03 March 2011 by Kate Turkington

A unique experience that will change your life

It’s March, nearly midnight - full moon at Rocktail Bay - as 6 of us plus our turtle expert, drive along a deserted KwaZulu-Natal beach by the iridescent surf in an open Landie.

Suddenly we see huge tractor marks on the sand coming from the edge of the sea and leading up the beach.  But these marks are not manmade, they are the tracks of an enormous leatherback turtle which has made her way up past the high tide mark to make her nest and lay her eggs.

Sea turtles are some of nature’s gentlest creatures and have survived unchanged for over 100 million years. You may see them ‘wave-hopping’, lifting their great, ancient heads above the waves to find the exact location of their own birth among the low dunes decades ago.

We watch in awe as she slowly and deliberately digs a deep hole in the sand.  Nothing - no photographs, no National Geographic Channel Specials - prepares you for the size of these creatures.  Four of us could have sat comfortably on her back.  Our guide measures her - she is about 2m long, and weighs about 450 kg. 

Each mighty back flipper (a blow from one of these could snap your leg like a twig) scoops out great mounds of sand.  The hole becomes deeper and deeper, and finally she is delicately scooping out only teaspoons of sand.  At last the nest is ready.  She pauses, panting, ‘tears’ streaming from her eyes, then the perfectly round gleaming white eggs (bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball) start pulsing out - first one, then 2 or 3 together, then half a dozen at a time, until she has laid between 100 and 120 eggs. 

It has taken her over 20 years to make this solitary journey across many seas.  This is the only time she will know land - feel solid earth beneath her massive body.

Be prepared for a wondrous, emotional and truly spiritual experience.  Afterwards like the turtle, you will be drained, exhausted.  You will have survived glory and pain and reached a deeper understanding of yourself and the miracle of life.

Maybe you will also see the emergence of the hatchlings - the size of a bathplug - from eggs laid much earlier in the season. Only one in a thousand will survive to adulthood.  Another miracle.




Category: Adventure

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