We tried a new experience two days ago.
We were leading a 10-day customized tour, including snorkeling in northern New South Wales, but the snorkeling was unexpectedly canceled by the operator, and when looking for alternatives we found Cape Byron Kayaks, which advertise kayaking with the local dolphins. Our guests decided they would like to try this, so we booked, and headed down to Byron that morning.
The high waves rolling in to the shore made me wonder what on earth we were doing taking a kayak into surf like that, and I wasn’t especially comforted when the first pair of paddlers were dumped in the water on their first attempt through the waves. They made it on the second go, the next couple got through, and so did our American guests, who had also felt a bit nervous.
Darren (with underwater video camera strapped to his waist) and I paddled out towards our first wave, struggling to keep the boat absolutely at right angles to it. As it hit I was sure we would be swamped, but instead the kayak shot towards the sky, then splashed down onto the far side of the breaker. “I can’t believe we just did that” I said to Darren. The next few were much easier, and soon we were in gently rolling water 100 metres or so out to sea.
After maybe 20 minutes of paddling, our guide saw dolphins in the distance, and took us as close as he could without going into really rough water – and it wasn’t very close. We could make out occasional dark shapes that may possibly have been dolphins. We waited for a while until the guide announced that it didn’t look as though they would be coming in any closer today, and started giving us directions for surfing the waves on the way back to shore. Disappointed, we turned and started heading for the pine trees by the beach, as instructed.
Suddenly someone shouted “whales!”
We turned and looked, and for a while could see nothing but water and sky. Then a fountain shot up – perhaps 25 metres away. Soon two huge black backs – even closer - rolled up from the waves and submerged again. Humpbacks migrating back from the tropics towards Antarctica.
They emerged several more times as they passed us, and one even breached. It felt as though they were only 10 metres from us, but hard to judge while rocking around in the waves and nohing else to compare it by.
Whatever the distance, they were close, and it was exhilerating!
Soon they were south of us, the spouts getting further away as they headed on to their summer residnece, and we headed for shore.
We were almost back, ensuring we were at right angles to each breaker coming behind us and paddling fast before it overtook us, but on the final wave the wind defeated our attempts to keep straight. One moment upright, the next a realization the boat had been struck at an angle, then nothing in view but water and the thought ‘so this is how it feels to be capsized in a kayak.’
Still, it was worth it to be so close to those magnificent whales.