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LROC Turtle Experience 2024

01 February 2024 - Clint Mason
The 2024 LROC Turtle Experience was truly a monumental event. With a mix of exhilarating activities, a charming rustic campsite, thrilling drives, and the warmth of camaraderie, members forged strong bonds of friendship amid the stunning backdrop of nature. This profound connection with both the environment and each other marked a resounding success for LROC, now becoming an indelible part of our Club's rich history. The event has left a lasting imprint on the hearts of all who were fortunate enough to be present.

You are currently reading the condensed version of the event's feedback. If you prefer a more detailed account, click on the 'I AM UP FOR IT. GIVE ME EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS ADVENTURE' button for an in-depth exploration of the entire experience.

Our kickoff event of 2024, the "2024 Turtle Experience," etched unforgettable memories for attendees. Set in the rural beauty of Bhanga Nek, the event blended delicious food, adventurous drives, and remarkable activities, creating a magnificent start to the year.

Paul Diessel, our event host, received an enticing offer from Kosi Bay Africa. An all-inclusive experience in a world heritage marine reserve, highlighted by a guided walk on a protected beach to witness turtles laying eggs and possibly, hatchlings making their way to the sea.

Our exclusive campsite, situated in Bhanga Nek instead of the assumed Kosi Bay, was approximately 2 hours’ drive from the more commercialized area of Kosi Bay. The campsite, surrounded by tropical forest, initially surprised all with its truly rural nature, but after experiencing incredible activities, the charm of our campsite revealed itself.

While there can be no doubt that the activities were truly remarkable, the trip's success lay in the totality of experiences. Trevor, a seasoned chef, ensured a culinary delight was enjoyed by all. Blessing, the campsite manager, maintained a relaxed environment, even helping with some local wildlife that had slithered into the bathroom one morning. Trevor’s deep insights and shared stories of the area provided entertainment for all. And while the value of an all-inclusive package deal was initially a little lost on me, after discussing with Chris and Vanessa, I realized the considerable value that this type of package deal event can offer.

While our Club represents a community of like-minded individuals, it is true that we are each unique, with unique preferences. With the activities already determined, we were all on the same adventurous journey, where the collective participated but spent less time arranging and more time enjoying the shared experience and camaraderie. This afforded time to develop strong connections with one another as we participated and shared in truly wonderful experiences.

 Trevor, our entertaining host, outlined the day's agenda over a scrumptious meal. Our itinerary featured a guided hike through the enchanting Raffia Palm Forests, a visit to the beach housing the historic Turtle Monitoring Station established in 1963, a stop at Third Lake, and the highlight event: an evening beach expedition in search of turtles. It was during this early morning briefing that the enduring value of Dr. George Hughes, all those years ago, became apparent.

 Their grace in water contrasts with their cumbersome nature on land, making the turtles easy targets for machetes as they struggle along the beach, leading to excessive numbers ending up in pots instead of returning to the sea. Despite overhunting causing a significant decline, active monitoring of nesting turtles has spurred a significant population recovery. According to Trevor, there has been exponential growth in numbers in recent years, a testament to the early conservation efforts from the 1960s.

 Another interesting result of these efforts and the success thereof has been the growth of community-driven projects providing substantial employment and earning global recognition for the local community's role in preserving loggerhead and leatherback turtle species.

 With the arrival of local guides, Samange Mageba and Bongumenzi Shange, the stage was set to embark on our first adventurous activity. Our guides shared captivating stories of tradition and local wisdom. Despite the prevailing theme of eco-tourism, our Land Rovers provided an exhilarating means to explore this majestic part of the world.

 To beat the intense morning heat, our convoy ventured through local backroads, known only to the community, leading us to an area near the dense tropical forest. This ensured our morning hike remained cool under the sprawling canopy of foliage. As we trekked down the path, our guides enlightened us about the rich ecosystem of the natural tropical forests, a reclaimed haven for wildlife and witness to various historic activities, including farming.

 It was during this walk that I noticed that Charles Dean, affectionately known as Chaz in the Club, was really able to put on the pace as he walked front and centre with the guide for the entirety of the hike. For those who might know Chaz, his ability to walk at pace might seem a mystery, and yet I assure you, it is true.

For those that don’t know Chaz, allow me to offer a brief explanation for my surprise. Chaz was born slightly before the invention of the wheel and has been an active participant in the world economy ever since. He was likely one of the first Europeans to know the African wilderness, revelling in its wonder. He has seen the rise and fall of many civilizations, and if rumour has it correct, was there to witness the birth of Land Rover all those many years ago. So, to see this man blazing the trail in the shaded heat of the day was quite something.

 Our hike unveiled a campsite within the pristine forest, unfortunately marked by a past fire. Yet, there's hope for its restoration, with recent environmental impact assessments accepted by the various required government departments. The trek continued, taking us to the turning point of our hike, where the group paused for a collective photograph.

 The natural beauty of the area, declared a world heritage site, left an indelible mark on all participants. Photographic evidence in hand, we retraced our steps with a local surprise awaiting us—a makeshift raft used by locals to traverse Fourth Lake efficiently.

With the guidance of local experts, we successfully navigated the raft, overcoming wobbling and some heart-stopping moments. Laughter and cheers accompanied our triumphs, but it was Simon Meanwell’s dip into the water that received the biggest cheer, adding an additional splash of adventure to the journey.

As we regrouped and headed back towards our Land Rovers, the memories of this unique experience lingered, making our return through the picturesque landscape even more enjoyable. Back in our trucks, the drive to the beach was nothing short of magical, thanks to our skilled guides navigating the most scenic route, which I am pleased to say included some challenging obstacles in the soft sand of the area as we weaved through the hills.

We reached the beach in the mid-afternoon, most content to walk on the beach. Our esteemed Chaz, now known for his fitness endeavours, decided to take a refreshing dip in the sea, joined by his wife Annie. A playful wave knocked him over, leading to the unexpected loss of his spectacles.

In a spirited attempt to find the glasses, our efforts attracted the attention of local children enjoying the sea nearby. One youngster took it upon himself to mobilize friends for the search. Although our attempts were in vain, the youngsters' determination prevailed. Miraculously, they found Chaz's glasses and returned them before we even left the beach.

What stood out was the selfless act of the young helper, seeking no reward for his efforts. He simply handed the now very clean spectacles to Chaz, then joyfully returned to the sea. Touched by this act of humanity, our group made a special effort to acknowledge and reward the young helper for his kindness.

As the sun hastened its descent, we made a brief stop at the banks of Third Lake before returning to camp. Another sumptuous feast awaited us, preparing us for the upcoming nocturnal adventure – a beachside exploration in search of turtles beneath the shroud of darkness.

As the moon replaced the sun, the stage was set for the main attraction—a beach walk under the guidance of our experienced Zulu guide, Victor Ngubane. Although we had expected a leisurely stroll, it was quite the opposite, with a brisk pace over the soft sand ensuing.

Victor, a font of knowledge, emphasized the dos and don'ts of turtle encounters, urging us to be respectful and considerate. After what seemed like an eternity of walking, we were fortunate to come across a small group that had happened upon a nesting turtle. Unfortunately, we were too late to see the turtle laying her eggs, but we did see the significant effort undertaken to cover the nest. The magical experience continued as we followed the exhausted turtle back to the ocean, respecting a safe distance under the watchful eyes of the guides. Once in the water, the turtle's transformation from a labouring creature to an expert swimmer unfolded, leaving us exhilarated by the encounter.

Retreating down the beach, our elated group made its way back to the Land Rovers, gaining a profound appreciation for the effort required to partake in this remarkable natural wonder. The short drive back to our campsites marked the end of a day filled with diverse experiences, from hiking in magnificent forests to an adventurous drive and a majestic encounter with a turtle.

Upon arrival, showers were taken, and conversations around the campfire reflected a sense of achievement among all participants. The day's challenges and debates were now overshadowed by the realization of the truly remarkable nature of this experience. As the night settled, the question lingered in the air—what awaited our group of adventurers on the morrow?

After a delightful breakfast, our group embarked on an enthralling journey to a secluded beach for a day of snorkelling. The camaraderie among us was palpable, setting the stage for an exceptional adventure. Traversing sandy tracks through lush green hills, the drive provided a visual feast.

Arriving at a beach known only to locals, some opted for a relaxing high-ground view while others descended to the shore. The realization of the gravity of the return walk to our trucks was momentarily set aside for the promise of underwater wonders.

As snorkelers explored the marine wonders, others engaged in various water activities—boogie boarding, swimming, and sunbathing. This exclusive beach, ours for the day, became a sensory marvel, a remote paradise untouched by the usual hustle.

The uphill trek, demanding determination and perseverance, led us back to the Landys, where cold drinks awaited. With the extensive effort of the day, there were none in our group that did not like the idea of chips and refreshingly chilled drinks at Victor's local pub. Finding a place selling chilled drinks and chips in Bhanga Nek felt like an oasis in the desert.

After ravishing our afternoon refreshments, our convoy then returned to Paradise Campsite, where Blessing had been preparing for our return. Collecting drinks, we gathered to share the day's adventures. The trip was leaving an indelible mark, whether it was the splendour of this remote location, the camaraderie that formed, or the magnificence of the activities, the group was closer.

Dinner was a regal affair, accompanied by laughter and joyous tales. The evening stretched well into the night, a time when club members transformed into friends, reveling in the rich company of like-minded adventurers. The day was a true testament to the magical experiences that our trusty Land Rovers continue to lead us towards.

The transformation from a community of club members to friends was strikingly evident on the morning of our last full day of this extraordinary event. Everyone was up early, brimming with excitement for the day ahead. Trevor had arranged for us to embark on a water-based adventure to explore the intricacies of fish farming undertaken by the local communities in the area.

After breakfast, our group joined Blessing at the jetty, where boat owner and Captain Eugene Thembe guided us through the pristine Third and Second Lake. Eugene, a local resident with a family history of fish farming spanning over 700 years, shared the traditional wisdom of his community.

Our journey included a mesmerizing encounter with a mother and baby hippo and a visit to Eugene’s ancestral fish farm. The community's deep connection with nature and commitment to conservation left an indelible mark, inspiring awe among our group.

A midday snorkeling session allowed us to explore the salty warm waters of Second Lake, observing the vibrant fish amid the mangroves that line the banks of the lake. Although the visibility was not as good as the day before, the tremendous number of fish more than made up for the poorer conditions.

On our return to camp, Trevor surprised us with the offer for an additional beach walk that evening, providing another opportunity to witness turtles laying eggs and, with luck, glimpse hatchlings making their way to the sea. Within seconds, all were in.

Anticipation filled the air as we embarked on the nighttime beach hike led again by Victor. It was not long into the walk when we came across the distinctive tracks of a turtle that had exited the sea but had not yet returned.

As with our last adventure, our group patiently waited for Victor's investigation to take place. While we were sitting on the beach, with conversation hushed, we were surprised with the arrival of a second turtle a few meters away, slowly making her way up into the dunes.

After ensuring that our presence would not be disruptive, Victor led our group to the site where we would witness the rare sighting of a turtle laying eggs, which unfolded before us, a profound experience. In contrast to our first night’s experience, we participated in the entirety of the experience, from laying the eggs to covering the nest and then the return journey to the ocean.

Returning to camp, the atmosphere was charged with conversation and shared joy. What had started as a gathering of members had evolved into a gathering of friends, bonded by a truly remarkable adventure. Annie's heartfelt praise underscored the trip's significance, deeming it the best Club event in recent memory.

A restful night led to a splendid farewell breakfast, marking the beginning of the journey home for some and the start of new adventures for others. As vehicles were packed, and goodbyes exchanged, each set off on their respective paths. The memories of this enchanting journey, shared with extraordinary individuals, will linger, etched in our minds as a testament to the unforgettable experiences in an extraordinary place. Heartfelt thanks were extended to all, sealing this chapter of camaraderie and adventure.



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