Knysna puts on a deep-sea show worthy of giant applause
HEADING out to do some whale watching by boat is always exciting, but going out through the legendary Knysna Heads is adrenalin-inducing.
The waves are smooth as our media party sets out on the Ocean Odyssey whale-watching boat for a “recce” around the lagoon, before braving the Heads.
Skipper Steff Pepler has been in Knysna for the last 20 years, and has encyclopedic knowledge on just about everything we see – including that Egyptian geese droppings are like those of a dachshund.
Crossing the lagoon, we spot two oystercatchers looking very cosy atop a narrow rock. Oystercatchers pair for life or remain single, and their loved-up relationship is kept strong on a diet of oysters and mussels. We watch them patiently waiting for shells to open so they can dine sushi-style.
The boat glides past cave mouths yawning with ancient stalactites. Pepler says the Khoisan lived in the caves alongside the lagoon many moons ago.
Suddenly we spot Nelson the seal sunning himself just inside a small cove. He looks up languorously, shakes, sits up and elegantly dives into the water. He’s almost smiling for the clicking cameras as he surfaces with a flourish.
With the Heads looming, we pass Featherbed Bay, so named because old timber trading ships would find safe harbour in the bay, with sailors likening their stay to “sleeping on featherbeds” after the wild waves of the Cape seas.
It becomes more choppy and the skipper guides the boat through the swirling waves and rocks, the massive cliffs that make up the Heads towering above us as we hold our collective breath.
It’s believed the cliffs once formed a giant archway.
Another minute and we are through. Pepler revs the engine and we crash through the water at an exhilarating speed.
The whale spotter is sitting at the top of the Heads, combing the ocean with powerful binoculars. Now, there’s a different job – no sitting behind a desk for this guy – and he’s obviously good at his job; within minutes the radio crackles and humpback whales have been sighted ahead.
There’s an audible stir of excitement, although one or two journalists are looking pale and keep their eyes firmly on the horizon.
Dark shapes suddenly appear in the water ahead. The engines cut and we bob a good 50m away. As if on cue, a huge humpback suddenly heaves itself out of the water in a dramatic explosion of spray. Within seconds, the massive tail sinks into the water, offering the iconic whale photo.
A burst of chatter breaks out on board.
We can see five whales close by and the boat trails them. The skipper puts on a recording captured underwater. It’s a deep resonant sound that echoes back thousands of years, and there’s silence on the boat as we watch these creatures at play.
We follow the whales for another 10 minutes, before heading back towards the Heads. We catch a flash of dolphins – the resident pod has come to look at what’s happening.
As we pass back through the Heads, Pepler tells us that visitors to Knysna have become a discerning lot. They’re looking for natural experiences versus the contrived and commercial.
I take a last backward glance at the ocean. A seabird skims the water and a tail appears and is gone.
This is about as natural as you’re ever going to get.
GIANT OF THE DEEP: A humpback whale crashes back into the ocean off Knysna.