On the 30th of December 2012 I agreed to accompany the Smith family (from the UK and RSA), as their guide, on a seriously adventurous trip to Bhanga Nek, which is a beautiful spit of land dividing the Kosi (second) Lake from the warm Indian Ocean, to see the turtles sneak up the beach in the dead of night to lay their precious eggs.
We decided to depart from Hluhluwe River Lodge at noon with the idea of spending some time on the beach, swimming and soaking up some of the suns late afternoon rays, before our tour began at 8 that evening. What was not put into consideration was the fact that it was the first time that I had ever driven to Bhanga Nek and we did not put time aside for wrong turns, detours and the hundreds of seriously tricky roads that are not sign posted in this remote area.
After spending the morning packing all the equipment and supplies we needed for our adventure we headed off for our estimated 3 hour trip to paradise. The first leg of the trip was a piece of cake as I was familiar with the route and more importantly it was tarred and had sign posts. The second stretch was all off-road and a little trickier than I expected. Firstly I overshot the turnoff by about 25 minutes, as I was miss-informed about the text on the tiny little green sign pointing us in the direction of Bhanga Nek which read Camp 4 and not Camp 5 as I was originally instructed. Secondly, once I eventually found the turnoff, I was not expecting the confusion that followed. The hairy, deep-sand tracks were tough, but no problem at all, what really confused me was the fact that there were thousands of different tracks forking off in every different direction at any given moment. Thanks to my excellent sense of direction and the trusted north-easterly wind that is prevalent at this time of year, I managed to direct the nose into the wind (the general direction we needed to go) and eventually arrived at our final destination, after about 5 long hours of getting bounced around in the vehicle.
I sent the family down to the beach to cool off and relax while I prepared our scrumptious dinner consisting of rump steak, boereworse, potato salad, some rabbit food and fresh Spar rolls. After devouring all the food and gulping down some refreshments we were ready for the next leg of our trip, and the reason why we embarked on this spectacular journey to the center of paradise, to watch the gentle giants struggle up the beach in a desperate attempt to ensure the survival of their remarkable species.
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We met up with our guide at 7 30pm, listened to a quick rundown of the rules and regulations, signed some paper work and were on our way by 8pm for a tour of a lifetime. The one and only thing that was running through my mind at the time was how long was it going to take to find our first turtle and when will this tour end? I was so worried about trying to navigate back to civilization in the black of night with no landmarks to follow, no other vehicles to guide us and absolutely no cell phone reception. Fortunately I was helped by many navigators’ old friend the moon, which rose over the sea and indicated where north-east lay, therefore leaving me with a massive beacon in the sky that I had to keep behind me to point me in a south-westerly direction.
With my worries aside I focused my attention on our turtle tour which was well underway, in fact, before I realized it we were sitting not too far off from a massive Loggerhead Turtle while she was preparing her nest. We were waiting for her to begin laying her golf ball-sized eggs before approaching as the guide was determined to wait till she had completely committed to the task at hand so that she would not be spooked off and flee for the ocean with a full belly of eggs. Firstly she digs a body pit by scraping the surface sand away with her fins and then she digs an egg chamber in which she deposits her eggs.
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Once she had her nest dug to the required depth we slowly crept nearer to watch her drop her eggs which consist of an average clutch size of about 70 eggs. It was spectacular watching them drop one by one and sometimes even three at a time. Once she was done she slowly begun to scrape sand over the nest and carefully compressing the sand, eliminating almost any sign that she nested there.
This process takes up to two hours and can take as quick as one hour depending on the individual turtle. After all the precious energy she expended during the process of nesting she sluggishly pulled herself through the resistant beach sand back to the safety of the warm Indian Ocean.
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Now came the time to get the Smith family and myself back to the safety of Hluhluwe River Lodge. The trip back was probably even more stressful than the trip there because we had absolutely no visibility of our surroundings and had only the moon to guide us. This was really not as easy as it sounds because as much as I was trying to keep the moon behind us the roads pointed us in the direction it wanted us to go. At one stage the roads even pointed us directly at the moon making it seem as if we were traveling back to Bhanga Nek. We eventually found that tiny green “Camp 4” (not “Camp 5”) sign and I realized that the road were only meandering us through the dunes back to the main road.
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After all the stress of getting to Bhanga Nek and back (at 2 30am) in one piece I was really happy that we embarked on the journey, it was spectacular. I am definitely considering adding this as a highly recommended activity to run from Hluhluwe River Lodge, but next time things will be planned a little more carefully especially time management.
There is just so much to be done at Bhanga Nek and would really love to utilize its offerings more in the near future. Swimming, snorkeling, fishing, sun bathing, visiting Kosi’s Second Lake and the turtle tours are just a fraction of the plentiful activities that Bhanga Nek has to offer. Keep an eye on our ever growing activities list to see the awesome new activities we will hopefully get up and running during the beginning of 2013!