Go scuba div­ing…

Getaway (South Africa) - - Travel -

It was win­ter in the Cape and we were yearn­ing for warm wa­ter, sun­shine and ad­ven­ture – the three in­gre­di­ents of our hap­pi­est fam­ily holidays. So we flew to Dur­ban, hired a ve­hi­cle and drove up to South Africa’s trop­i­cal north­east­ern cor­ner. Ini­tially our plan was to take in the game re­serves and beaches but in the back of my mind I had a dif­fer­ent idea – the signs to Sodwana re­minded me that we were near the div­ing cen­tre of South Africa, and it would be a great op­por­tu­nity to get Liam (12) and Dane (10) qual­i­fied and to have an un­for­get­table ad­ven­ture. Sodwana Bay is within Isi­man­gal­iso Wet­land Park – South Africa’s first World Her­itage Site that in­cludes a rich patch- work of lakes, grass­lands, coastal forests and marine re­serves that ex­tend all the way from Kosi Bay on the border of Mozam­bique to St Lu­cia and the East­ern Shores. This area in­cludes the coun­try’s most southerly and best pro­tected coral reefs, and most new divers in SA blow their first bub­bles at Two Mile Reef – pro­gress­ing to the more pris­tine Five Mile, Seven, Eight and Nine Mile reefs. The largest and most es­tab­lished div­ing school in Sodwana Bay is Coral Divers, which is a PADI five-star In­struc­tor De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre and Gold Palm re­sort. It’s in­side the coastal re­serve and is just two kilo­me­tres from the beach. From the mo­ment we ar­rived and I saw the sign ‘We didn’t know we were mak­ing mem­o­ries – we just knew we were hav­ing fun’, I knew we had come to the right place for our fa­ther-and-son ex­pe­ri­ence. Coral Divers is set deep in a forest pop­u­lated with chat­ter­ing vervet mon­keys and shy red duiker. It has a su­per-chilled is­land vibe, with peo­ple milling around, cook­ing, study­ing fish charts, sip­ping beers and lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. The sa­fari dome tents, part of our pack­age deal, are cheek-to-cheek with the com­mu­nal show­ers, but we up­graded to a cabin with a bal­cony and an en-suite shower. We could also have set up our own tent in the KZN Parks camp­site, which is a short walk away. There are rows of in­di­vid­ual fridges, pots, pans and plates to feed a small army, as well as a restau­rant of­fer­ing burg­ers and chips, milk­shakes and other meals for the bevy of hun­gry divers. Be­ing a dop en tjop kind of guy, I loved the com­mu­nal braai fires, and rubbed shoul­ders and sto­ries with a kind­hearted dive in­struc­tor called Jan (he’d shown hun­dreds of un­der­priv­i­leged kids the beauty of the reefs), an eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor from Bloem­fontein and other young fam­i­lies bound by their love of be­ing un­der­wa­ter. At dive plan­ning on the first evening, we handed the lives of our young boys into the care of a fresh-faced in­struc­tor

named Johnny Forbes. He was just 19 and our boys liked him im­me­di­ately. ‘You will never for­get where you took your first breath un­der wa­ter,’ he told the group. The other six stu­dents in­cluded moth­ers and daugh­ters, fa­thers and sons. It was heart-warm­ing to see how they would all help one an­other in the chal­leng­ing days that fol­lowed and the bonds that would be forged. The suc­cess of this course for our boys was the re­la­tion­ship they de­vel­oped with the fun-lov­ing, young in­struc­tors, who joked and teased but al­ways stressed the se­ri­ous­ness of safety and dis­ci­pline. Johnny in­sisted that ev­ery time the boys didn’t clean their O-rings, they had to buy him a milk­shake. PADI has a very or­gan­ised and in­ter­est­ing cur­ricu­lum which in­cludes videos, lec­tures, pool ses­sions and open­wa­ter dives. The learn­ing is re­in­forced with mul­ti­ple-choice ques­tions and stu­dents need 75 per cent and above to pass. There is a lot to cover and classes some­times run un­til late. ‘All the im­por­tant stuff that I learnt, ex­cept signs, was in the pool,’ re­flected Liam as he emerged late one af­ter­noon from the wa­ter. ‘The lec­tures were nec­es­sary but not as im­por­tant as the con­fined wa­ter dives. We learnt how to gear up, how to buddy breathe, about buoy­ancy, be­ing aero­dy­namic, what to do in life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions. Also very im­por­tant things like stay­ing away from the pro­pel­ler, even if it’s ob­vi­ous.’ I have my div­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions and fig­ured that the best way to help the dive masters teach the boys was to stay right out of it and pro­vide moral sup­port where needed. On the third day, they set off to Two Mile Reef for their first open-wa­ter dive, and I waited anx­iously on the shore to hear how they had got­ten on. An hour later they were back with smiles as wide and bright as the beach. ‘It felt like a life­time ex­pe­ri­ence,’ said Dane. ‘I was a bit wor­ried about be­ing sick but it was fine. It’s amaz­ing how tame fish are when you are un­der­wa­ter. They brushed against us. They re­ally did not care about us.’ ‘It felt dif­fer­ent and amaz­ing,’ said Liam. ‘I’ve al­ways loved fish­ing but see­ing them un­der­wa­ter do­ing their own thing is bet­ter than see­ing them on the rocks.’ We cel­e­brated with Johnny and the rest of the group at the nearby Mseni Lodge with prego rolls and choco­late brown­ies. It is a spot in Sodwana with a view of the sea, and a short walk leads to a pri­vate and se­cure beach which was one of the most spec­tac­u­lar I have seen any­where. Al­though I have done hun­dreds of dives my­self, I was cel­e­brat­ing the re­silience that the boys had shown and their new-found pas­sion for the un­der­wa­ter world that I love. I watched them grow in con­fi­dence with this new skill and was so proud to be able to go on my first dive with them and share their excitement. Now I am plan­ning trips to the Mal­dives, the wrecks of the Red Sea and other ex­cit­ing places. And be­ing a new ‘div­ing fam­ily’, we hope to be back at Coral Divers too, and Sodwana tjop-tjop. Af­ter all, as Johnny said, you re­ally never for­get where you took your first breath un­der­wa­ter.

‘I’ve al­ways loved fish­ing, but see­ing them un­der­wa­ter do­ing their own thing is bet­ter than see­ing them on the rocks’

Coral Divers’ cab­ins and fa­cil­i­ties are tucked into the forest at Sodwana Bay Na­ture Re­serve.

ABOVE Sodwana’s Jes­sop Point shel­ters the bay for easy ac­cess to the reefs by boat. RIGHT Stu­dent divers at a pool ses­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.