The oceans around Cape Town are teeming with life and there's no better way to get a close-up view than from on board a kayak. Jeremy Jowell went cruising the coast.
The water around me is calm. Barely a ripple breaks the smooth surface of the cold Atlantic as we take a breather in the kayaks after the long paddle from Clifton to Bantry Bay. I'm floating about 500 metres offshore, lazily admiring the beauty of the Atlantic seaboard, when suddenly I'm awakened from my reverie by a large splash. Less than 20 metres away, a southern right whale and its baby have surfaced and start to swim my way.
The moment is magical. With a flick of their V-shaped tails, the majestic creatures arch forward and gracefully disappear below the surface. They're heading my way but there's no fear, just a rising sense of wonder and joy as I paddle out their path.
'Quick, come over here, two whales !,' I shout to my paddling partner drifting closer inshore. Then they rise again, surfacing so close I can count the callosities on their skin. In the still air, the graceful whales blow and propel themselves forward in fine puffs of spray. Then, in a brief moment I'll never forget, the mother whale turns her head towards me and our eyes meet.
Kayaking on the seas around Cape Town offers the adventure seeker a breathtaking experience - an opportunity to get close to some of the marine creatures that inhabit our shores. In addition, one is also treated to a fresh perspective on the spectacular scenery with which Cape Town is blessed.
It wasn't until 1995 that recreational kayaking became a popular pastime on the oceans of the Cape. 'But since then, the pleasures of this water sport have caught on fast,' says Johan Loots of Real Cape Adventures. 'The joy is that it's so accessible. You go from the city and paddle onto the ocean where you enter a wilderness. There's a lot of wildlife around and one is acutely aware that we're in their world.'
It's a clear morning as I drive along the coastal road to Simonstown. The water offshore is flat and there's just a hint of autumn in the air. 'It's perfect conditions for a kayak trip,' says Neil Saxby, our guide. ' We'll see some marine life close up but the only warning is to stay away from those sea creatures called rocks,' he grins, slapping on suntan cream.
We stop to watch seals frolicking near the harbour wall before we paddle past the breakwater and onto the open sea. The sun beats down and we settle into a rhythm, making steady progress against the southerly breeze. The wind has picked up and a choppy swell breaks over the front of the kayak. A large group of penguins floating offshore watch us as we continue on to Windmill Beach.
After a short break, we begin the paddle back to the harbour but first stop to watch the penguins at Boulders Beach. The wind has now dropped and we cut effortlessly through the water. Hundreds of small jellyfish float past in the current while overhead a flock of arctic terns buzz us on their way out to sea.
Another exciting kayak route in Cape Town is the trip from Hout Bay to Seal Island. Early one Sunday I drive to Mariners Wharf where I meet Johan and a group of German tourists looking forward to their first ocean trip.
As we paddle out, the morning sun colours Chapmans Peak and a sea mist threatens to move in. Away from the protection of the harbour, the swell has picked up and choppy waters break over the kayaks.
'The sea life out by the island is incredible,' continues Johan, carefully watching the incoming swells. 'Just last week a very playful seal jumped out the water and knocked a kayaker into the water. No harm done though, he just got wet.'
A few hundred metres offshore, Cape Town's biggest break, Dungeons, is a scary sight as it pumps through at about six metres. But thankfully the waves have flattened out before they reach us.
'Paddle over the foam and head straight for the island, then veer right into the channel,' instructs Johan. 'The sea will be slightly calmer there."
With my pulse racing, I paddle hard toward the island where several hundred seals watch me and begin to bark as I approach. Then, in one mass movement, they all lumber off their rocky perches and flop into the water.
The sea becomes a hive of activity as the seals play like children, pointing flippers at us and diving beneath the kayaks, somersaulting and splashing around. One leaps into the air and lands so close to me that I'm drenched in the spray.
Suddenly Johan shouts a warning. 'Paddle..paddle..paddle ! There's a big swell coming which could close out so we need to get out of here.'
Paddling furiously, we head back through the channel, escorted by a large group of seals who surf gracefully alongside as they ride the current and leap into the air like dolphins. Finally we reach the relative calm of the harbour. I'm soaked but elated as it's been a real journey into another world. For the German tourists, it's been an experience they'll never forget.
Real Cape Adventures run kayak trips at several locations around southern and east Africa. In addition to routes in the vicinity of Cape Town, they also offer kayak excursions to Langebaan, the Garden Route, eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal. Other exciting destinations on their books include Zanzibar and Mafia Island off the Tanzanian coast, Mauritius, Madagascar, Kenya, Angola and Namibia. For further details, contact them at: +27-21-7905611 (phone and fax); +27-82-5562520 (cellular).Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Jowell. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.