In the protected waters off Table Mountain National Park you can snorkel with that most sociable sea creature: the seal. Dutch student Sanne Welman crossed it off her bucket list.

Are you looking for a completely different activity in the Cape Town area and do you like adventure? Then I would definitely recommend snorkelling with seals. It is such a special experience.

The Cape fur seal is a playful creature that lives along the Atlantic coast of South Africa. About 8,000 seals call Duiker Island near Hout Bay home. On a one-hour boat trip, nature lovers have the chance to get into the water and get close to seals.

Getting ready to snorkel with seals

It was early in the morning when I arrived in Hout Bay for this once-in-a-lifetime trip. Swimming with seals had long been on my bucket list and I couldn’t wait, but I wasn’t sure what to imagine. Wouldn’t the seals swim away from me?

As I tried to get my body into the wet suit, the instructor talked about what we could expect. He said that the Cape fur seal is the largest seal in the category – and definitely the most charming creature on the Atlantic coast.

Next the instructor gave me an underwater camera that I could use to capture these photogenic animals. The advice he gave me was to look at seals: they would sense my interest and the experience would be even better. I was perhaps just as curious as the seals. How would they respond?

Ready for the adventure. Photo by Sanne Welman

The underwater experience

You spend an hour in the water interacting with the animals and you don’t have to be an experienced snorkeller to take part. The nature is beautiful and I was really surprised at the number of seals that live on Duiker Island. Seals were everywhere I looked.

And to come back to what the instructor said. It is absolutely true that the seals notice when you look at them. They are very playful animals that find the underwater camera particularly interesting. They think it is a toy and want to take it in their mouth. I thought that was the most entertaining thing about the whole trip. All in all, it was very special to see what the underwater world of South Africa has to offer.

A once-in-a-lifetime experience with seals. Photo by Sanne Welman

Marine Protected Area

Duiker Island is located within the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Table Mountain National Park, a 956km2 stretch of ocean rich in diversity. The MPA runs from Mouille Point down along the Cape Peninsula, around Cape Point and up to Muizenberg.

The MPA status means that the commercial and recreational use of the ocean must be sustainable. During the boat trip and while I was in the water, it was clear that this bit of ocean is looked after. It is a beautiful piece of nature where the ocean is not polluted with plastic or other materials that can harm the marine life.

The Marine Protected Area of Table Mountain National Park extends from Mouille Point around the Cape Peninsula to Muizenberg. Photo by Bridgena Barnard

Good to know

The trip is weather dependent. It really depends on the sea condition. There are a number of operators that offer seal trips – look online for specifics.

Trip duration: 1 hour
Where it departs from: Hout Bay Harbour
Costs: R1,200pp with Cape Town Bucketlist (included: all gear, hot drinks and snacks on the boat, use of a GoPro camera)