Terry Howson grew up surfing, sailing and swimming on the waters and beaches of Rockingham. In 1989, at the age of 23, he set out to pursue his dream of swimming with the local wild dolphins.
Terry dedicated 12 months to learn as much about the dolphins as he could. Seven days a week, 10 hours a day he followed them on his family’s small boat, observing their habits and behaviours. Many months later his determination finally paid off with his first in water encounter with a curious young female dolphin, who he now knows as Logo. As time went on Terry’s interactions with Logo became more frequent as her trust in his friendship strengthened. Gradually, other dolphins became curious of the new visitor and started to interact on a regular basis.
Terry set out to establish a dolphin swim project, unlike any other in the world. The idea was to offer a truly wild dolphin encounter. He believed the dolphins should not be fed by humans or taken out of their natural environment to ensure natural behaviours and independence was conserved. He also believed learning how to fit into the dolphin’s way of life rather than trying to make them conform to ours was the only way to truly present a wild dolphin experience. This operation was christened ‘Rockingham Dolphins’ and it was a ‘one man show’ with Terry skippering, tour guiding, taking bookings, doing the marketing and the maintenance.
As word of mouth grew, Terry focused on improving and growing the business into the successful company that it is today. This dedication to excellence was recognized by the Industry in 2001 when Rockingham Dolphins won the ecotourism category of the Western Australian Tourism Awards. After subsequent wins in 2002 & 2003 Rockingham Dolphins followed up in 2004 with a National Ecotourism Award and by being inducted into the WA Tourism Hall of Fame.
Since then Terry has continued to develop other local ecotourism opportunities with the formation of Rockingham Wild Encounters (RWE), a partnership with long term employee Aaron Heath founded in 2005. RWE operates the Penguin Island ferry service and cruises that showcase the local marine wildlife and scenic highlights of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. RWE now operates 4 boats, an extensive gift and homewares store, Pengos Café and services over 100,000 passengers a year. Terry and Aaron take great pride in their ecotourism operations and feel very privileged to be able to introduce this special part of Western Australia to visitors from all over the world.
Rockingham Wild Encounters operates four custom built vessels designed to provide customers with the best and safest wildlife experiences possible. All vessels are built and operated to survey under the USL Codes which are regulated in Western Australia by the Department of Transport on behalf of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Launched in August 2008 ‘Apollo3’ is the result of 20 years of dolphin swimming experience. It is the sixth vessel that Terry has built for the cruise and he reckons that he has finally got it right! At 15.5 metres in length and 4.8 metres in beam it comfortably accommodates a maximum of 44 passengers and 7 crew and cruises at 18 knots. ‘Apollo3’ features a huge rear swimming platform with ladders running across the full width of the transom making access to the water nice and easy. A rear helm station on the fly bridge provides additional passenger safety. It allows our skippers to manoeuvre the vessel in reverse to stay right next to the action. A continuous stream of salt water heated by the vessels engines keep our intrepid swimmers nice and warm before and after entering the water. There is also plenty of hot fresh water for teas and coffees. The vessel has 2 unisex toilets and plenty of under seat storage for comfortably stowing hand luggage.
100% Wild is a 12.5 metre rigid hull inflatable boat (known amongst boaties as a RHIB). RHIB's are high performance boats used by organizations such as the Navy, SAS, Water Police, Sea Rescue and Surf Life Saving because they are designed for speed, safety, comfort and to go where other boats can't. 100% Wild was designed especially for eco- tourism. It provides a superior experience to a conventional boat because you're closer to the water and there are no barriers separating you from the environment. In other words, it was made for getting you amongst the action, covered open air, theatre style seating puts you right in the adventure- seeing the wildlife close up, feeling every thrill and experiencing some of the best coastal scenery in Western Australia!
Launched December 2007 you can’t mistake the ‘Penguin Express’- just look for the two giant penguins on the sides! The vessel represents a major improvement on the old ferry ‘MV Penguin Island’ which when retired in 2006 was believed to be the oldest running ferry in Western Australia. The ‘Penguin Express’ comfortably carries 75 passengers and 2 crew. It features sliding glass windows all round so guests can stay warm and comfortable regardless of the weather. The whisper quiet 4 stroke 90 hp engines get you to the island in approximately 5 minutes, so with departures leaving hourly from 9am- 3pm, getting to Penguin Island is easy and more enjoyable than ever!
The Queenbeyan is our 12 metre glass bottom boat that was refurbished and relaunched in September 2006. It is the ideal vessel for exploring the ruggedly beautiful environment of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. The glass bottom allows guests a ‘fishes view’ of the sea grass meadows and limestone reefs while the vessels shallow draft and 360 degree topside viewing is perfect for getting up close to the islands for a fantastic view of the sea lion colony and pelican rookery. The vessel can seat 49 passengers and 3 crew comfortably and also makes an ideal party boat for special events.
Rockingham Wild Encounters have achieved Ecoplus accreditation with the Australian Tourism Accreditation Program. Tourism Council Western Australia is responsible for the Australian Tourism Accreditation Program in Western Australia. This program is designed to establish and continually improve Industry standards for conducting a tourism business. Accreditation provides consumers, and the Industry, with an assurance that businesses are committed to professionalism both in operations and delivery of service.
Rockingham Wild Encounters commitment to continual improvement has been recognized at a state and national level. The Swim with Wild Dolphins Tour has won 3 state ecotourism awards in 2001, 2002 and 2003. In 2004 the tour was inducted into the West Australian Tourism Hall of Fame and won the Australian Tourism Award for Ecotourism.
More recently, Rockingham Wild Encounters has been recognized by the Rockingham & Kwinana Chamber of Commerce Regional Business Awards winning the 2014 Tourism Operator Award and 2015 Business of the Year.
Rockingham Wild Encounters and Penguin Island are also featured on Tripadvisor and have once again received Certificates of Excellence for 2016.