Other activities I did besides game drives - Turtle Safari (about $290 USD)
If you want to book Phinda’s Turtle Safari to try to see turtles laying eggs on Sodwana Beach, first get info on what nights this safari can go. It all depends on the tides because the vehicle has to be able to traverse a wide enough beach. So low tide is necessary and the best time for turtles is the highest point of the low tide.
Another thing to consider is South African school holidays, which started around the day I left, Dec 9, 2012. When I was investigating dates, Mountain Lodge was 100% booked Dec 10 and several consecutive days after that due to families vacationing during the school holidays.
A minimum of 2 participants is required for the Turtle Safari, so I was thrilled that another couple had signed up, making our group 3.
Departure time and length of the excursion varies. For my trip it was:
21:10 Departed with Rangers Seth and Toby in a closed van traveling on the highway. Seth and Toby were very enthused about this unique and exciting assignment and really hoping for turtles. It was possible to do some preemptory snoozing to fortify for the long night.
22:40 Arrived at the gated entrance to Sodwana Beach. Made a restroom stop. Switched to an AndBeyond safari vehicle with a covered top.
23:00 We hit the beach, a beautiful sight even before we ever saw a turtle. Ghost crabs all over the place. Seth and Toby were cheering and pumping their fists in the air, obviously thrilled to be there. With absolutely nobody else around, it was very exciting.
23:30 Continuing to drive, we reached the “productive” part of the beach after half an hour. We kept on driving, spotlighting, and looking both in the waves and on the shore.
00:00 At midnight we saw our first turtle—Loggerhead—going back to the water after laying eggs. We were all very excited and got out of the vehicle to watch and take pictures. She returned to the ocean and swam into its depths. Our driving journey continued.
00:30 Two Loggerheads spotted within a few minutes and a few meters of each other, laying eggs. We watched them, not able to believe our luck with this “two-fer.” We drove on, then did a U-turn and returned along the same stretch of beach, looking for turtles that came ashore after we had passed.
Loggerhead digging deep to create a clutch to lay her eggs She is intently laying 100 to 120 eggs The clutch fills up, with eggs dropping single file in batches of 2 or 3 eggs. She pauses between batches
Strands of mucus secreted with the eggs can be seen Caught this egg dropping in midair
01:30 A fourth Loggerhead was observed right after laying her eggs. Oh, what a night! Shortly after observing #4, we had an added adventure when rising tide in a tricky part of the beach started to engulf the tires of the moving vehicle. We were stuck. We hopped out and pitched in, scooping the wet sand away from the tires. I recall thinking that just as the turtles had laboriously dug nests in the sand for their eggs, we were frantically digging out sand to save the vehicle. With Seth gunning the motor and us pushing, it broke free just in time. We carried on toward our starting point.
02:00 The fifth and last Loggerhead was sighted.
03:00 Back at the park gate, we returned to our parked van for the drive home, first making a restroom stop. Snoozing was possible for the guests.
04:30 Back “home” to Phinda.
05:30 Wake up knock and a shower.
06:00 Morning game drive. I sure as heck wouldn’t miss it. That drive produced a gorgeous black rhino, nicely posing.
After the morning game drive I crashed until afternoon tea, just prior to the afternoon game drive.
Weather/temperature for turtle safari: We had a brief heavy rainstorm enroute to Sodwana, then it was dry, warm and pleasant. I took rain pants and wore zipoffs, and on top a long-sleeved shirt, light fleece, and rain coat. On the beach we were barefoot (shoes in vehicle), with zipoffs zipped off or trouser legs rolled up. The rangers wore shorts. Good idea to bring a torch. Even when our clothes had gotten wet from the vehicle rescue, I was never cold or chilled. (And my teeth chatter easily.)
Sometimes Leatherbacks are seen in addition to Loggerheads. We didn’t see any. Five turtle sightings was very lucky. There is no guarantee of seeing any turtles. Sometimes another vehicle carrying at least a dozen turtle watchers from nearby beach lodgings also goes out and must be contended with. The rainy forecast for that night had spared us. The other vehicle remained parked back by the entrance gate.
Seth and Toby made sure the turtles had space and were not in any way harassed. We were called in one by one to observe the egg laying for a minute or so, once it was well underway. I felt good about the respect shown to the turtles.
One of the turtle safariers had grown up in the area and recounted the days of his youth when the beach was filled with vehicles driving up and down it at night. That level of access has been curtailed. In fact I think Phinda is the only outside vehicle allowed to drive on the swath of beach that is still accessible. Other parts of the beach are completely off limits, offering further protection for the turtles.
On our outing we noted 13 tracks made by turtles that had ventured out of the ocean and onto the beach but then immediately turned around without laying any eggs, and re-entered the water. This apparently was very odd behavior because of the numbers of turtles coming ashore and not laying. They had not been disturbed because no one else was on the beach and we were not even present to witness the turnaround. We speculated that the nearly full moon that was obscured by clouds might have confused the turtles. Who knows?
The tracks made by the turtle are evident
The turtle safari was a thrilling night out!
Edited by Atravelynn, 03 February 2013 - 07:33 PM.