Pelicans bob around the boat as it leaves the harbour, and fly after it into the bay, hoping for a free pilchard meal from Francois’s bucket of fishy treats. The delight of seeing these huge birds up close and having them take off next to you continues throughout the Levo Seal and Dolphin tour in the Walvis Bay Lagoon.
A swathe of pink flamingos is visible in the shallows. Nelson, a friendly gull, tries to stay aboard, perched on the canvas awning or grasping onto the railing on the bow of the boat. A leatherback turtle pops its ancient-looking head out of the water, Heaviside’s dolphins skim past the vessel, diving underneath, and the lively seal colony at Pelican Point is visited to view these shiny streamlined creatures from their watery environment.
Right from the start Francois Visser takes control of the misty Walvis morning tour, enlivening the journey with his sense of humour and balancing out the good viewing of the aquatic and avian creatures. Once in the bay, he offers ‘Namibian coffee’—a tot of Old Brown sherry—to warm up the atmosphere and the chilly day. He then begins dispensing with his stories and information, identifying the various bird species and explaining that the Walvis Bay Lagoon is a Ramsar site that is internationally acclaimed for its wealth of wetland birds, punctuated with colourful snippets of local humour.
Levo Tours was founded in 1990 by Ottmar and Merrilyn Leippert when Ottmar, Francois’s father-in-law, befriended an old seal they called Oupa (grandfather) which had become entangled in a fishing net.
Over a period of several months, Ottmar coaxed Oupa on board, rewarding him with fish. While he ate, Ottmar was able to cut the line from around his neck. After much perseverance, the painstaking process came to an end and the two remained firm friends. Francois laughs, saying that the seal started the tours and became the star attraction, jumping onto the boat on every trip. Other seals followed suit and now, many years later, it is still one of the highlights of the boat cruises.
The advice given to Ottmar was, “Do the tours for the love of the animals; the money will come on its own.” After Ottmar’s death in 2004, his wife Merrilyn took over, eventually handing over the reigns to Francois and her daughter Cathy. Francois has kept the boats small, still offering Levo’s intimate experience of the bay.
After the guests have a chance to lie on the bow of the boat with heads down to catch glimpses of the dolphins darting from side to side, the boat returns to calmer waters with views of the sea and desert dunes. Plates of snacks are laid out, champagne is served and Francois opens fresh Walvis Bay oysters, topping the ocean experience with their fresh sea taste.
As the boat returns to the harbour, a seal visitor jumps on board to continue the tradition, remaining there for a few pilchards, pats and photographs before flopping back into the water. The pelicans return to see if they’ve missed any titbits and then waddle ashore to entertain guests as they enjoy a cup of coffee, use the ablution facilities and chat excitedly, bubbling over with the morning’s journey. (RS)
Levo Tours is based at the Walvis Bay Tourism Centre in Union Street. The company also offers beach and boat-fishing excursions, and Topnaar and Sandwich Harbour Combos in conjunction with Photo Ventures.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘10/ Jan ‘11 edition of Travel News Namibia.