Hout Bay : Chapmans Peak Drive and the Cape Sea Lions
To reach the charming little harbor of Hout Bay, you will certainly take one of the most beautiful roads in South Africa (even in the world according to the advertisings) : Chapmans Peak Drive, affectionately called Chappie by South Africans. The drive is 9km long, and it is one of the only paying roads in South Africa (45 rand for a car). It is absolutely worth a look especially when the sky is blue and the wind is calm otherwise you may find it closed.
The big attraction of the city of Hout Bay are the Cape fur seals. They are absolutely everywhere : in the harbor, on the wharves, on the pontoons and of course around Seal Island.
They are used to being fed and no longer fear men, which in the case of a 350kg male can be a bit of a problem sometimes because they are still wild animals.
Animal Ocean, swimming with sea lions
In that matters, it is better to privilege a professional companie that take you to meet these animals in their natural environment where they are not dependent on humans as are the waters of Seal Island. The best way to meet sea lions is to dive – literally – into their element and the company you have to contact for this activity is Animal Ocean. Its owner Steve Benjamin is a renowned naturalist and biologist, consulted by many animal documentary productions such as those of the BBC. All the guides who work for him have a background in marine biology and are passionate about the ocean and its inhabitants. Upon arrival, you can relax with a coffee or a chocolate in the beautiful « sea spirit » lounge or on the terrace while waiting for the guides to call your name.
Then, you will be given a diving suit that you will put on on dry land and a complete set for the snorkeling (fins, mask and snorkel). You will then listen to the safety instructions. A mini bus will take you to the harbor where your zodiac awaits you. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to reach Seal Island and the bay is relatively protected (anyway, they never go out when weather conditions do not allow). Once at Seal Island, you will go along the rocks with the boat to see the seals resting and observe them for the first time.
When the skipper finds the right place, he stops the zodiac and you can equip yourself to meet them underwater. Two guides are with you in the water and the skipper stays close to the group. Security is perfectly assured. You will probably be gripped by the water temperature (which oscillates between 8 and 13 ° celcius) but there is only a small portion of your face that will be exposed and the sensation of cold disappears very quickly when you see your first seals !
In the water, sea lions are like puppies, extremely curious and playful. They do not hesitate to approach you very close to your mask and to fork at the last moment. They are facetious but absolutely not aggressive. Males can try to impress you underwater by blowing big bubbles but that will not go any further.
If the fur seals are not very agile on land, underwater, it’s a whole different show. They spin and twirl like ballerinas (or break-dancers, it depends on the style of each one). Water is their element and we seem very lewd at their side.
Never force contact as they may swim away. Go slowly to them, incite the game, provoke their curiosity!
At their contact, we renew with childhood and become curious and playful, fascinated by these wild creatures who let themselves approach so easily.
I can only recommend this activity. It will please young and old ones alike. Children can accompany their parents in the water from 10 years old if they are comfortable and they can come in the zodiac from 6 years old. Do not miss this unique opportunity to meet these fascinating animals in the best conditions! You can rent an underwater camera or a video camera from Animal Ocean to immortalize this meeting. When you get back to shore, a nice hot shower and a chocolate or a coffee await you. You can then have a bite on the harbor. We chose The Lookout Deck which has a great view of the harbor and very fresh seafood. The service is really nice. In another restaurant Dunes you can have your feet in the sand and they serve a huge buffet breakfast in the morning !