As the boat edged its way closer to a small island off the coast of South Australia, pairs of big, brown, puppy dog eyes started to appear on the white as chalk sand. We were being watched.
I gently slid off the boat into the turquoise waters, all thoughts of potentially coming face to face with Jaws wiped from my mind as it was overtaken with excitement. I was told not to approach them, I was on their turf and therefore would have to abide by their terms. If they wanted to come and play then they would make it known.
As soon as my shoulders were under the surface they rose, one by one, from their midday slumber and waddled into the ocean, vanishing from sight. With my mask and snorkel on I dipped my head under the water to look for my new playmates, hoping they hadn’t decided to avoid the strange new human in their midst by swimming around me into the deep, dark depths of the ocean.
And then I felt it, the presence of something large breathing on my neck. I turned, slowly. Nerves and excitement bubbling away in the pit of my stomach. And there they were, those huge, adorable, big brown eyes staring into my own. A sea lion.
I am pretty sure he gave me a cheeky wink and I am positively certain he was smiling.
I understood that smile. He wanted to have some fun, and so did I.
He swam around me, lapping me into a frenzy. Pretty soon his friends joined in and they jumped in and out of the ocean, splashing and gliding through the water like rockets so I would follow them. I was soon racing with the sea lions, playing hide and seek and seeing who could spin around the fastest.
We were having a swimming contest to see who had the better tools. Human arms or sea lion flippers? Of course the sea lions won and they knew it, those little show offs.
As we swam further away from the beach a strong current started to build.
‘Be careful,’ I had been warned by the captain. ‘They’ll try and lure you out as far as they can to see if you can handle it.’
And that’s exactly what that mischievous gang of sea lions tried to do, swimming further out to the open water to see if their new human playmate could keep up with the tempo. I couldn’t of course; I could have drifted uncontrollably to Tasmania any minute, so I headed back to the beach to see if the others had finished napping.
Splashing around on the surface I shouted ‘Hey sea lions, do you want to come and play?’
A little baby popped up his head, hiding over his mother’s body. He watched as the rest of his companions shuffled their way into the water, his eyes telling me that he wanted to come and play too, but mum wouldn’t let him.
Again we frolicked in the ocean, my new sea lion buddies and I, like a bunch of toddlers high on too much sugar. It was without a doubt the most fun I have ever had, evident in the fact that my voice had uncontrollably transformed into a high pitched squeak that resembled a speaking mouse. It was worth the long and arduous fifteen hour round trip to get to this remote part of the world. But, even if I had to drive around the whole coast of Australia to play with my sea lion friends, I would do it in a heartbeat.