In this week’s Shamwari series, pouring rain and pine needles pose a problem, and I head to Mossel Bay to swim with Great White Sharks! This comes after a trip to Port Elizabeth for some sand boarding my first controlled burn. You can read all about that in the last Shamwari Diaries post: Act 5 Scene 2 – Burning Bright. Or, read the series from the very start here.
Rain, rain go away
Thursday 9th October 2008
Today the weather was really cold, and everywhere was completely damp after the rains yesterday. Annoyingly, we had to cut down pine trees all morning and the damp ground meant that all of the pine needles that were on the ground got stuck on everything!
However, I still found that I worked more efficiently than the last time we worked at that site, as I cut down at least twice as many trees as last time.
On the way to lunch it started to pour down again, so we headed back to Madolas instead of doing rhino identification and recording, and were instead given a talk on game capture and translocation, after which we were given a DVD to watch about the subject.
We finished the day’s activities by 2.30pm, which meant I had plenty of time to arrange a trip to Mossel Bay for the weekend.
The journey and the destination…
Friday 10th October 2008
Had the day off work today because the rest of my group were only working in the morning (doing the rhino ID we skipped on yesterday) and going to Jeffrey’s Bay for the weekend in the afternoon. Whereas I took a taxi on my own to Mossel Bay.
However, I first had to get Mr Heunis to take me to Grahamstown (a 40 min journey costing 400 rand! That’s just over 20 quid! Unbelievably good value) and then J.C’s shuttle service took me from there to Mossel Bay.
For 5 hours of the journey I shared a taxi with four students from the high school in Grahamstown, they were a nice group of girls actually. Then I was on my own with Johan (the driver) for the remaining three hours!
When we arrived at the B&B, it was really lovely and charming! Nice rooms with a sea view, and only 200 rand!
Before having an early night, Johan and I went to a really posh restaurant, but it was so embarrassing, because I’m sure people thought we were dating!
He’s a very expressive man who’s in his mid-thirties; asks endless questions of everyone and spent most of the meal blowing into his hanky for the entire room to hear!
2019 note: OK, I was 18… mid-thirties seemed like an old man to me then! And on reflection, his company was quite nice.
Saturday 11th October 2008
Shark diving today was intense, and beyond my expectation!
I had to be at the dock at 8.30 for a continental breakfast and the boat departed at 9.00. I’m always very nervous about boarding boats, as I get terribly seasick, but as luck would have it — I mostly dodged the sickness today.
We spent about 20 – 30 minutes driving the boat out to sea, and anchored close to a very small island absolutely covered in seals! They were so noisy and very comical to watch! It was actually one of my favourite parts of my visit to Mossel Bay.
We waited until 11.00 with no sign of any shark life. So I was glad that the seals were in sight so that I could watch them jumping into the sea as a bit of entertainment!
After a long, cold few hours of trying to bait a shark — during which my tendency for seasickness began to make itself known; a shark could be seen at a distance!
Within half an hour, two sharks had finally arrived and began circling the boat! I was in the first group of 6 to go into the cage and must admit, it was a little unnerving to keep losing sight of these giant predators!
When they were in vision, however, it was incredible to be face to face with a real-life Great White Shark!
It was literally biting the cage!! And while we were down there a third and fourth shark arrived and began circling us too.
2019 note: Today, there is much debate about whether it’s ethical to bait sharks for tourists to see up close — and it’s widely recognised that sharks can injure their mouths and even damage their teeth on metal cages. When I look back on this photo of mine (above), I can see scars and marks around the shark’s mouth. There is also the long term danger to both humans (and sharks), of the many threatened species of shark becoming habituated to humans and associating them with food. You can read a more in-depth and honest account of this experience posted back in 2014 by clicking here.
Despite how cold and exhaustive the dive became (I spent a long time treading water, and my legs certainly began to ache), I’m pretty sure sheer adrenaline, from the thrill of it, was what kept me going!
As the lady was throwing the bait out of the cage, we were getting covered in tuna blood and guts! In the moment, I didn’t care — but it would prove uncomfortable (and smelly!) later on, during the very long taxi ride home!
When we got back on the boat and the next group went down, a fifth and sixth shark arrived; and as a result, our first group were allowed to have a second go down in the cage, to get the full experience. I got some awesome photos and videos on my underwater camera.
I could have had a third ‘dive’ in the cage, but both the cold and the lack of energy (from treading water for so long!) got the better of me, and I opted out.
I must admit, having one of these incredible apex predators literally brush against my leg in the water — which is hardly my comfort zone anyway — was a little bit of a reality check, and I didn’t want to push my luck too much!
Then came the long drive home – 9 hours! But we stopped at some beautiful viewing sites over the beaches which slightly broke up the early part of the journey.
Next time: An angry rhino charges our vehicle during a night drive and I spend my final day on the reserve! You can read the series from the very beginning here.
CHECK IT OUT! The first post of my Shamwari Series features in a new book, The Wildlife Blog Collection: a compilation of 70 amazing stories celebrating some of the most memorable, entrancing and exciting wildlife moments as told by top nature writers from across the globe. Order your copy here