If you’ve spent time at the V&A Waterfront you will have undoubtedly seen our local Cape Fur Seals as they sun themselves on the decks and tyres of our working harbour. Perhaps you’ve even spotted them in the ocean, a lazy flipper waving as if to say hello (we learned that they actually poke their flippers out of the water to absorb heat from the sun but don’t let this small fact stop you from waving back).
What you probably haven’t experienced is one of these sleek and slippery sea dogs blowing bubbles into your face or darting towards you before veering away at the last moment. But this is exactly the up close and personal encounter that lies in store for those brave enough to take the plunge and go Seal Snorkeling!
Based at Hout Bay- a historic working harbour famous for their fishing industry (and very tasty seafood), the lively team at Cape Town Bucket List welcomed us to gather under their tarpaulin shelter- stationed right on the water’s edge.
After jumping and squeezing into our very thick wetsuits, hoods and booties (all in excellent condition), the crew gathered us round for a safety briefing – covering everything from the boat to the dive and, of course, the seals themselves. If you’re worried about sharks, don’t be. Duiker Island, where we headed, is far too shallow for the predators, who prefer the far- off Seal Island instead. And while the Cape Fur Seal can reach a hefty 300kgs in weight, our destination is home to the much smaller females and pups who aren’t aggressive or nearly as large.
While the weather was overcast, the air was still and the water glassy and calm. As we sped out towards our rocky target on an exhilarating speed boat, we took in the views of the surrounding mountains and Chapmans Peak and even passed a colossal sunfish as it dove towards the ocean bed.
Duiker Island, so named for the families of Cormorant birds (Duikers) who nest there, is just 10-minutes away from the shore, so any fears of endless, open water are assuaged. The ocean was also pleasingly shallow, the deepest parts of our venture no more than a 5-metre drop to the visible floor.
With the anchor dropped and the two safety buoys hitched into place, our crew fitted our masks, gloves and flippers before inviting us in to play – the hundreds of seals already leaping in and out of the water.
Breath held I took the plunge, and the icy sea filled my suit, a shock (but mercifully short-lived one) to the system. While it takes a couple of strokes to warm up, the delighted squeals of those already surrounded by the seals will encourage you to venture out.
With the safety crew in the water with us, I felt totally at ease and plunged my face down into the watery world below.
Where seals are lolloping and a little ungraceful on land, in the ocean they are magical to behold. Frisky pups (complete with big puppy dog eyes) bobbed head down and bottom up in the waves, while the more curious inquisitors swam right up to me, nibbling on my fins before blowing a jet stream of bubbles into my mask and zooming off again. After witnessing their agile antics, both with one other and us (as they seemed as eager to study us as we were them), it’s easy to understand why they’re called the ‘puppies of the sea’. Indeed, their enthusiasm for fun was matched only by own (though I failed to keep up with their energy levels – try as I did to maintain a modicum of their speed).
After what felt like a few fleeting minutes (we spent just under an hour in the water), our crew called us back to the boat where they hoisted us onboard – away from our furry friends in their hypnotic, swaying kelp forests.
With the excitement waning the cold set in, but our attentive team knew just what to do and tipped a measure of hot water into our suits (bliss!) before pouring us each a cup of steaming hot chocolate. Warmed from both the outside and in, we sped back to dry land – smiles fixed onto our shining faces as we animatedly shared our encounters with one another.
Once back on the shore, the team handed us fuzzy ponchos to change into, making it easy to slip out of our sodden wetsuits. Dry once more, we left in search of a famous ‘Fish and Chips’ lunch – newly appreciative of the mysteries that lie beneath the shores of our alluring Atlantic.
Book Your Seal Snorkeling Experience with Cape Town Bucket List
- When? Snorkeling trips take place from Monday to Sunday at 10:00 and 12:30.
- Cost? R650 per person, including all the gear and hot chocolate.
- What to bring? Your adventurous spirit, a swimsuit, a towel and a warm change of clothes.
- Visit the Cape Town Bucket List website to make your booking. Alternatively call + 27 82 497 8797.
Blog post by: Tarah Darge