A Whale of a Time
Carolyn Tucker meets the water-loving couple who have found their perfect business match at the helm of Noosa Ocean Rider introducing passengers to local marine mammals.
For nearly 20 years it was all about the thrills. Thousands of adrenaline seekers have boarded the Ocean Rider vessel to take a high speed trip around the Noosa coastline and head further offshore for some heart pumping circle work since this Noosa business was founded in 2001.
But new owners Nathan and Penelope have upped the ante to offer thrills of a different kind, with whale watching tours and dolphin safaris added to the repertoire.
Of course the original thriller experience is still available, but with their backgrounds in diving and sailing, they seized the opportunity to share the joy of Noosa’s marine life in its natural habitat as well.
“The same boat is perfect for both the thriller ride and nature-based tours,” said Penelope. “I’ve been whale watching in Canada and Iceland and they used the same kind of vessel as ours.”
A qualified and experienced ship’s captain and dive instructor, Nathan grew up in Caloundra and has been on and in the water for much of his life.
He and Penelope met 10 years ago on Lizard Island, where Nathan was dive instructor and Captain of a fishing charter boat while Penelope was Co-ordinator of the Marine and Dive Department.
“She was my boss then – and still is,” Nathan says. “I’m the skipper and she’s the admiral.”
From Lizard Island they moved on to sailing luxury catamarans in the Caribbean and Mediterranean and while it was as wonderful as it sounds, they eventually missed having
a permanent home base and community.
They’d just arrived back in Australia and were pondering their next move when they saw Ocean Riders advertised for sale.
“We thought ‘this looks cool’,” Nathan said. “It was a good opportunity to be back in Noosa and back on the water.”
They took over in March 2019 with Nathan taking care of all things vessel and boat-related and Penelope managing the marketing, administration, financials, taking bookings and driving the courtesy bus when needed. Sigi, their miniature groodle pup, has an important role too.
“Sigi is so friendly and she loves everyone,” Nathan said. “When Penelope’s driving the bus, Sigi is the bus monitor, there to meet and greet and farewell our passengers.”
Nathan can describe where the dolphin safaris and whale watching tours go but pinpointing when the stars of the show will make an appearance is more difficult.
“We cruise around the beautiful coastline and have a scenic trip to Sunshine Beach and then head offshore,” he said.
“The older male dolphins will sometimes swim up to the boat. We had one recently that seemed to be encouraging us to get moving so he could play in the wake.
“The females with young calves tend to be a bit more mellow and just cruise along. The dolphins are always there – it’s just a matter of finding them.”
Similarly, there’s no certainty about when whales will come into view or what to expect when they do.
“We were heading offshore looking for whales last year and one popped up right in front of us,” Nathan continued.
“We brought the boat to a sudden halt and it just hung out with us for about 45 minutes.
“It looked like a younger male and he seemed to be quite enamoured with the boat. Sometimes they’re quite curious and other times they’re on a mission, cruising north.
“They might stop and show off for a while and the calves are a lot more playful.”
It’s understandable that passengers are consistently in awe of these majestic mammals and with the whale watching season running from June until late October, it’s now peak time for viewing.
“They can be solitary or in pods, you might see mothers with calves and sometimes multiple mothers with calves. There’s never one typical day at the office,” Nathan said.
“Each of the tours are quite different but I’m just happy to be out there and showing people a good time.”
NOOSA OCEAN RIDER | Noosa Marina, Tewantin | Phone 0438 386 255