The Great Kei Expeditions

The Hole in the Wall has been our winter holiday destination for the last 7 years. The group has grown from 3 die hard divers on a recky trip into a massive family holiday. This year we had 10 divers descend on the Eastern Cape to take advantage of the untamed Kei.

The Kei is a difficult mistress…

… and does not always give us the best conditions, and this year was no exception. We arrived to find the best conditions of the trip, half a foot swell with 8 to 10m visibility… but Mother Nature brought on some winter swell overnight. This did not discourage the guys and boats were prepped and ready to launch.

Before I carry on, let me give you a bit of background on our previous trips and a build up to this one. Our first experience of the Kei occured when myself and a good friend of mine, Bryce, wanted a new diving challenge and decided that a trip to the Kei was in order. We invited a guy who we had met on Facebook from the Cape who was also interested in diving. This was always going to be an interesting trip. It turned out that Nick was a pretty good diver and the competitiveness started to grow. We started a friendly wager of a bottle of spirits as the prize for the best fish. The competitiveness was so fierce that the two Natal boys and one Capetonian ended up swimming out the Hole in the Wall in huge surf just to get an extra opportunity at a quality fish. The trip also gave us the opportunity to explore the area and take part in our other interests. Nick and I opened a new rock climbing route to the top of the Queens. We also mountain biked to Coffee Bay.

Within a week on returning from the trip, the planning started for the next visit to the Kei. Each year more people come along, with new divers, new friends and the competition becoming more intense to better the previous year’s haul and variety of fish. We experimented with times of year as well to try for different fish varieties, but have found mid-winter to be the best time as the water is usually pretty clean while providing a good mix of fish species. Each year the crew has grown and we made it a tradition to invite new divers to the mix. So back to the present, we arrived at the beach ready to launch with more divers than boat space, so the plan was to rotate shore and boat crews. In the spirit of how this annual trip began, a guy from the Cape arrived with a boat and no crew. Michael turned out to be a Godsend and vice versa, as he had never launched in surf and with 6 foot swell was just a tad nervous. So with a quick re-arranging of crew and skippers, we had 3 dive teams.

Keeping with tradition, we had brought along 3 new divers to introduce them to the Wild Coast. Keith, Mark and Kyle were spread amongst the more experienced divers and orders were given to bring them back alive and with personal bests. This did not prove to be too difficult as they had never shot fish over 2kg. As for the bringing them back alive… I’ll get to that.

The launch proved less difficult than we’d thought and all boats met at backline to discuss dive spots, and to decide that today would be a species competition. We started on some deep pinnacles at about 16m to 18m. The reef fish were full up, but most of the guys were holding out for a big Poensie or Daga. After about an hour of no big fish being boated, the itchy fingers could not hold back. Some good Rock Cod, Bankies, Knife Jaws and Bronze Bream were boated. There were a few big Raggies around and they showed curiosity with the divers invading their reef. Often when lying in a crack or on the reef you would have a Raggie settle right next to you, one even literally settled right on top of Dylan. He was just about to crap on the diver that had swam onto him and then found, to his shock it was a 3m Raggie with ideas of making him its next mate. I had one swim into a crack with me so I proceeded to point out a small Poensie to it, only to realise it was not my brother in the crack with me but my new best friend. I must say though that they did not not cause any hassle with fish and seemed more interested in checking out what we were doing rather than eating.

After about 2 hours we decided to brave the cliff sides and went inshore, while the other boats headed to Mbolombo point to look for Cape Tail and Garrick. The cliff edge is an amazing dive but not for the faint hearted as you have big swell smashing up against the wall in 6m water. This type of condition has always proved to be perfect for Garrick and Brusher (White Muscle Cracker). The trickis to breathe up in the clean water and dive down and swim towards the cliff on the sand, the fish usually run just on the edge of the wash. On my fist down I saw a huge shoalf of Garrick and 2 White Steenbras. I took the easier target and landed a 13kg Garrick. Michael tried out cliff diving and informed me later that it was the scariest thing he had ever done.

Let’s talk about our new divers now. Back on the beach, Keith could not shut up and was charged and ready to go; but after the launch (and maybe a realisation of what was to come), he was the quietest person and looked a bit green. We got him into the water quickly where he proceeded to shoot a 2kg Grunter which he brought to me to kill. Soon after this he was into his first Garrick which proceeded to wrap him in line and a gun. Some quick thinking and nimble boat work by Bryce got the well tangled Keith and Garrick onto the deck. After this ordeal he proceeded to vomit off the back of the boat for the rest of the day.

Kyle also gave us stories to tell around the camp fire. Kevin and Kyle were diving on a spot called Black Rock and a shoal of Pampano swam straight past Kyle. When Kevin finally saw them disappearing into the distance, he asked Kyle why he had not taken one? His response was “I’m not sure”. Kevin then dropped Kyle in a shoal of sardines and a pod of dolphins. This I believe was his first dolphin dive and was one he will not forget.

Mark, our last newbie, was dropped in the water with a Gopro and a Southern Wright Whale; we put together some awesome footage, and, I think, the experience of a lifetime for mark

Check out: watch?v=Pp8WjBX8zGc&sns=em

…or search “marcus whale dive” on YouTube.

The day came to an end and some good fish were landed, Dylan taking the species competition with a great haul of 8 species, Bryce coming in with a second and myself t hird. That night over many rums and stories of fish won and lost, the decision was made t o make the next day a “biggest fish” competition. This caused a flurry of activity as the crews decided on the best places to get a monster fish.

Day 2 was better, conditions and visibility improved to about 8 metres, and with “biggest fish” on the cards many of the divers opted to hunt the points looking for a Garrick to get a nearly big fish. This proved to be a good call as some really big fish were boated within minutes… Dylan with a 21kg Garrick,and Bryce and I with 15kg fish each.

Dylan and Bryce swam onto the back cliff of the Queens and hit the jackpot with a 17kg White Steenbrasand a good size Brusher. The Westerly came through by mid- morning turning the sea into a washing machine so the boats headed deep to look for the elusive Black Muscle Cracker. The Poensies were out and about, but not playing fair. I had one of 20kg swim up to me while I was facing down a crack, but as soon as I turned the gun it disappeared with a few grunts and was probably laughing at me as it swam away. Some good reef fish were boated and the day came to an end. Dylan took the day with his monster Garrick and Bryce and I tussled for second place with fish meregrams apart. Bryce pipped m e in the end.

Diving on day 3 was postponed due to bad conditions, sothe guys spent the day with families and we did some 4x4ing, exploring some of the most beautiful locations I’ve had the privilege to see. The afternoon was spent having lunch in Coffee Bay.

The Kei does really offer a lot of outdoor activities and there are some amazing cliff walks and beautiful bays and beaches. I have visited a few of the locations on the Transkei, but have found the Hole in the Wall to be the safest and easiest to bring your family for a holiday.

Day 4 proved to be another tough dive as the sea was up and the wind was blowing, but with good visibility. The launch was hectic for some, with Dennis knocking out the Motor kill switch by accident (this situation was rectified with some quick thinking by Leroy and Dylan to get us out safely).

The “biggest haul” was t he competition for the day. With the huge swell and the inshore looking very intimidating, the boats headed out to the deep water in hopes that some Daga would be around. The diving was tough and big fish were scarce.

Bryce hit the surface after a dive without his reel gun, after chatting to him he said the gun had locked up while fighting a fish. The current was quite strong and we moved up the drift to try relocating the gun. Dylan found It with the smallest bronze bream of the trip still attached to the spear and an inquisitive raggie circling. This could just be another story for “ Shark Guy”!

Some of the divers were given strict orders to be back on the beach by 12pm to spend time with their girlfriends, and this led to a boat throwing off crew at the back line and sending them on their merry way back to shore. With no real weighing fish being boated, the divers started to brave the inshore reefs. This proved to be where the fish were hiding and soon some good Garrick, Tassel, Brusher and Steenbras were in the boats. The dive ended with a Westerly buster coming through, but the boats had done well and almost all were happy to come in and do the weigh-in. 3 die-hard divers who were a few points shy of the leader decided to brave a shore entry and get a possible wild card fish.

Let me explain how the wild card works. Each day a species is picked that will be the wild card fish and if this fish is landed the diver with the biggest gets an extra 4 points. The wild card of the day was a Shad, yes a Shad! As fate would have it, all but Bryce forgot about the wild card. So when the boats hit the beach and Bryce unloaded a Shad, our 3 die-hard divers decided they could quickly hit the backline and top his fish.

This turned out to be a comedy of errors as the side wash and surf were pumping and the quick swim out was more of a great trek. As they arrived on the reef, Dennis shot a Grunter which also happened to be on the menu for a rather large Bronze Whaler. The 3 divers were aggressively harassed by the shark, so much so that it was poked by 2 divers but still came back for more. This ended the great Shad hunt rather prematurely and 3 divers came back to shore with little to show for their efforts and no Shad.

That evening we held prizegiving and a seafood braai. Dylan won the competition with a substantial overall lead, Bryce in second and myself just behind in third. Some special prizes were handed out to divers who had smashed personal bests, to those who got whipped by their girlfriends and some other comedy awards.

Once again,our annual trip was a huge success with many personal bests broken and new friends made.


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