There is something enormous about to come close… suddenly it appears in the distance, something terrifying and toothy, swimming rapidly towards you with a gruesome grin… it’s a great white shark, the biggest predatory fish in the world! Undoubtedly the great white shark gained a reputation as a merciless maneater from the film Jaws – the reality is that ‘the white death’, as the species is sometimes known, favours a diet of marine mammals, fish, and even seabirds. However, there is no denying that the species is dangerous, responsible for more attacks on mankind – provoked and unprovoked – than any other type of shark. So it is just as well that this experience does not involve direct contact with sharks in any form. At all times, you will be within a sturdy cage and well out of harm’s way.
Great white shark cage diving is available at only four destinations worldwide and one of these is Gansbaai, a coastal town in the Western Cape, just over 160 kilometres south-east of Cape Town. Driving here from the Mother City takes about two hours. It is also worth mentioning that Gansbaai is only half an hour by road from Hermanus, which is home to some outstanding whale watching! So if you are considering a holiday with a sea creatures theme, you could certainly include both towns in your itinerary.
A number of companies based in Gansbaai offer the shark experience. All have an excellent reputation for safety and regularly receive great reviews! Crew members are fully qualified and the dives are always supervised. Diving equipment and towels are provided free of charge and no experience is necessary. Typically a trip lasts from three to five hours.
The activity begins with boarding a boat, any time between 7 o’clock in the morning and midday. Travel times depend on the tides and also on the sea conditions, so thrillseekers are kept informed and notified if the trip isn’t possible on the designated day. Most tours set off from the harbour of Kleinbaai, a town situated 2 kilometres from Gansbaai. Before you set sail, you receive a full safety briefing and sometimes a complimentary breakfast too! However, if you are prone to seasickness it is generally better to avoid eating before taking to the waves – or make sure you have seasickness tablets, fast acting if need be.
The destination for cage diving is chosen according to the sea conditions too – and this decision is also based on recent sightings. Dive sites include Dyer Island, where you can spot all the Marine Big Five – sharks, whales, seals, dolphins, and penguins! The presence of a lot of wildlife here naturally provides a lot of food for hungry sharks. In fact, the channel between Dyer Island and nearby Geyser Rock is known as Shark Alley, as such high concentrations of sharks pass through on their way to feeding! Alternatively, you might travel to Joubert’s Dam, closer to Gansbaai. Many tour operators are so confident that you will see sharks, they offer a complete refund if you do not!
Once the crew has dropped anchor, it is time for them to entice the great whites towards the boat. Some companies use a chum mixture – a delicious combo of fish bits, bones, and blood – while others employ a scent line. As soon as the sharks arrive, you can climb into the cage and get a little closer!
The cage is made from galvanised steel. The spaces between the bars are wide enough for you to get a good view, but narrow enough to make sure the sharks cannot get in! Cage sizes vary according to the operator – some are large enough to fit eight persons, which can be comforting if you do not fancy facing the sharks by yourself. You can also choose between a dip just under the surface of the water or a full-on dive into the depths. If you prefer to stay on board the boat, you will still have plenty of amazing views. Do not forget to bring your camera, to get some really impressive holiday snaps!
Coming so close to these astonishing sea creatures is a very exciting experience. Their motion through the water is effortlessly smooth and the mottled white-and-grey appearance of their skin within the blue-green water is really rather beautiful. Those teeth are frightening, though! When you see a great white mouth open up to take a bite of chum, the jagged gnashers exposed in a menacing snarl, you will be extremely thankful for the cage’s sturdy steel!
After the experience, the boat sails back to the harbour and some operators provide hot showers and a comforting bowl of soup.
If you are thinking of taking a holiday in the Western Cape region, and you like the idea of standing centimetres from one of the world’s scariest species, just get in touch with us for more details!