsuit and booties and gloves – in case your tuna misses the fish and takes a nip at your fingers – it’s time to jump in.
Within seconds, you’re surrounded by the tuna – huge grey-blue fish with pretty yellow points along their back. Considering the closest I’ve ever been to one of these majestic creatures before is at the winning end of a sandwich, I’m feeling pretty guilty when I realise how amazing they are.
You see tuna are known as the Ferrari of the Sea as they can swim at up to 70kph if they are hunting for food, although they normally just pootle around at 2-3kph.
They can never stop swimming or they sink and they have to eat five per cent of their body weight each day.
Swimming with tuna was a fantastic thrilling experience, only marred ever so slightly by my wetsuit which I hated!
I’d never worn a full wetsuit before, only a half suit, and I could not get my buoyancy right (I’m thinking I had some air trapped somewhere it shouldn’t have been and at once point I was floundering about like an upside-down tortoise!) – thankfully, there was a handy rail I could hang onto and still enjoy things.
The benefit of my hopelessness though is that I can tell you, you’d still be able to swim with the tuna and enjoy the experience if you were a bit of a nervous swimmer. You can literally hang on and the fish come swooping past.
I’m not totally sure how long we were actually swimming with tuna for – it seemed to whizz by in a wave (literally) of flashing fins and flicking tails, but, I’d estimate it was about 30-40 minutes until we stopped because the fish had eaten their fill – but once we got out there was more fun to be had in the rest of Oceanic Victor’s floating aquarium!
What Can You Do When You Finish Swimming With Tuna?
In the middle of the circular area in which the tuna live you’ll find a second aquarium, this one holding smaller fish and two Port Jackson sharks – and these are the sharks you can cuddle.
‘Just hold her tummy and she’ll think she’s lying on the bottom,’ says marine biologist Fernando as he shows me what to do. She certainly seems quite happy and relaxed – at one point I think she’s smiling.
The most surprising thing is not that I’m cuddling a shark and haven’t lost any kind of limb, but how sandpapery her skin is, I always thought sharks would be smooth.
While swimming with tuna was awesome, I think playing with the Oceanic Victor sharks was the highlight of my day. The team there refer to them as ‘sea puppies’ and I can see why.
But even that is not all you can do when on Oceanic Victor – there’s also an underwater viewing area which lets you watch the tuna in close up (check out the video below) and a tank full of starfish and crabs to watch.
How Long Do You Spend on Oceanic Victor?
You spend about two hours on the Oceanic Victor base in total – if you get bored of watching all the fishies (and why would you?), there’s a snack bar on board and they do a sausage sizzle if you get really peckish.
It’s then time to hop back on the Tuna Express for the 10 minute trip to shore – which, considering there are often dolphins frolicking around the breakwater isn’t quite long enough. I could have sat on there a bit longer chilling out in the sunshine.
How Much Does It Cost To Swim With Tuna?
It costs $120 per adult, $95 for children aged 5-15 and $15 for infants to go swimming with tuna.
And yes, most ages of children can swim with the tuna – their smallest wetsuit fits 2-3-year-olds or if they’d rather not swim they can feed them from the side. You do need to pay full price however even if someone doesn’t swim.
Here’s where to book it if you think it sounds like fun.
You can also upgrade the experience to include a delicious seafood lunch including wine and beer at Oceanic Victor. See more about that here.
Can You Still Swim in Winter?
Yes, because you’re wearing a wetsuit to keep off some of the chill – but, if you don’t like the idea of jumping into seawater in winter, then Oceanic Victor also now offer their special Winter Platform Experience where you can just go out to the in-sea aquarium for a look round.
It costs $70 for adults (less for kids and concessions) and you spend 45 minutes on the platform chatting to the team’s marine biologists. You’ll get to feed the tuna, check out the underwater viewing platform and cuddle a shark (you might need to get your feet wet for that bit).
This is on offer until August – normally, you can’t just go out to the platform without paying for the swim – and takes place on Wednesday and Friday, departing at 1.30. Book via the link above.
Is This Cruel to the Tuna?
Well, I guess that depends on your outlook on things – the fish that populate the in-sea aquarium came from a commercial tuna catch that was going to Japan – which means that if they weren’t swimming around in here, they’d probably be long gone by now! So, looking at it that way, then they got the good end of the deal.
No, they can’t go and join their fishy friends in, say, Hawaii – or wherever it is that tuna hang out nowadays, but compared to the fate that did await them…hello humans wiggling pilchards.
Oceanic Victor also has marine biologists on site that ensure the fish are happy and healthy and they are only allowed a certain number of fish on site at any one time.
This is Australia, Will I Meet a Shark in There?
You mean other than the super cute ones you can cuddle? No, just like the tuna can’t go explore outside the aquarium, anything as a big as a shark can’t get in – smaller fish may pay a visit, but you’re not going to bump into a Great White while you’re waiting for the tuna to turn up.
What Else Can You Do on Granite Island?
Depending on what time you visit Oceanic Victor you could also take another boat tour to check out the seal colony on nearby Seal Island. Here’s what to book that one.
Or, if it’s later in the day, take one of the tours Oceanic Victor offer to see the little penguins coming back to their home on the island. They return at dusk so, if this fits in with your plans for the day, you can book that tour here.
Note, while Granite Island is easily accessible during the day, the only way to be on the island in the evening to see the penguins is via a guided tour so, you can’t just loiter around hoping to spot one.
Are The Sculptures Still on Granite Island?
Unfortunately not. The last ones were removed in 2021. The decision to stop supporting the trail was made by the local council who said they’d prefer to see something more local in its place.
How to Get to Victor Harbour From Adelaide
The easiest way to do this is to drive. It’s about a 70-minute drive from Adelaide.
If you are driving you could also explore some of the McLaren Vale wine region on your way to or from Victor Harbour, or, take a detour to Goolwa and see the koalas and other animals at the Urrimbirra Wildlife Park.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles include The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.
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