MOONY HEADS OFF-ROAD. OFF-LAND, IN FACT.

4 x 4 Australia - - Footloose -

THEY say tim­ing is ev­ery­thing, and when you go to watch wildlife there is never a truer phrase spo­ken. Ear­lier this year we were wan­der­ing the west coast of South Aus­tralia, savour­ing the idyl­lic camp­ing, the great beaches, and the spec­tac­u­lar cliffs and head­lands. It’s an area we’ve been lucky enough to have ex­plored since we were young blokes, search­ing for a wave or a rocky reef to spearfish.

This lat­est trip saw us head to Port Lin­coln for a planned shark cage-dive with Ca­lypso Star Char­ters (www. sharkcage­div­ing.com.au) – no pre­vi­ous div­ing or snor­kel­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was re­quired. The weather was clear and calm as we headed out of the ma­rina on the Ca­lypso Star, with the sun ris­ing as we cruised past Cape Don­ing­ton then turned south, pass­ing the his­toric Mem­ory Cove. We then slipped by This­tle Is­land into the more open wa­ters of the Southern Ocean for the fi­nal leg to the Nep­tune Is­lands.

The Nep­tunes are a known great white haunt; the sharks are at­tracted to these re­mote rocks be­cause of a large New Zealand fur seal colony and a smaller Aus­tralian sea lion colony that sees around 5000 pups born each year.

These is­lands and the sur­round­ing wa­ters are pro­tected in the Nep­tune Is­lands Group Ma­rine Park, and it’s the only place in Aus­tralia where you can cage-dive to ex­pe­ri­ence a close and safe en­counter with a great white.

The suc­cess of the ven­ture is en­tirely up to the wildlife it­self, and some­times they don’t make an ap­pear­ance. Such was the case when we went out. I was in the first group to en­ter the cage and, while the wa­ter was pretty clear and there were a heap of fish swarm­ing around, no shark made an ap­pear­ance. That be­came the norm for the day. A good-sized mako shark came and thrilled the group, as well as a smaller bronze whaler, but that was all. No great white!

We were unlucky, be­ing in the mid­dle of a fort­night-long lull in sight­ings. Rather sur­pris­ingly, Ca­lypso Star lets peo­ple know when pro­longed in­ter­vals go with­out a great white en­counter and they give you the op­por­tu­nity to post­pone your dive. If you do go out and don’t see a white pointer, then you get a good dis­count on an­other trip – that’s just about as good a deal as you’ll get any­where when it comes to the va­garies of wildlife watch­ing.

While the great whites are around the Nep­tune Is­lands all year ’round, there are peak times for see­ing these sharks. The best months are around seal pup­ping time, late in the year (Oc­to­ber to Jan­uary), so if you want to see a great white in its nat­u­ral habi­tat then book your trip for these months quickly. Hav­ing a look at the com­pre­hen­sive records Ca­lypso Star keeps, over those months they see white poin­t­ers on nearly ev­ery out­ing with a suc­cess rate of well over 90 per cent.

We'll be go­ing back when the chances of see­ing one of these preda­tors is al­most guar­an­teed. Maybe we’ll see you in Port Lin­coln over the next few months.

RON MOON

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