For Hanli Prinsloo – something of a local freediving celebrity who, over the past two decades, has dived in some of the world’s most exotic locations – these kelp forests are a part of what makes Cape Town the best place in the world to go freediving.
“I often get asked where my favourite place is to dive in the world, and my surprising answer is always Cape Town,” she tells me. “What makes Cape Town so special is the really rich marine life, the variety of species and, more than anything, the absolute beauty of the kelp forest. It’s like stepping into another world, it’s like a fairy garden.”
In a day’s diving off Cape Town, you can see everything from the very large to the very small, from whales and sharks, to seals, octopuses and countless species of fish, to the alien-like nudibranchs and the kaleidoscope of colourful marine invertebrates at the bottom of the kelp forests. There is even a resident population of penguins, for good measure. What’s more, adds Prinsloo, all of these things (except perhaps the whales) can be found within easy swimming distance of the shore.
“You don’t need a boat or a lot of equipment,” she tells me. “There are shore entries to all of our favourite dive sites along the coast, and that is really special.”
In the placid waters off Hout Bay, Daines and I do a few more breathing exercises in a boulder-strewn cove of turquoise water before slowly swimming out towards the colony of lounging seals. Diving down, they whirl and cartwheel in the sea, giddy on the simple joys of life. As they dive, bubbles trail from their thick fur, floating up to the surface like miniature diamonds. One seal comes a little closer than the rest, casting a quizzical gaze my way.
Rising to the surface, Daines’ words about how freediving allows you to cross a line between mere onlooker and active participant really start to sink in. Unencumbered by bulky tanks and rubber cables, you can really feel, for an instant, like just another species beneath the waves. You can experience the ocean, as Prinsloo puts it, “on its own terms”.
In today’s modern world, in which humans are perhaps more detached than we have ever been from our natural environment, the chance to feel that rare and primal connection to Mother Earth is special.
For Daines, whose first ocean freediving experience was in the warm, crystal clear waters of Thailand, and who has since dived in tropical waters all over the world, the kelp forests of Cape Town remain the perfect place to dive. “You just can’t compare,” he says with a smile. “There’s nowhere quite like Cape Town.”
Top freediving spots around Cape Town
This dive spot is located in a protected area near Hout Bay, 30 minutes by car from the city on the western side of the Cape Peninsula. The main attractions are a resident population of Cape fur seals and thick kelp forests.
A 35-minute drive from the city centre, Castle Rock on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula boasts a gorgeous underwater landscape and a huge variety of fish species. Be sure to keep an eye out for abalone and octopuses as well.
At Shark Alley, about 50 minutes away from the city centre by car, near Simon’s Town, you can find massive sevengill sharks. They grow up to 3m in length but aren’t aggressive towards humans.
This beautiful beach close to Simon’s Town offers an easy entry point to the ocean and is home to an array of marine life including African penguins. Windmill Beach is on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula, where the water is warmer.
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOMMY TRENCHARD
Singapore Airlines flies to Cape Town daily. To book a flight, visit singaporeair.com
This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine