Ed’s letter: Every reef is like Christmas

Posted on 19 November 2018

Dawn, Sodwana Bay. A tractor towed our Zodiac through the casuarinas to the beach. I kitted up with a gang of 10 other divers and we were given a briefing by the dive master. Life jackets on, we dragged the inflatable dinghy into the surf. Engines revved and we slithered aboard, jamming toes into the foot straps.

‘Hang on tight, boys!’ shouted our skipper. The boat powered through lines of white water, leaping off the bigger crests, propellers noisily chewing the air. We passed a pair of surfers in the back line and our skipper shouted at them: ‘That’s glorified chumming, boys, bobbing about like that in tiger-shark alley!’ Ha-ha, not funny.

It was a 20-minute journey to Seven Mile Reef, cruising just behind the breakers along a beautiful, forested shore. A light mist played upon an aquamarine sea. My heart pounded with the thrill of the ride. We came to a pair of white beacons on the shore. When lined up, they indicated our reef, which is actually an ancient sand dune from a time of lower sea levels. Masks, belts, tanks and fins in place, our dive master gave the okay sign and we tipped backwards in a series of splashes.

Suddenly silence. Bubbles. A deepening blue. My breathing slows as a new realm takes shape. Down to 15 metres we sink, through herds of zebra fish and into a gorgeous coral garden. The reef is a Christmas tree, festooned with colourful, living trinkets. A fat-fingered starfish resembles the star atop our Christmas tree back home. The staghorn coral below represents the reindeers drawing Santa’s sled. The anemones are coloured baubles; delicate, filigreed coral provides the tinsel. An angel fish, like a mini annunciation, glides by.

Deeper still. We’re surrounded by Moorish idols, choc dips and potato bass; parades of parrot and clown fish cruise by. The colours appear psychedelic. We fin through unperturbed schools, fish faces filling our masks, staring with inquisitive, filmy eyes. A bluespotted rock cod lies doggo against a boulder. One group of minnows gathers beneath a plate of coral like ladies in the shade of a large parasol. We drift through gullies, over pinnacles and across expanses of pristine mushroom coral. This is a kind of heaven.

Alas, a trumpet fish announces that our time (and air) is up and a reluctant pod of divers rises to the surface. Back on board, everyone is elated by the dive, the sightings and clarity of the visibility; everyone, that is, except our seasick boatman who’s spent the last hour vomiting over the side.

A midsummer, beach-filled Christmas is one of the great benefits of living in the southern hemisphere. In this issue, David Rogers revisits Sodwana Bay, providing a wealth of up-to-date information for all water lovers, from the novice snorkeller to experienced diver (page 76). Cape Town is one of the most popular destinations in the world at this time of year and Alison Westwood picks out some unusual, lesser-known hikes on Table Mountain (page 68). Likewise, with many South African families heading to the Drakensberg foothills for the December hols, we’ve included Karl Beath’s guide to the picturesque, creature-filled tarns secreted in these mountains.

And in this time of busyness and Yuletide cheer, let’s not forget the wise words of philosopher-savant Winnie-the-Pooh: ‘Christmas is a togethery sort of holiday.’ To which Piglet replies: ‘That’s my favourite kind. Togethery and Remembery.’

May all your December getaways be just so.

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