Heading out to Partridge Point from the harbour at Simon’s Town, our group of four held on tight as the small motor boat bounced over the waves. Accompanied by our divemaster and skipper from Apex Shark Expeditions, it took about half an hour to reach our destination, where beautiful cliffside houses overlook the surging ocean as it crashes against the rocks.
There we found seals flopping lazily about, sunning their porky bellies as they floated on their backs, drifting gently with the swell. As soon as I took my first faceful of water, however, I quickly discovered that the sun bunnies on the surface had a very different attitude underneath.
As we delved into the billows of the cold, cobalt-blue sea, a pod of seals flew past. My hands clenched my snorkel buddy as the mass of bodies wove around our legs. The water shone with silver lustres pouring from the shade of the seals’ grey skins. When I saw whiskers and teeth emerging I started to tense, unnerved by the newness of these frantic animals.
Out of nowhere, a bunch of big-bellied torpedoes flew straight past my shoulders. Huge mouths flew at my GoPro and my friend found herself having her head cap softly chewed on by an exuberant seal. We shot to the surface, screaming, and the divemaster promptly followed to check that we were okay. With adrenaline rushing through our limbs, all we could do was laugh and giggle, much to his relief.
Following this vibrant group of giants, pods of pups came somersaulting through the beautiful kelp strands that Cape Town’s cold water attracts. These wavy green towers of kelp are rooted about 12 metres deep and stretch up to the surface, creating an enchanting underwater forest.
We free-dived down, attracting more pups who rushed to see what was going on. Their inquisitive little black eyes eagerly followed the pink fluorescent stripes on our fins, and every time I moved I could feel small nudges as the pups bumped their noses against my legs. They even started to test the thickness of my wetsuit, chewing the neoprene with their tiny teeth.
Inevitably, before we knew it, time had run out and we were heaving ourselves back onto the boat, exhausted from the swim.
Other seal snorkelling spots around South Africa include Duiker Island in Hout Bay (where I hear there is a slim-to-none chance of encountering a great white shark) and Plettenberg Bay (which promises crystal-clear visibility in the warmer turquoise water). Regardless, the chance to swim alongside seals does not come about in every place you travel so, if you are fortunate to be in one of them, you really should make the most of it and go.
For details on snorkelling or scuba diving with seals, visit the Apex Shark Expeditions website.