Float my boat

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

To­day is my birth­day, which is of no na­tional im­por­tance, but it does make me a fishy Pis­cean and, ergo, a lover of all things wa­tery. I came late to swim­ming, hav­ing never en­coun­tered a pool in my child­hood Eng­land. Then we ar­rived in Can­berra and I was thrown into the deep end of the Manuka Baths by Dad, who said it would bring shame on the fam­ily if I were to start my new pri­mary school and promptly sink with­out trace. Pub­lic pools were known as baths back then, which al­ways made me imag­ine lavender salts and soap, all rosy and rub-a-dub-dub.

This bap­tism brought with it the ac­qui­si­tion of an Aussie cossie and the cer­e­mo­nial dis­patch of my Brighton Beach (Eng­land) model made from wool, which smelled like old socks and was much favoured by sil­ver­fish.

Since then, it has been hard to keep me out of the wa­ter, whether pool, ocean or even river. As a teenager, I would some­times be dis­patched to fam­ily in Bathurst, west of Syd­ney, dur­ing school hol­i­days, in­clud­ing to stay with a won­der­fully ec­cen­tric Methodist min­is­ter un­cle who lived on a sham­bling prop­erty. He taught me how to catch tad­poles and en­cour­aged swing­ing on a rope above a creek the colour of break­fast tea. The wa­ter was shal­low and there were odd things be­low, such as rusty bits of fenc­ing wire, but I sur­vived just fine, pos­si­bly due to said un­cle’s well-placed prayers.

At var­i­ous times I’ve tried stand-up pad­dle-board­ing, wa­ter-ski­ing, cata­ma­ran sail­ing, even trout fish­ing, and all man­ner of things be­neath the sur­face, in­clud­ing snorkelling with stingrays and reef sharks, but no scuba div­ing, which seems deeply alien. I haven’t at­tempted any­thing to do with surf­boards since buy­ing my hus­band a surf­ing les­son, at a beach fa­mous for its waves on the NSW mid-north coast, and then help­ing him take a shower at our mo­tel while he sat on a stool and wailed that he would never be able to stand up straight again.

So that’s that. Then there have been trips on boats in Botswana to search for wildlife, such as out­ings aboard a mokoro in the Oka­vango Delta. These slen­der dugouts, poled by rangers, take you deep into trib­u­taries where croc­o­diles lurk and hip­pos ca­vort about on tiny feet and look as grace­ful as bal­leri­nas, ex­cept they are out to crush you to death given half a chance. And in trop­i­cal reaches, what fun to go on an ex­pe­di­tion to spot mi­grat­ing whales or leap­ing dol­phins or to sit aboard a glass-bot­tomed boat and peer at ri­otously coloured trop­i­cal fish and coral.

Last week in The Mal­dives, at the glam­orous LUX South Ari Atoll re­sort, en­coun­ters with whale sharks were on the itin­er­ary. We guests were all ready to hop off the boat in our snorkelling gear for su­per­vised swims with this species, the world’s largest fish, but the whale sharks ob­vi­ously had bet­ter things to do and were nowhere to be found. Some­times, though, we need to be re­minded that wildlife is not there to ful­fil our ex­pec­ta­tions and be ticked off our spot­ter’s check­list. It’s as much about the an­tic­i­pa­tion and the thrill of the chase and, as ever, Mother Na­ture is at the helm.

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