I have had not one but two encounters with these beautiful creatures and both times it happened while cycling. I am sure some readers come from places where they are common but for me they are an extraordinary treat, a fascination from nature programmes on TV since childhood.
On Monday I took a Melbourne bike share bicycle out from the city to revisit the area I lived nearly 30 years ago when I was working in the city. I was returning along the beachfront cycle paths in Middle Park when I spotted the few people on the beach were staring out to sea and taking photos. I couldn’t pick up what it was while riding but I assumed an interesting boat or some divers so I stopped against the beach wall.
I was absolutely delighted when I realised that there was a small family of dolphins, two adults and a youngster, circling around about 200 metres off shore. The water was millpond smooth on the almost windless afternoon so every ripple was visible. Sadly they never jumped right out of the water but I spent nearly 15 to 20 minutes watching and trying to coincide my photos with the places they surfaced. I was told there were dolphins in the bay when I lived here before but despite coming to this beach to run or swim for much of that year I never saw them. They cannot be that common off these beaches because their appearance was reported in a local paper the next day so I felt even more privileged.
My mind was also taken back nearly nine years to my previous dolphin encounter which remains one of life’s cycle touring highlights. My son Ben and I had a special cycle tour down the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island in December 2005 when he was 14 years old. On the longest day’s ride from Fox Glacier to the Haast Pass the road passed right along a beach and we decided this was the place for our lunch stop. Obligatory stone throwing and larking about ensued before we tackled the sandwiches sitting on the low sea wall. (Bruce Bay I think)
However the notorious West Coast sandflies soon discovered their own free lunch and despite the prodigious amounts of deterrent spray we were about to give up when we had our magic moment. A little group of black and white dusky dolphins started surfing in the waves. They clearly seemed to be playing as they returned time after time in ones and twos to race in just under the wave crests. Then as quickly as they had come they disappeared with just a departing fin and a splash on the surface.
On both these occasions I really feel I would not have stopped if I had been in a car or on a tour bus and I would not have recognised the dolphins at driving speed.
Slow travel with the ability to stop and start almost anywhere is part of what makes cycling so special and I treasure my wildlife encounters almost as much as my human ones. I also perhaps wish I carried a bigger, higher quality camera when I am photographing animals because they are even more difficult than cyclists for reasonable images.
But the quality of the photos cannot take away the memories and dolphin encounters remain rare and precious moments in my cycling life.