On safari

Tofo Beach is famous for its spectacular diving, and the huge marine animals you see there, so I was keen to get in the water – though this urge was conflicted with the keen desire to not be eaten by a shark.

My first taste of ocean life was a swim on my second weekend in Tofo, on a sunny Saturday morning. The sun was beating down, the sand felt lovely and warm between my toes and the bay was full of happy swimmers, surfers and snorkelers. “Perfect”, I thought. “This looks like paradise.” I was with my new bud Caty, another MMF volunteer, and she is very brave and has an amazing lust for life that I’m trying to emulate. So off we trotted into the water.

The first thought I had was, “Jesus, this is bloody cold”, swiftly followed by, “Oh fucking hell, is that a jellyfish??” The jellyfish in Tofo Bay are NUMEROUS. In the morning you can see lots of them washed up on the beach, which is sad, but also I hate them. So we kept an eye out for them as we paddled into the ocean, occasionally shrieking a warning at each other, though more often than not the “jelly” turned out to be a sand cloud. The water was actually pretty warm, so it was awesome to just float along on my back. It can get a bit choppy, so I inhaled plenty of water before deciding I’d done enough swimming and beached myself.

That afternoon, we were booked onto an ‘ocean safari’ with Peri Peri Divers. This is considered to be the best way to see whale sharks, as they are often out at deep water, surface feeding on plankton. So Caty and I excitedly rocked up and got fins, masks and snorkels, and headed off to the boat, waiting for us and about 8 others on the beach. Launching the boat was fun – we all pushed and pushed until it got into the water, then the women were invited to climb in (I did my best Pony Club vault), followed by the men, after they had pushed us a bit further into the water. We zoomed out into the bay, hanging on for dear life as the boat was hitting some big waves, which sent us nearly vertical at some points! It was a lot of fun, and I felt so lucky to be heading out into the Indian Ocean on a speedboat, on the hunt for a whale shark to swim with.

We had 2 people from Peri Peri with us, who were keeping their eyes peeled for the elusive whale sharks, and they soon spotted one. We were all primed and ready to go, and as soon as the skipper said GO, we all slid into the water. Of course, 10 humans falling off a boat makes a bit of a splash, so the whale shark dived down and we lost sight. I was more concerned with looking like a delicious morsel to any passing sharks (excluding whale sharks, which feed on plankton) than anything else, not to mention feeling slightly queasy from the swell of the waves. We clambered back into the boat and idled until there was another sighting.

During this time I began to feel very seasick, with the up/down/up/down movement, and it was a relief when we were told to jump back into the water. This happened a few more times, and then finally, incredibly, I was swimming alongside a whale shark. It was on the small side, we guessed around 6 metres long(!) and it was beautiful and majestic and graceful and all the other adjectives you can possibly associate with an animal the size of a bus, gliding effortlessly through the water.

It was decided to head back to shore, which was a relief to me as I had started puking over the side of the boat. No one noticed, they were too busy being excited about the whale shark, which suited me just fine. As soon as the boat picked up speed I felt much better – it was just the swaying and bumping about that made me feel awful.

The ocean safari was an amazing experience, slightly marred by the seasickness, but beyond amazing to have been swimming alongside the biggest fish in the sea. Definitely a bucket list moment.

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