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Published: September 24th 2013
So there I was, the only one in a cage attached to the back of a boat by the Neptune Islands, and my air cable gets twisted as I turn around and my regulator decides to pop out of my mouth. I didn't panic, just calmly located it and bit on it again, telling myself that the boat was right above me and I could pop my head out easily if I needed to. I breathed deep, turned, and nearly shit my wetsuit. As I had been turned, one of the great white sharks I had been looking at from afar had decided to come in for a closer look and I could just see their mouth heading towards me. They turned at the last minute, pectoral fin hitting the side of the cage, and rather than fear I felt a rush of excitement at being able to get so close to these incredible animals...
When I last left you I was mid-way through Africa. I have decided that finishing those blogs will have to wait a while, as I felt it better to let people know where I am now - mainly as it saves me a lot of
the same emails 😉 I will return to Africa after my Australian road trip is over.
After finishing work, I headed to Auckland for a few days to get a holiday visa sorted out. I figured it would take a few days to come through, and as I had to do this out of the country I wanted to use the chance to spend some time at the Waitakere National Park. It was a nice few days of relaxing, walking, watching films and not much else. Ironically, the visa actually only took about ten minutes to coe through - God bless technology! Perhaps I should have taken a day trip to Bali instead...
On my return from Auckland, I picked up the station wagon that was to be my closest and bestest friend for the next month and a little bit. It came packed with a tent, stove esky/cool box... everything I could possibly need to drive from Melbourne all the way through to Perth and up the West Coast. Except for food, companionship, a jack to plug my iPod into and a Knight Rider like voice that would tell me when I had selected turbo boost.
I had a relatively quick drive to Adelaide. Unfortunately I didn't have time to drive all the way to Port Lincoln for the dive, but flew from Adelaide across and spent the afternoon in a pub waiting for our 8pm departure. I even had a cheeky beer (four) while waiting. For those that don't know, Rodney Fox was bitten by a great white shark back in 1963. I pulled this from Wikipedia: "In the attack Rodney's abdomen was fully exposed and all ribs broken on his left hand side. His diaphragm was punctured, lung ripped open, scapula was pierced, spleen uncovered, the main artery from his heart was exposed and he was minutes away from his veins collapsing due to the loss of large amounts of blood. Tendons, fingers and thumb in his right hand were all cut and to this day he still has part of a great white tooth embedded in his wrist. His wounds required more than 450 stitches after the attack." Sounds pretty harsh to me. He has since gone on though to become an expert in the sharks and setup a company to take people like me out to see them in their natural habitat,
though his son Andrew now runs the trips and is present on nearly everyone.
Our ship was the Princess II (I didn't ask if the Princess I had been subject to a Jaws style destruction), and I had six other passengers plus the crew on board. The weather wasn't looking too great for our three day/four night trip, so on the first day we went looking for any sharks in order to get some cage time as quickly as possible. We weren't disappointed... even as we dropped anchor we had a shark circling us. The first glimpse of it, a large, black shape under the surface of the sea, got everyone more than a little excited. This was it - we were going to be a few feet away from one of the major apex predators of the sea.
Despite their reputation, Great White's are not normally aggressive towards humans and have been blamed for some attacks that were probably due to other species. The actual stats on shark attacks are extremely low too, so I was actually pretty comfortable getting into the cage to view them. Plus, the very fact we were in a cage kind of
helps, though I wouldn't like to put the strength of it to the test if the shark got pissed off. Once in the water, we all watched with a little bit of awe as the shark circled around near the boat and the cage. It's quite something to see how graceful they actually are, gliding past quite effortlessly in the water, and the girth of them is really what shows off how big they can get, but it's the little things they do that make you realise what an incredible predator they are. For example, their turn of speed, when they decide to show it, is quite impressive. This is due to them being able to keep their blood at a warmer temperature than their surroundings. Their teeth really are a bit monstrous when they show them, and their eyes are black as the night, but these would only be scary if you were on their dinner list, which humans aren't, and in the cage they showed no aggression towards us. The most interesting thing they do though is the stuff you don't see. In the space of seconds, they will appear out of nowhere, extremely close to you. Being
in the water, there is a limit to visibility even though it is pretty good, and there is of course no noise that you can make out from them, but it is almost like they are waiting for you to turn away, just to dart in and suddenly remind you that you're in their home, not the other way around...
Sadly the weather did not do us proud on the trip. I was able to get in the cage three times on the first day, and the others made some dives in the other cage that goes down toward the ocean floor, but unfortunately I hadn't had time to get my dive certification to be a part of that. The second day saw the wind picking up and the boat was moved so that we could snorkel with some of the seal colony that is the main reason the Great White's come to the Neptune Islands. Yes, that's right, someone thought it would be a good idea to let us snorkel with the primary food source of the sharks. Apparently they do it all the time 😊 It was fun, and the seals are very inquisitive, swimming close by
us and performing underwater dives and rolls.
The weather then really turned, and, after an afternoon spotting a couple of sharks from the deck, we made the call to return to the dock before a storm hit. We made up for this fact by playing dice though, and drinking beer, so it wasn't all bad. The third day was spent in port, being taken on a lovely morning tour by some guy who thought the rubbish tip was a good sight to see in the town (seriously), then a wine tasting tour in the afternoon - I opted for another couple of beers. As we were due back on the ship that night, we returned and played another game of dice. This time the alcohol really seemed to flow... It was a great night, including lots of laughs, staying up late, and a horse's head and an apron with a three foot inflatable penis. Yes, I did just say that. It's probably best if you just look at the pictures... And mum, perhaps it's best if you skip the last couple...
The trip had been fantastic. Paid for yes, but a privilege to see the sharks nonetheless. The
food was outstanding, the company of the other passengers and crew priceless, and the weather was a bitch. C'est la vie. I returned to Adelaide and the station wagon a very happy man. Onward!
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