Kelbe Photography

Life In A Blink Of An Eye

First Dive Goes Wrong

The first dive in any sequence is usually a loosener. Today was a particularly disastrous affair. New BC's with integrated weights, colder water and new or thicker wet suits. We have not dived for 2 months due to work pressures. The weights were inadequate for both of us. I had my video camera and not the stills camera, so I was 2-3 kilograms under weighted. I powered to the bottom and got there first. I saw Christine way above me, oblivious that she was 4-5 kilograms too light. She eventually got enough power in the legs to get down but lost the group. I then lost her and came to the surface. Greg, with many years of boating experience , found her bubbles. I swam over and went down again to find myself at the bottom by myself again as she had ascended to get more weights. I went up and we shared the extra 4 kilograms but I still had to power down and then I developed severe ear squeeze. this dive was not going well. We steadied ourselves and started desperately to look for subjects to shoot only to find my video record button was not working. Christine's play back button did not work. We blindly managed 5 stills of a gas flame nudibranch and ascended with Christine on 20 bar. Luckily she is a diver who uses little air but it was not her day and we had to share air to finish the safety stop. I had done 3 bounce dives to 25 meters.

As soon as we got back to the beach we sorted out the gear. I have found the fault with both camera's and hopefully we will have great day tomorrow as we called it a day with a pumping south westerly. Still the water was clean and the conditions should be good tomorrow.

Sodwana In Winter


The sun filters through the leaves dappling the ground with golden light. The warm sand stretches down the beach in a perfect curve as far as the eye can see and the waves peak and break off the rocks reflecting silver spray. The beach is a scene of activity as the tractors ready the boats for launch. We are back in the place which holds a special part of our hearts. Anyone who has ever set foot there will recognise the description instantly. Sodwana Bay on the northern Zululand coast must be one of the best hidden gems of our coast line. It infects you with a sense of peace and tranquillity as if all is right with the world and at the same time holds such a sense of anticipation for what is to come. This is because it is one of our diving Meccas and it never disappoints. We are here for a week, a sort of annual pilgrimage for our birthdays but also this time to celebrate the end of an era and the beginning or the next, retirement and the great adventure. The water is cold and a bit murky at this time of year, cold currents coming up the coast with the whales but although this may be uncomfortable in the water it holds out the possibility of the big filter feeders, mantas and whale sharks passing by. Even if you are shivering and caught in a big swell with nothing to see but dancing plankton, the thrill as the manta comes out of the gloom makes it all worth while. They were seen on 4 Buoy last week as well as Bikini reef and Bruce, a new friend we met on the beach yesterday, went up in the microlight this morning and spotted a whale shark off 5 mile. It makes us smile even if we did not see it! The numbers are achingly down even on our casual knowledge and everyone knows the Chinese are on the prowl off the coast of neighbouring Mozambique. These gentle giants do not stand a chance, just like the bemused rhino faced with an AK 47.

Whale Shark

So after 3 days of diving we have not had great photographic success. The disastrous first dive keeps coming back in different forms. If you want to be inspired by "if at first you don't succeed " then follow the Kelbe's! We have more ways to photobomb than anyone I know. The strobe does not fire, the replay jams, the autofocus sticks, it's all par for the course but we soldier on because somewhere out there we still believe the great national geographic photo is hiding. Today we went to Lettuce reef off 5 mile which is one of my favourite reefs. It is a hard coral reef with layers of thin bony coral which resemble layered leaves. It is at 30 m which makes for a good deep dive. Because it is so delicate you need good buoyancy to avoid knocking or damaging the leaves. I believe it is the perfect background for a stunning picture one day but chasing a suitable subject is a lot more challenging. The small fish dart in and out of the leaves of coral and don't hang around. There are some species like the striped tiger angel fish which is not seen anywhere else in sodwana. I am looking for an eel coming out of a rosette of coral like a bouquet. Not today it seems but the whale song could be heard throughout the dive so maybe I am distracted singing along in my head.

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What is great about Sodwana is that if the diving is not giving great returns it is a short hop in the car to Muzi pan or Mkhuze or Tembe for an afternoon of game viewing. Yesterday , after 2 dives he hopped in the car and powered off to Mkhuze to sit in the hide for a few hours. The light was fantastic , orange giving a glow to the vegetation and , as usual, there was a procession of animals coming to drink including a playful slender mongoose. The water level is low which means you shoot down on the game which, while giving great reflections, does skew the perspective a little. We worked out a couple of trips ago that the perfect shot was of a rhino coming over the hill at eye level with the telephoto and this time we had a few opportunities. A bull rhino obviously was hankering after a female with calf and spent the whole afternoon refusing to let her come down to drink. He cantered around running off anyone who tried to approach but at last Dudley got the shot with the 200-400 lens and all his feet off the ground with dust behind. Just like that the afternoon was so worthwhile! As we left the hide for the dash to the gate, yes we were late again, the lions roared.

Ocean safari

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The day is clear with an on shore wind making the sea flat but with a chill in the air and we amble down to the beach at a respectable 830. Everyone looks keen and well rested and we set off with barely suppressed excitement. It must have been a premonition because half way to seven mile we started to pick up big shoals of anchovies. We had seen a few small shoals in the surf line when beaching yesterday but these were much bigger and Dudley piled over to look. There were shark and game fish feeding just like the sardine run. We spent a happy hour snorkeling before moving on to the dive. Seven mile reef never disappoints and it was a bit cleaner with no surge. Water temperature a chilly 20 C though and we did get a bit cold. 

Because of the unscheduled stops we only got back to the beach just before 12 .00 to be told we were booked out again at 13.00! This time Greg was on the boat and decided we should take an ocean safari to hunt the anchovies and the following action. People had seen whale shark , sail fish and even a great white following the balls so we were raring to go. It's a first for Sodwana, perhaps brought in by the cold water. There were many shoals of the silvery little fish which looked like black  undulating oil slicks  on the surface of the ocean, periodically they would erupt onto the surface with silver scales and flapping tails and they could surely move. No sooner were the boys in the water than the whole shoal would be powering past them. They chased for over 2 hours before calling it quits. Dudley got lots of anchovy video, some footage of rays, including the Diamond ray which is a rare sighting in these waters. We saw sharks but always lurking just out of camera range. Still a good time was had by all. We finished the afternoon with a late dive at Mellow Yellow with the Mauritian scorpionfish and a little sea moth. A late cold finish but a fantastic day of memories. It's what keeps bringing us back to Sodwana, never boring.