Hidden Depths of South Africa’s Rocktail Beach

One of my favorite things about Rocktail – if you don’t include the wonderful people, gorgeous camp, canvas, wood and glass rooms that are just right, looking out over a swathe of green coastal trees to the glinting, white-flecked seas, the excellent food, incredible dives on pristine reefs…. Where was I? Oh yes, if you don’t include those, then one of the aspects that most intrigues me is the hidden depths of South Africa’s Rocktail Beach.

What do I mean, you ask?

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It came to me as we sat on the boat today on what is known as an Ocean Experience (and boy, was it an Ocean Experience – the sea was rough and the waves enormous; roller coasters are nothing to the launching of the boat into space to come down in the trough of the wave with a thump, the slap of salty spray on your face or across your back…). We had just come across two humpback whales – a mother and a ‘baby’ (if you can call a baby of 10 tons or so) and we were standing up (or in my case sitting down abruptly at every wave) to see them as they moseyed around our boat. Every time a flipper or the tail appeared out of the water we oohed and when the enormous glistening black-grey back with its distinctive “hook” or hump on the apex of the curve slid out of the water and then back in, we aahed. We made many delighted noises when they ‘spouted’ – with two blowholes nogal so that the spray went upwards in a brief heart-shaped triangle of water. We never saw their faces though, and Michelle told us that they can weigh 40 tons and were twice as long as the boat – the adults that is. And then it occurred to me that we’d not really seen the animal as a whole. We caught a tantalizing glimpse of a part of her, but her bulk, her enormity, her magnificence was all hidden from us, and short of diving in, she was shielded from our gaze by the blue and white of the waves.

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I then considered other hidden life here. When you walk through the dappled coastal forest, the path curves ahead in a green-brown tunnel. A bird calls, but you’ll never see it; rich red brown flashes by as a suni or duiker slips out into your gaze and then back into the brush. You peer impatiently around large leaves and twisted branches – there are a great many creepers that twist and twine about other branches so that a Sleeping Beauty-like impenetrable mass of growth literally creaks and groans as the wind moves it this way and that. And the duiker is gone.

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The beach allows you only a hint of the full story too. As you walk along, a ghost crab trundles like a mad runaway Hypermarket trolley along the sands, his pop-up eyes bulging at you in terror before swiftly disappearing into the sand. Shells and different seaweed remains, a fossilized piece of wood complete with a rusted anchor nail, flotsam and jetsam – they all tell only part of a tale on the beach, the rest is a story to be told under the waters – and you need to venture there yourself to find out how it begins and ends.

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Which brings me to the final depths – and these are deep and literal indeed. On the seafloor, the bursts of shapes and color that are the reefs explode out of the sands. Under these living structures, lurk and live a myriad creatures, strange and wonderful to our landlubber eyes. Snorkeling at Lala Nek today, we saw a honeycomb moray eel, spotted and speckled with black on gold, his malevolent eyes glaring at us (sorry, anthropomorphism) as he hung back under a rock. Then, when snorkeling from the boat on the Ocean Experience, we saw the long, sharp tail of a stingray lying along the sand protruding from the coral – what the rest of him looked like we’ll never know. Fish large and small flit out and back in, over and under, again a tantalizing glimpse. You can get closer if you like, but it is not your world, you cannot breathe down there and so you must leave the secrets of the seas, and rise to the surface, leaving behind a world that is and will remain just that – mysterious, hidden and thus most wonderful.

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Written and Photography by Ilana Stein

2016-11-16T22:19:27+00:00