Sunday the 4th the four of us leave Streaky for Baird Bay, some 50 km to the south.
Asphalt gives way to gravel. Bobbys need rescuing. The surf pounds beaches but a few hundred meters away, behind dunes. Salt lakes dot the area, still with water.
Jimmy Baird’s last stand reminds us it was not always such a benevolent place. A year after he brought the first sheep to the area he was killed by Aborigines and his remains buried in one of the salt lakes. I’ve come across numerous memorials to fallen pioneers, a number of which were killed by ‘natives’. Aside of one out of Esperance in WA I’ve not come across any memorial to the countless more Aborigines who were killed by ‘pioneers’ or ‘explorers’.
Having been separated from the group due to my photo-addiction I catch up with them at Calca, now abandoned.
The point of being in Baird Bay is coz Baird Eco-Resort offer tours where people can swim with sea-lions. We are booked for tomorrow’s tour.
In the meantime I check out the low tide life in the shallow waters of the nearby beach.
Monday, 5th Oct.
Remember the blog about the Edge of Great Australian Bight Wild Camp, where I said there are not enough superlatives to describe the view and resorted to ‘breathtaking’? Remember?
Well, there I am in about two or less metres of water with the nose of large adult sealion male pushing against my mask and literally pushing me back in the water. At 200-odd kilogrammes he had no problem in doing this. The large male and I play for quite a while. Stretching out my hand I tickle him under his chin and he takes my entire hand in his mouth giving it a gentle squeeze, much like a playful dog. Seems pretty clear to me and Jay, Ocean Eco Experience’s in-water supervisor, that he’s happy to let me know who’s the boss. I’m very happy to agree.
What about the adult female who whizzes around me in tight circles with sublime elegance whilst I try vainly to replicate her grace. I started to get dizzy so started the spin the other way which she effortlessly followed. She and I leap out of the water plunge under to leap back out in a synchronized ballet. We played for hours.
How about the two teenage pups who had a thing for the 2 kg lead weight a small buoy was attached to. Floating on the surface I literally fished the pups up from the bottom until they bumped into me and I could push them away as part of the game, giving them a nice stroke along their pelts in the process. They would take the weight or the rope immediately adjacent to the weight in their mouth or clasp it between their flippers. We played for what seemed hours and hours.
I look up and find myself alone with them except for Jay, Everyone else has retreated to the boat to warm up before round two.
It is quite something to watch a sealion do some underwater acrobatics then bullet out of the water before diving back in, all but a meter away.
What superlatives should I use, can I use?
The pups and several females also come and go boink on my mask, sometimes pushing against me sometimes just floating there nose to mask and face. Their whiskers tickling my face. Unlike their land-based distant cousins, dogs, sealion whiskers are quite firm which means I get an impromptu aquatic acupuncture session on my face.
I thought I was good at English. Now I’m not so sure. I don’t know how to describe it effectively.
But I am inordinately glad that I did not have an underwater camera. The thought of even a momentary loss of time from that level of mono-e-mono interaction with a large group of wild sealions to try to take some representation of the experience in 1 m swells fuelled by a 30 knot northerly on a woefully inadequate waterproof instamatic seemed not only futile but almost debilitating. I’m really happy other people tried coz I got some of their photos. Memory triggers for an experience that is truly memorable.
It did not end there though.
Alan, Boss Man of Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience calls us into the boat and we head over to the other side of the bay which is not quite as protected as the island where the sea lions hang around. Swells increase to between 2 and 3 meters and a huge line of awesome breakers pound the reef which prevents the big sharks from coming into the protective area where both the sealions are. And a residential dolphin pod. Yup, we are aiming for a swim with dolphins.
This is where things get a little tricky. That 30 knot wind (that’s about 60 kilometres per hour) wanted to push the boat to the line of breakers and the rocks which underlie them.
Give Alan his due, he dropped us in well away from them and Jay telling us to keep close. This is where Australia’s population’s water skills really shine. There are a variety of people on the boat. Four young kids with rotund parents. A couple who live in Alice Springs. Four cyclists (that’s us). And a couple more. Despite the howling gale, two to three meter swell, and Rocks of Impending Death but a few hundred meters, and closing, we all fearlessly pile in the water. Sensational.
Visibility is reduced to less than ten meters and possibly only five to six meters.
Not quite sure what to expect I am floating around, the swell wooshing over me, peering into the gloom.
Out of nowhere four or five dolphins are suddenly … there, right there. Within touching distance. With strict instructions not to touch “They don’t like it” Jay told me, I didn’t try to. But I did dive under the water, somewhat challenging given the 5 mm wetsuit and no weightbelt. And the dolphins played along.
At one point I was in surround-sound dolphin style with at least five of them within a good arms reach all around me. Incredible.
Scarred and battle-wounded, one with his dorsal fin and chunk of out his hide courtesy of shark-attack several years ago, but with inquisitive eyes and endless playful twists.
Perhaps not as tactile as the sealions but I am once again at a loss for words. Something to experience, simple as that.
They are big, dolphins, when but a meter from you. And cute, even though actually they are not really cute. Dolphins are an apex-predator. The multitude of scars on their bodies’ testament to intra-pod battles for dominance and supremacy. Basically, don’t fuck with a dolphin. For me, now, in the water, heedless of that swell and them Rocks of Impending Doom, they are amazing. Awesome. See … completely inadequate superlatives, but I am loving it.
They are playing with me. A small one whizzes around and around me. A large one and I dive and rise and dive and rise until I have to stop and collect my breath.
Unfortunately Alan has other concerns. The swell is pushing us closer and closer to them Rocks of Impending Death and he’s getting a tad nervous. We must board. Once safe on the boat he explains that with the gale there’s simply no room for error and he is seriously worried of something going wrong due to the wind and the swell. Will’s eye reflect Alan’s concerns. He looks a tad terrified. And I wonder if I’m missing something. Whilst I may be a good swimmer and comfortable in the water and despite years working on various boats in various parts of the world’s oceans and seas I’m not much of a sea-ocean-reader. I just rely on Alan, in this case, and all the other Skippers in all the other cases. They have to be THE sea-ocean-reader. Not me. I’m either a sailor, a deck-hand, a fisherman, the Divemaster, the technician or the Petroleum Geologist if I can also include the 3 years I spent on oil rigs. Perhaps Will has seriously good reason to look a little terrified and I am oblivious to it. Maybe I’m not easily given to fear, though I am cognisant of danger. Fear is a mind-thing, whilst danger is real. Regardless, the tension in the boat eases as we make our way back to the safety and security of Baird Bay.
The dolphins follow us, playing and riding the swell as we make our way back to Baird Bay village.
Still not sure what words to us, but if you ever have the chance … go for it. You will not regret it.
Rob guestimates the gale to be a good 40 knots still once we’d, eaten some pies, drank a coffee or two and chilled a bit in Eco Experience’s impressive rammed-earth building. The ‘what-to-do’ now on everyone’s mind. The plan last night was to ride towards Venus Bay. A gale-force northerly would be breathtaking to have as a tailwind literally blowing us south towards Venus Bay. Unfortunately there’s a good 12 to 14 km of gale-force headwind before another 10 or so kilometres of cross-headwind before we’d finally turn right on the Mighty B100, Flinders Highway and actually head south. After four hours of swimming and playing with sealions and dolphins we’re a tad tired. To face a gale force headwind and a decent ascent is proving somewhat problematical. In the end we return to the community campsite on the edge of town and see what the ‘morrow brings.
Strong southerlies are expected. I regale the group to get up at 0530 and be on the road at sunrise before the winds pick-up. Interestingly there’s a consensus that this is not a bad idea. Just goes to show how much winds influence a cyclists habits.
The wind dies and the night remains warm. The sunset spectacular. Will and Rob take photos.
Why put up a tent if there’s no need. We are alone in the camp and have the gazebo to ourselves. It would be possible for four adults to sleep in the gazebo, although it would be a tight fit. I decide to sleep under the stars. It would expose me to any dew but the view of Milky Way more than compensates for a bit of dew. Besides, the fine weather will continue enabling swift drying once we’ve made camp, planned for Venus Bay.
Indeed a savage wind rips through the camp very early in the morning. I am awoken to the sound of a metal object striking the concrete floor of the gazebo, some 30 metres. I hear mutterings and murmurings. Funnily enough the wind does not disturb me at all. I await the evil dust Rob reassured me would torment my sleep, should the wind pick up. But I hardly feel a thing. I can see the tops of the bushes near me being whipped around. I am in a wind shadow and the gusts affect me only slightly.
The next morning I go to the gazebo to have breakfast with the others and find everything has been moved against one of the gazebo’s walls. Will estimates the gust must have hit 50 kilometres per hour and basically wiped everything off whatever surface it had been on. They’d spent an hour cleaning up. I had slept on. Will and Jenny also mentioned that I had not had to endure an hour of dive-bombing beetles and moths which took place once the light in the gazebo had been switched off. Perhaps, Will mused, I had been wise to sleep under the stars after all. Although my sleeping bag was indeed wet from a mild dew. Rob’s bike had been blown over and by all accounts the night had been fretful.
A night to remember on a day of memories.
Baird Bay 4th Oct, 2015