A New Continent!

Trip Start May 20, 2010
Trip End Sep 05, 2011

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Where I stayed
Jungle Monkey

Flag of South Africa  , Eastern Cape,
Thursday, June 30, 2011


Day : 407
Temperature : 22 degrees
Weather : Glorious sunshine

We've arrived!!!! Whoop whoop!!!

It took a 17 hour overnight bus journey to Buenos Aires, a 10 hour wait in the airport, an 8 hour overnight flight to Cape Town, a 4 hour wait in the airport, and a two hour flight to Durban where we collected our car and drove one hour south to our guest house and finally arrived, totally and utterly exhausted, and completely exhilarated at the same time, delighted to finally be in Africa.

Upon waking the next morning (at 6am by somebody putting the TV on VERY loudly in the next room...grrrr) we continued further south to Umkumaas where we stopped at a dive shop to enquire about diving. Apparently, so we were told there was lots of action further south at Port St Johns, the main site for diving the Sardine Run, and so we jumped back in the car and drove on, another 4 hours.

The Sardine Run, is often called "The Greatest Shoal On Earth". Every year millions upon millions of sardines migrate up the coast of South Africa, following the cold currents. It is the greatest marine migration on the planet. These huge shoals of sardines bring in the predators.....whales, thousands of dolphins, tens of thousands of gannets and marine birds, big game fish and sharks....and this, is what we have come to see.

However, it's a bit hit and miss. If the conditions aren't right, or for reasons which are yet unknown the shoals can remain very deep or far out at sea, and finding them is a hard task. The dolphins are required to round up the shoals and keep them compact, driving them up to the surface where the gannets dive bomb from above, reaching speeds of 80km/h upon impacting the water. It is intense gannet action and dolphin activity which can indicate where a bait ball is, and this is what the boats are searching for when out at sea.

And so the following morning we ventured out to sea, bouncing our way out over the high waves and surf until we reached calmer waters. Within minutes we had sighted dolphins. Gannets were in the air circling overhead. After half an hour we spotted two Brydes' Whales in the distance. We kept searching and soon noticed an area of gannet activity ahead. Thousands of gannets circling and diving, circling and diving....an amazing sight. The dolphins were leaping out of the water in every direction....hundreds and hundreds of dolphins, the noise of their whistling could be heard even above the water. We jumped in the water with the dolphins and swam with them for several minutes, listening to their whistling underwater. Some tiny shoals of sardines were being hunted, and the dolphins zipped past us chasing them. Back on the zodiac the dolphins rode in the bow wave of the zodiac, and we leaned over the front of the boat, less than a metre away as they lept out of the water, zig-zagging in and out of view. Incredible.

The highlight of the day came when we spotted whale spouts far in the distance and headed towards them. It was only a pod of 10, yes 10, humpback whales! Can you imagine?! Enormous creatures, so graceful in the water, and making the most amazing noise as they spouted water. After some time we decided to try to get in with them. And so when they made their next dive we drove well ahead until we saw them surface again. The zodiac positioned us directly in their path and then zipped off out of the way. It took several attempts before we successfully managed to intercept them, the skipper of the boat yelling directions at us from the distance. But finally we were correctly in position. So here we were, in the middle of the ocean, miles from shore, in the path of 10 humpback whales. 20 metres from us, 15 metres, 10 metres....and closing. Oh my god. From a boat they are enormous, when you are bobbing in the water and they are coming directly for you they are HUGE! At one point I though I would be obliterated as they plouged through, and yet, they somehow detected our miniscule presence and swam around us and dived under us.....The last thing I remember seeing before I went under the water was a humpback whale literally metres away, on a direct collision course with me, and then it's enormous bulk dipped below the surface and swam under me! I will never, ever forget this for as long as I live. Humpback whales all around us, on either side and underneath.....and the noise, of whales calling underwater....I cannot describe it....it makes the hairs on your neck stand up!

And so we finally returned to dry land after a full day at sea, cold and wet and shivering. The following morning I awoke with a sore throat and aching muscles and joints all over....a cold! Marvellous. We spent the day chilling out by the river having a picnic with the dive crew before heading to bed early....in our tent that we bought in Durban! We are now camping at the Jungle Monkey Lodge, which costs only 60Rand per night...far more acceptable prices. And don't worry, we aren't roughing it too much, we even bought blow up mattresses and soft, fluffy pillows. In fact, it's remarkably comfortable!

Today I still have the cold, and feel generally rubbish. Fortunately, the wind is too strong, and no boats are able to get out over the surf so we aren't missing out on anything. Our plan is to go out again tomorrow, hopefully I'll be feeling better, so all fingers and toes are crossed for a bait ball.....

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