Paddling with humpback whales is not an experience that can be captured with a souvenir fridge magnet or key ring. It is a truly unique experience which creates a feeling like no other. I paddle towards the most Eastern point of mainland Australia. Beyond the protection of Cape Byron the ocean changes moods, reminding me that I'm on the edge of the largest ocean in the world, The Pacific.
The entire landmass of earth can fit within it and I'm sitting in my four meter kayak. Sitting. Waiting. Wishing. And that's when I see it. The 'buff'. Exhaling from her lungs, each chamber the size of a Volkswagen beetle, the warm carbon dioxide erupts into the cooler air and creates a lingering vapor.
She's on her way. One breath. Two breaths. It’s becoming more intimate. As she gets closer I see she isn’t travelling alone. Numerous fins surround her. Her beautiful body rises to the surface again; this time so close I hear one of my favourite sounds. I hear 'the buff'. As she takes another breath and dives directly below my kayak, my body is filled with conflicting emotions.
I breathe in fear. She is so close. She is so big. She is so powerful. But in a seamless transition, I breathe out pure relaxation. She is so close. She is so big. She is so gentle. She isn't wondering where I am, what I am or who I am, she knows that already.
I am left with these questions now my existence has been put in perspective. As she rises again, this time behind me, her hump arches above the surface, rhythmically followed by her unique and powerful tail. I wave back a grateful goodbye. As she dives down I feel alive and aligned. That is my souvenir.
Written by Emma Sweeney