It was late, and the kids wouldn’t settle in bed. They were over-tired after spending the day playing in the water at Lincoln National Park. My husband, Jarrad, picked up the phone as it sounded a message. He read out,
“You are booked in to swim with the sea lions tomorrow morning. Meet at the boat at 8am.”
I choked on my cup of tea and spluttered, “EIGHT! We have to be up and dressed and ready AND somewhere by EIGHT?”
We made it just on the dot of eight. There was only one other passenger on the boat as we pulled out of Port Lincoln, heading for the wilderness reserve of Hopkins Island that was 90 minutes away.
We were warned that we would have to stay on the boat or in the water, not on the island itself. There were three reasons … firstly it’s a wilderness reserve so it’s forbidden, secondly the sea lions are playful in the water but aggressive on land, but thirdly and most importantly due to it’s isolation a sub-species of tiger snakes have evolved there that is bigger and more aggressive than normal ones. That one had me convinced that I’d be happy to stay in the water.
“The water’s a lot calmer today,” I said to the lady working on the boat, who’d also been on the swim with the tuna tour. Jarrad was chatting to the skipper at the helm of the boat when a wave caught the front of the boat. My cup of tea splashed everywhere … Jarrad’s head hit the roof, then he was horizontal on the floor. The kids laughed uncontrollably at seeing their father on the floor. A glare silenced them.
Jarrad complained, “I really need to go to the toilet, but I won’t be able to stand up, and I don’t want to sit down because that’s what girls do.” I was glad I skipped breakfast because whatever was in my stomach now was about to come up.
We saw Hopkins Island and the sea lions in front of us just as I thought my stomach couldn’t have lasted much longer. First we noticed a dark shape swimming next to the boat. Then it jumped up out of the water, then quickly disappeared back under the water and out of sight. Another swam alongside the first.
We noticed the sea lions sitting on the beach. There were quite a lot of them, sitting in groups and sunbaking. “They often come down in to the water to play with the people if they notice us,” the skipper told us.
We were grateful for the wetsuits as we slipped into the cold water. As the stronger swimmer, Jarrad swam with Edmund till I could comfortably stand and took him. Lucy stayed with Edmund and I sometimes to feel the comfort of being able to stand, and other times our little six year old went back to her dad.
I played with Edmund in the water, and he was delighted every time another wave hit him. The sea lions on the beach saw us in the shallows of the water and came passed us to play with the others in the deeper water. Edmund thought it was fantastic as the sea lions neared him.
I’m not sure who was more excited though … Edmund with his toddler-ish joy at just seeing the animals so close to him … or Peter, Susan and Lucy swimming and playing with the beautiful, graceful animals.
The sea lions flipped and looped under water, watching each person and swimming around them. They really did live up to their reputation of being the puppy dogs of the sea.
“We were all swimming around in the water searching out for the sea lions. I had quite a few come and circle around, but they seemed to go after a little bit. Probably because I couldn’t copy them and flip and summersault in the water, and because I had to have my head above a lot of the time. Dad had his head down almost all the time, and he had many more around him.”
Peter, aged 10
Peter played in the water with all the energy and enthusiasm of a ten-year-old boy. Momentarily puffed, he swam back to the boat to sit on the platform for a rest. He felt a tug on his flippers as he dangled his feet in the water. Looking down, he saw a sea lion nibbling and tugging on it.
On the way back, the kids were all warming up drinking the hot chocolate that had been provided, nine-year-old Susan reflected, “I don’t know why sea lions are called sea lions. They don’t look much like lions, and they aren’t fierce as a lion, either.”
Even better was that the boat followed close to the coats of Lincoln National Park on the way back so we go to see some amazing coast from the water.
As we were walking from the boat to the car, Lucy exclaimed, “Look! A sea lion followed us back!”
Sure enough, there was one lone sea lion swimming around the anchored boats. Maybe the sea lions enjoyed enjoyed the morning as much as the kids.
Thank you to Red Balloon for supporting us.