Whilst working at &Beyond Phinda I realised that I was only an hour’s drive away from one of the top ten dive sites in the world. I decided that as it is one of the activities offered at the &Beyond Phinda Lodges it would be foolish not to take up the opportunity of learning how to scuba dive. I would then also be able to host guests while diving – a totally win win situation!
However, although this seemed like a great idea in theory, to be totally honest setting out on this project was daunting. I am claustrophobic and have always battled with anything constricting and anything that hinders my breathing. The idea of strapping a piece of plastic onto my face to stop me breathing and to then force me to breath from an extremely heavy tank of highly compressed air while at the bottom of the ocean where I can’t just say “I want to stop now” and take off all these items, was more than a little scary.
The instructor at Sodwana Bay Lodge was amazing. Her calm and confident manner soothed and calmed me as she taught the beauty of diving. The cool water as you perform a backward roll off the boat greets you like a long lost friend. The descent to the depths of the ocean floor is like going to a new planet. With each metre descended more of the beauty of the ocean depths is revealed. The awe and wonder of being in this silent world under the surface of the water that is bright, colourful, varied and captivating is difficult to explain.
We descended onto a sand patch to check that all of us ‘newbies’ were okay. We gave the universal ‘all is ok sign’. As we all gained our bearings our nerves dissipated. Only then did we realise that you might be in a tight fitting wet suit with a heavy tank on your back and a mask on your face which feels uncomfortable and cumbersome out of water, but all of that becomes light as air under water. You are totally free to move at will and explore the watery depths.
The colours of the coral, the various fish and other sea creatures we saw is awe-inspiring. There is something different and interesting to see everywhere one looks. We lost count of all the fascinating species of fish, the nudibranchs (sea slugs) with their bright colours, the crayfish and sea anemones to the white tipped reef sharks quietly resting under a crevasse. We had blue spotted rays, turtles and eels swimming around us. There was also a rather amusing potato bass. He followed our group around the whole reef, he was massive and had obviously taken a liking to us.
After this first dive we became hooked. Every chance we got we would return to Sodwana to dive again and again. It was so close to &Beyond Phinda and to explore the watery depths was a relaxing way to spend any time off that we had.
On one occasion we were exploring Big Boy reef. The dive master signaled to look up. There, a few metres above us, were five massive ragged tooth sharks. We were understandably rather nervous at having some of the deadliest sharks in the world swimming by at such close quarters. However, we realised they were totally relaxed and not interested in us at all. As they swam by and we were able to inspect them a bit closer, we saw that they had algae on their teeth. When we surfaced and climbed onto the boat we were told that it was breeding season and the sharks were pregnant females. The algae was a result of the fact that they don’t feed when they are pregnant. So those eerie green smiles were not at all dangerous but a sign of expectant mothers happily waiting to greet their off-spring.
On my birthday, a group of us went on a dive to celebrate. The dive was, as usual, amazing and oh so special but as we climbed into the boat the skipper told us to grab masks and fins and get back in the water. As we followed his instructions a pod of about twenty dolphins with tiny babies swam past us. We did our best to follow after them but were soon left behind, regretfully returning to the boat but so thrilled to see the dolphins. Not even five minutes had passed when the skipper yet again said grab fins and masks and we all jumped in the water.
Low and behold! About five metres below us was a whale shark. The sun was shining down through the clear water and the shark’s skin shone light purple with blue spots. The grace and beauty of this massive creature swimming below us was mind blowing. It makes one realise just how vast the oceans are to have so many amazing creature living in it.
I could not have asked for a better birthday experience…