Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 10: A Whale of a Time in Plett

Woke up this morning, once again, to a perfect day!

I have to learn how to make croissants like the woman at the Southern Cross Guest House!  They were fantastic! The fruit cocktail here is pretty incredible, too.  You know how in Canada, fruit cocktail is the cheapest version of fruit punch?  Here, it is an excellent mix of crushed fruit.  Jean, our host this morning, reminded me of my aunt...partly because she was wonderfully kind and a little absent-minded (with all due respect, Kathy!)

Here is the view from our breakfast patio:

Anyway, after breakfast we wandered around Plett - a beautiful, fun little town with lots of interesting shops (I think I may have purchased more here than in all of Africa up to now...ok, with the exception of this computer...).  After that, we made our way down to the beach to go whale watching!

The boat we were on for whale watching is launched in a rather intriguing way.  We climbed on while it was on a trailer on the beach.  Then, a truck pushes the trailer as fast as possible down the beach toward the water, stops suddenly and (hopes?) that that boat slides off the trailer with enough force to shoot into the water.  I'm not kidding. 

It was a smoother launch than I expected!

The smooth launch didn't exactly compensate for the rough ride.  I've been on plenty of boats, but I guess this one was smaller - and the 'winter' seas rougher - than I am used to.  There were some big bumps on the ride out!

Before every whale watching tour, the guide highlights that these are wild animals, and there are no guarantees around sightings.  Our guide had hardly finished this speech when we saw a disturbance in the water up ahead...a thousand or so long-beak dolphins!!!

We also saw four Bryde's whales (look incredible in person, but don't make for great photos...), before heading out to look for Humpback whales.....a search which was unfortunately unsuccessful (whale season doesn't start in earnest until late June...).  Too bad.  At least I have a photo of myself standing beside a humpback whale in Newfoundland! :)

We returned to quieter waters in the bay (my stomach thanked the return) to drive by a colony of four thousand cape seals.

Cape seals are closely related to sea lions and other 'eared' seals, unlike the 'true' seals elsewhere in the world (like in Canada).  Interestingly, only eared seals are able to climb up rocks and walk around on their flippers.  True seals lack the size and strength in their front flippers to do such things.  The seal colony on the Robberg Peninsula in Plett has hit a high of around 6000 seals, but has stabilised at the 3-4 thousand that live there now.  This is a far cry from the 20 000 that lived there until the early twentieth century.  As is so often the case, we humans had a hand in their demise.  The roads to Plett were built using prison labour, and the seal colony was used as a source of meat.  The colony was obliterated, and it wasn't until 1998 that seals returned to the point.  As our guide pointed out, what has happened to the waters in 90-odd years that a bay that used to support 20 000 seals can now only support 4 000?  You guessed it.....humans. :(

On a happier note, we saw a handful of bottle-nosed dolphins on the ride back in to beach the boat.  As you might have guessed, beaching the boat is much the same as launching, but in reverse.  Our skipper drove toward the beach as fast as he could.....once we were grounded, a truck hauled us the rest of the way up the trailer.  Apparently, Plett and New Zealand (?) are the only places in the world that launch and dock commercial vessels that way.

It had been a great day so far, so I decide I would try going for a run along the beach - first run since Comrades.  Those of you who know Shaun may know that Shaun is a pretty fast runner.  Normally, I'm faster than she.  Today was not one of those days.  At least the distance started to get to her first, though we were running in soft sand, which can take some getting used to!  We made it through 30 minutes...not very fast....and I was happy to stop.  Interesting sights along the way:

- A dead seal on the beach.  It smelled horrid!
- Surfers.  One of them actually caught a wave while we were watching.  I wouldn't have the patience to wait for a wave like they do (let alone the guts to ride a twenty foot wave carrying my mind....)

No run along the beach is complete without some playing in the waves afterward, and when the Indian Ocean beckons, who can resist?  The tide was coming in....a fact I didn't really recognize until Shaun moved our shoes out of the way of the waves (we had put them down on dry land), and the incoming waves were cresting above my head (I was standing in thigh-deep water).  Made for some fun, as I pictured dolphins riding the waves toward me.  Then it came true.  Dolphins were swimming a stone's throw from the shore!!

We chased the dolphins down the beach (so much for finishing my run at 30 minutes!) and then bumped into a local man running the opposite direction.  He looked at us in our bathing suits, wet from the water, and he lent credit to our Canadian heritage.  He said: "Where are you from?  Antarctica?  Do you swim in the ice?" I suddenly didn't feel o bad about putting on a coat for the game ride yesterday morning.  Even when I proceeded to run for my clothes and a warm shower as soon as a cold rain started....

Dinner was a testament to how good Plett's dining can be.  I had a portobello appetizer, a dinner of excellent grilled calamari, octopus, prawns, mussels, and tuna steak, with wine of South Africa's national grape (the pinotage) and dessert.  Combined with Shaun's appetizer and dinner, the whole thing cost less than $60 Canadian. :)

1 comment:

  1. Dolphins, seals and whales - Oh My!

    That second photo is gorgeous!