Sunday, 4 December 2011


What's the one thing you've always dreamed of doing?  The one thing above all else that you would give anything to do or see?
For me it has been swimming with dolphins, particularly common dolphins, my favourite species.  But not just being in the water with them, actually swimming along side them, being part of the pod.  A wild, fanciful dream you may think, and I did too, being not of the dolphin persuasion.

Coming to Australia, a swim with dolphins was high on my bucket list and having already been on a swim with dusky dolphins in New Zealand I was very much looking forward to doing it again.  I had looked into a few companies who do dolphin cruises and sent off my CV in the hope of finding a job as a boat guide in the sun.  I contacted Andrew at Dolphin Swim Australia, the only permitted dolphin swim in NSW and they invited me for a trip on their vessel 'Imagine' to experience what they do.  And what they do is spectacular.

My day started early, leaving the hostel at 5.15am (thanks to the wonderful Pete at Melaleuca for getting out his bed and driving me there!) arriving in Nelson Bay to be fitted with my wetsuit and board Imagine, a fabulous purpose built 15.8m ocean sailing Catamaran.  The staff and crew are a wonderful bunch, very welcoming and friendly.  They also know their stuff and we were fully briefed on what we were about to do and how to do it, as well as everything we needed to know about the species and the beautiful marine park we were in.  We headed out into the open ocean in search of the dolphins.

In search of dolphins

Elise, Andrew's other half, is a marine biologist in her own right and is carrying out research into the migratory patterns and distribution of the common dolphins in NSW waters, so I felt very comfortable that we were not chasing or harassing the dolphins in anyway, and that everything was on the dolphins terms.  What came next reinforced that entirely!

When we located the dolphins they showed that they were interested in us by approaching the boat and swimming around us, enticing us to play.  We carried on our heading and the dolphins stayed with us.  That's when we get in the water! Sitting on the boom net on the bow, we adorned our flippers and snorkels and on Elise's signal we entered the water as gracefully as possible, clipping our harness onto the the grab rope.  Holding onto the rope, the skipper gently powered forward and we were indeed swimming along-side the dolphins!  Initially I was so overcome with what I was doing that I forgot to breathe and relax, and to welcome our new friends!  I soon remembered what I was supposed to be doing and relaxed into the ride, singing some Scottish tunes and getting to know these extremely inquisitive and playful individuals.  Being a small group of us onboard, there were plenty of chances to get back in the water and have another play.  The more I got in the water, the more fun we had and the more the dolphins seemed to enjoy our company.  One dolphin in particular seemed to enjoy my rendition of 'Ae Fond Kiss' and stayed beside me for a full 10 minutes!  They talked and sang back to us too and you can actually feel their echolocation clicks bouncing off you.  Incredible!

Common dolphin echolocation

Just when we thought it couldn't get any better we spotted at least 1 sei whale, a new sighting for me!  Unfortunately we didn't see it underwater,  but what excitement to be in the water with a whale!

Not the sei whale we spotted.  My camera is not that good!

Unfortunately for both humans and dolphins, the adventure had to end and we had to get out the water and head for home.  We were accompanied most of the way by 3 of our friends who rode the bow almost to the Bay.  Quite a goodbye!
Escort home

I have always found whales and dolphins amazing to watch in their natural habitat, but to be accepted into their world, their home, is an immensely humbling and breathtaking experience and one I will never forget.

Dolphin Swim Australia from Andrew Parker on Vimeo.

If you don't believe in your dreams, or chase them, they will never be within your reach.
So if you ever doubt your dreams, think they are just fantasy, stop.  Breathe.  Relax.
Sometimes dreams do come true.  All you have to do is Imagine...