Penguin paddle and snorkel safari in False Bay

Leave the landlubbers behind and mingle with sharks, seals, penguins and more in False Bay, off the coast of Simon’s Town.

The Shark Warrior guides have great info to share; peace-loving spotted gully sharks like to hang out on the seabed.

Sharing a swimming patch with six or seven spotty, blunt-nosed sharks, some 1,7 metres in length, wasn’t necessarily what I had in mind when I made the whimsical decision to reconnect with nature on a Friday morning. My breath in the snorkel sounded very loud and too fast. Then I recalled Terry Corr’s words: ‘Gully sharks are passive and peace-loving. I’ve rarely felt threatened by them, except when I was accidentally caught in the middle of a 30-strong feeding frenzy.’

Terry co-runs the Shark Warrior Adventure Centre at Seaforth Beach with Jon Monsoon. It was started three years ago by ocean conservationist Lesley Rochat, and shares the beach with about 150 nesting African penguin pairs. Earlier in the day, my husband Deon and I had signed up at Shark Warrior for a paddling excursion. Before long we were happily gliding through sea-glass water, our kayaks bright against the silver sky on an unseasonably windless morning. We approached Ark Rock, a flat-topped granite boulder 300 metres offshore, with little effort. I watched as seals shifted poses enthusiastically, and tried not to breathe too deeply as we got downwind of the guano-covered rock. It was so quiet we could hear the bubbly snorts of a baby seal nearby, and the distant hum of traffic.

Peace-loving spotted gully sharks like to hang out on the seabed.

We followed the coastline south, passing a patch of ruffled water which Terry identified as a shoal of yellowtail. He gave us a brief history of the penguins as we glided past Boulders Beach. The birds arrived in 1982, multiplying quickly; at their peak there were at least 30 ,000 on the coast around Simon’s Town. As a Marine Protected Area, Seaforth is a penguin sanctuary, but the population is dwindling due to human encroachment, overfishing and increasing seal numbers (predators such as great whites are mysteriously disappearing from the area). Plus there’s bird flu, brought in by swift terns and spread by human feet along the beach. On a rest stop at Windmill Beach, Terry had more sobering info to share: ‘Penguins will abandon their eggs if fish populations are too low to sustain their fast-growing young. If we don’t protect our penguins, they could be extinct in 12 years.’

The ocean we’d been paddling on was so alluring, I simply had to get in the water. Back at the centre we suited up in neo- prene for a snorkel to Water’s Edge. Sur- prisingly close to shore, we entered the hypnotically swaying world of a golden kelp forest, the water so clear we could easily spot a group of gully sharks weaving over a bed of sea urchins on the ocean floor. Harders, hottentots, yellow-bellied rock cod and red romans are also residents of this forest, with occasional sightings of octopus and stingrays if you’re lucky. We weren’t, but in the shallows at Boulders a few curious penguins bobbed towards us in the water. I was charmed. Terry told us they rarely approach humans voluntarily. As we returned to Seaforth, I noticed a pyjama shark in the shallows. Two pairs of human legs stood in the water a few metres from its sandy hollow, oblivious to nature’s secret wonderland so close by.

Thrill Factor 6/10. Encountering wild creatures up close in their environment is always a buzz. Plus, there are sharks (albeit chilled-out ones).

Verdict The Shark Warrior mantra is ‘reconnect with nature’. We definitely did, in spades. We were lucky to have calm weather, so it was a relaxed experience.

Penguins typically hunt in groups of two dozen

Cost Two-hour Penguin Paddle from R600 per person. Snorkel Safari from R850 per person.

The Details
Shark Warrior promotes responsible eco-tourism and offers choose-your-own-adventure combos of snorkelling, kayaking, SUPing and diving. Each outing starts with a safety briefing, and all gear is provided. No kayaking experience is necessary; for the snorkelling you should be a confident swimmer. Bring your own drinking water.

Book 082-843-5776, sharkwarrior.com

Text: Louise Topping

Images: supplied

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