Durban has long been a favourite holiday destination for South African’s. With a tropical climate, warm Indian Ocean waters and extensive beaches, it is the holy grail of local sun-worshippers during Christmas and Easter holidays.
Durban falls just outside a stretch of coastline in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, known as the Dolphin Coast, a result of the frequent sightings of Bottlenose Dolphins that occur along this part of the coast. On my recent travels I’d had my first sighting of dolphins in Umhlanga, a town 15 minutes north of Durban, whilst I was out early one morning taking photographs of the sunrise. Shortly after 6am, my photography friend Basil pointed out a small number of dolphins that were frolicking in the early morning waves, jumping out of the water and surfing the waves. It was amazing to see these creatures enjoying themselves and having fun within 100m of the shoreline and this brief encounter left me with a need to get closer to these amazing animals.
There are plenty of tour operators in the Durban area who will take you out on “dolphin watching” trips and we chose a local guide for a one-hour dolphin watching experience. Although it was a grey, dull day, the ocean was as still as you could hope for, a beautiful glassy surface and, as our guide assured us, “perfect dolphin spotting conditions”. Having donned our buoyant and bright orange life-jackets, we boarded our rubber-ducky boat with Musa, our guide. We were thrilled to find out that it was also the start of whale season and that, with any luck, we’d be able to see some whales.
It took us approximately 10 minutes to find a large pod of dolphins, approximately 100 dolphins strong, swimming and diving within 500m of the shoreline. After spotting the dolphins, Musa expertly guided our boat towards them and cut the engine, allowing us to drift silently amongst the pod. Within seconds, we were surrounded on all sides by these intelligent creatures, all swimming in unison and breaching the waters around us. Musa assured us that the dolphins are used to the boats and their engine noises and indeed, with the engines off, the dolphins seemed quite at home around the boat.
We floated amongst the dolphins for a number of minutes, watching a number of them slap the surface with their tales after breaching, which Musa suggested could be a mating routine. Swimming with dolphins is not permitted on this part of the coastline, which makes perfect sense from a nature conservation perspective, but I must admit to being a little disappointed that I couldn’t join in the dolphin fun in the water!
Unfortunately, despite heading out a fair distance over some lively swells, we were unable to find any whales or turtles, but were joined by a number of impressive birds, including a SubAntarctic Skua and an Albatross. Of course, whales and turtles would have been a bonus, but the real stars of the show are the dolphins. Intelligent and mysterious at the same time, make sure you book yourself a dolphin encounter next time you visit Durban.