Whale Sharks, Dolphins, and Rhinos… oh my!

Wild rhinoceros

Wild rhinoceros

This past week has been an incredible finish to our African odyssey. We swam with a whale shark, and wild dolphins off the coast of Mozambique and we came face to face with rhinos on a game walk in the Kingdom of Swaziland. We saw beautiful scenery including Blyde Canyon and all of the big five during safaris through Kruger. On the not so good list I was terrifyingly close to being bitten by a spitting cobra, our truck broke down, and I was stung by a jelly fish.

We are travelling in a small group with five others plus a guide and driver. On the drive out of Johannesburg and past Pretoria we were surprised to see road signs warning of hi-jacking hotspots. I assume they have a purpose other than to frighten tourists, probably to warn people not to stop for any reason. Little did we know that the following day we would be on the side of the road due to our truck breaking down. Fortunately it happened in a less dangerous area. We drove along the panoramic route stopping at vistas of the third largest canyon in the world. On our second night we stayed in a private concession near Kruger. It only had a few animals within its boundaries, but and at one point we had the fortune of being surrounded by giraffes. The ranger was providing interesting facts and we were impressed until he decided to shock us by putting giraffe feces in his mouth and spitting it out. We left and started to drive to Kruger, but the truck was having serious problems and we could hear the engine was only getting intermittent amounts of fuel. The tour manager was able to organize a much smaller open-top truck and we only lost an hour or two in the process. The guide took on driving duties and the driver stayed behind waiting for help to get our vehicle fixed.

Road signs in South Africa

Road signs in South Africa

Our drives through Kruger had sparse viewing. There was a heat wave and the animals were in hiding, but somehow in the few days we were there we managed to see all of the big five. Some of the sightings were brief, such as when the leopard ran down the tree and off into the bush before anyone could take a photo. On our first evening in Kruger five of us went for a bush braie (barbeque) dinner in the middle of the park. It was an impressive affair with lanterns surrounding the area and six staff that included a guard, bartender, servers and cooks to serve five people. The meal was excellent and we liked the experience although we felt a bit overwhelmed with the royal treatment.

We left Kruger and South Africa to enter the Kingdom of Swaziland. We watched a cultural performance at a local village before going to the king’s former hunting grounds. While there we went for an afternoon game walk during which I came dangerously close to being bitten by a spitting cobra. The ranger was leading us through trees and long grass and I was just behind him. He had safely passed, I did not. The venomous cobra slithered with incredible speed and poised to strike me. I must have been a little too close to its den. If I had been inches closer I would have been in trouble, but I was able to retreat out of range. The ranger seemed genuinely scared and took a very wide berth to get away from it. As we continued on we saw an enormous monitor lizard in a tree and a herd of elephants, but the ranger identified it as a breeding herd and kept us very far away. Just one week ago elephants in the same area had toppled over a game truck injuring a number of German tourists. The elephants are very protective around their young. The absolute highlight was when we came face-to-face with an eight month old white rhino and its enormous mother. We stood in awe as we watched them forage from a distance of as little as 3 meters away. We were on foot with nowhere to escape to should one decide to charge us. It was an incredible moment and a new trip highlight.

We left Swaziland and made our way to Mozambique. At the border we left the truck behind and crammed into a 4×4 to drive through deep sand to a small town on the coast where we would stay for 3 days. It was a chance to relax and have a beach break. We woke up early after the first night to take a boat out to see wild dolphins. Sightings are not guaranteed and the tour leader said previous tourists had no luck in finding them. We pushed off from the shore and made our way across the waves and within five minutes they found a whale shark. These are the largest fish in the sea and can grow as long as 21 meters, nearly 70 feet! The crew was excited and said to hop in the water quickly as it was a very rare chance to swim with one. They are gentle giants and they only eat plankton. I was off the boat before they had finished telling us to get in. I was one of the only people to get in and for a large part of the time I was swimming with it by myself. Leanne also went in but for a much briefer time. What a beautiful massive creature. It is huge, wide, and is spotted on top. I worked hard to keep pace with it and swam above it and beside it for a good twenty minutes, getting as close as a meter to it at times. It was an incredible, exhilarating lifetime experience.

The coast of Mozambique

The coast of Mozambique

After getting back into the boat I was on a high and didn’t even care if we had the chance to see dolphins. Within minutes of moving away Leanne spotted a fin in the distance. The three crew members did not believe her and Leanne was adamant that she knew what she saw. We waited a few minutes and they became visible again to everyone. The company owner, the person captaining the boat was very impressed and thankful about Leanne’s amazing spotting. It was a pod of about 35 bottle-nose dolphins. I spent a lot of the next hour in the water with them, getting out and back in only a couple times. Swimming with inquisitive and playful wild dolphins was remarkable. They look you in the eye and once you catch it they love to play a game of going in circles with you. I was swimming with two of them and one took special interest in me and came right up to me and started swimming around me. I was spinning to maintain our gaze, creating bubbles with my efforts and after a couple loops it came right against me to go through the bubbles before swimming off. I swam with about ten different dolphins and the experience completely surpassed my expectations. The only downside of the morning was getting stung on the arm by a jelly fish, but I hardly cared given the rewards of being in the water. Once I felt it I started looking around my surroundings and saw some blue bottle jellyfish around. However, since the pain wasn’t too bad I think I must have been a small typical jelly fish. Back in the boat Leanne again had an incredible spot and saw a spinner dolphin in the distance that was jumping out of the water, spinning and repeating it over again. These ones are far to fast to swim with and it is just fortunate to be able to see them. Leanne was a hero that morning and her spotting saved us a lot of searching giving us lots of time to spend in the water with the dolphins.

It was an incredible morning that I will never forget. I am still in disbelief of my encounter with the whale shark. I never ever thought I was going to have this experience off the coast of Mozambique. I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this morning.

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