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Pic taken in NSW Australia, Nelson Bay

Featured in ‘The Weekender’ Australia 2016 Heart of the Nation by Ross Bilton

Rita Kluge is half German, half Korean, and speaks dolphin. She discovered this unusual skill during a recent visit to Nelson Bay, north of Newcastle, where she joined a boat licensed to take punters swimming with the wild dolphins who congregate offshore. On the way out there a superpod – hundreds of individuals – appeared and Kluge leaned over the railings to take this shot, its 1/3200th-of-a-second shutter speed capturing the exhaled bubbles from the dolphin’s blowhole in exquisite detail.

Kluge, 45, a physiotherapist from Avalon on Sydney’s northern beaches, arrived in Australia 14 years ago, lured by the promise of endless warm waves.

As a young woman in Germany, she’d become smitten by surfing: the only trouble was, the nearest decent surf was in south-west France, an 18-hour drive away. On one of those long trips she got talking to an expat Aussie surfer in a car park, and his off-the-cuff remark – “You should visit us in Sydney, you’d love it” – brought her here.

These days, with her board under her arm, the warm waters of Avalon Beach are a two-minute trot away.

On that day in Nelson Bay, she and the other snorkellers jumped into the water and were towed behind the catamaran, with the dolphins swimming alongside them.

“They were right next to us,” she says. “They were so beautiful and curious. And you hear them! This dolphin chatter all around us.”

It gave Kluge an idea: she started imitating their noises through her snorkel. “They were really inquisitive about that,” she says, laughing. “I swear I was communicating with them.”

So, what did she sound like? Down the phone line comes a garbled stream of clicking and high-pitched squawking. It sounds exactly like a dolphin, only with a German accent.

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