This summer I had the pleasure of experiencing Shark cage diving! It’s one of those adventure activities that elicits strong reactions from people. Mention shark cage diving and the response is one of awe and excitement, utter fear, or mild to strong disapproval – as can be expected from an extreme activity involving close encounters with this fearless and feared predator.
I decided to take the plunge and go diving with the great whites in Cape Town to find out what it’s really like to get close to the king of apex predators…
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
In Cape Town, the shark cage diving industry is a robust and flourishing one with tens of thousands of tourists taking the plunge every year. While shark cage diving wasn’t at the top of my list of unmissable Things to Do before I Kick the Bucket, I did jump at the opportunity to get into the water with the world’s most efficient predator.
As driver picked us from the hotel at 4.20am & drove us through the Cape Flats and up Sir Lowry’s Pass he told us a bit about the local history and other interesting trivia, as well as talking about the everyday battles people face in the townships. He immediately won my confidence with his direct and open approach, by not glossing over the less attractive aspects of Cape Town, and his driving was excellent which also helped.
We arrived at White Shark Projects, one of eight operators in Kleinbaai, we met the other brave souls going shark diving and at 6:30 on a Tuesday morning, just in time for a quick breakfast with 17 other tourists, and a briefing from Mr. Tom about shark behavior. He reminded us that the great white’s reputation as a maneater is ill-founded. There are only “between 50 and 60” shark attacks against humans each year, he said, only four or five fatalities. As Mr. Tuckett wryly pointed out, “more people die from eating sharks than from being bitten by them.”
Then we signed the indemnity forms claiming personal responsibility for ourselves and our stuff. As we scribbled on the dotted line, our guide shared some of his in-depth knowledge about white sharks and what to expect out in Shark Alley. The most reassuring bit of information was that White Shark Project has been operating for over 15 years now and has a 100% safety record (sigh of relief).
We pushed off from the dock at 6:45 on an overcast morning and skimmed across the bay for 20 minutes to the marine reserve. Crew members lay anchor, winched the cage into place on the starboard side of the boat, baited lines, and scattered chum — minced fish and shark liver blended with brine. Then we waited. The cold winter breeze burst through the clouds and it grew uncomfortably cold.
A few minutes after the evacuation, Mr. Tom shouted “Shark!” I scanned the nearby water and, with a thrill, I glimpsed an image straight out of the 2003 film “Open Water”: a curved dorsal fin knifing with great speed toward the boat. All 18 of us rushed to starboard and, as the vessel tilted dangerously, we watched the first great white shark of the morning swim toward the bait lines just below the surface. He was a modest five feet long, and though the water was murky, I could clearly make out his torpedo-like shape, beady eyes, and conical snout. It wasn’t long before our sharks arrived. We had a close encounter with SEVEN in total with the largest estimated at meters or 12+ feet long. I though having so many people on the boat would mean less time in the cage, but in total, I had about 30 to 35 minutes in the water.
The skipper helped me down into the cage and the chilly 6°C water. Standing on a cross-bar in the capsule-shaped steel cage I was up to my shoulders in the water, with my head comfortably above the surface. I found the metal bars of the cage surprisingly thin and the gaps between the bars alarmingly bigger than I’d imagined – yet all very strong and sturdy. The cages vary slightly between operators and some companies use light weights to reduce your buoyancy in the water. We didn’t use snorkels, weights, scuba gear or flippers, just goggles – no diving experience required.
Soon a sleek male shark emerged. The spotters hollered from onboard and we gripped the bars running along the inside of the cage to pull ourselves underwater and peer at the aquatic beast. The underwater visibility was between 2 and 3 meters, which means we could see the shark quite clearly as it sailed silently through the water. For a few magical moments, the shark was gliding only a few meters away from my eyes – an awesome sight!
I also experienced an open-mouthed great white swim directly toward my face before turning at the last second to avoid the thin metal bars that separated us. There were snacks on board. Pop, water, potato chips/crisps and sandwiches so there’s no need to bring anything unless you have dietary restrictions.
Many of my fellow passengers elected to observe the proceedings from the relative comfort of the boat deck; I opted for the cage, which allows one to view the predators underwater, and if lucky, to observe them from just inches away. I got into my wet suit and lowered myself into the enclosure, wincing as the frigid seawater seeped through every seam in the wetsuit.
Back on land, there is hot soup and coffee/tea to warm you up while you watch the video of your time on the water.
The village of Kleinbaai, a two-hour drive from Cape Town, is the South Africa’s cage-diving Mecca. The road near the harbor is lined with dive-boat operators, all of which run daily, and sometimes twice-daily, expeditions to the great white feeding grounds around Dyer Island. You can book with them directly, or go, as I did, through a tour agent, which locates available boats on the date you want to go
A morning or afternoon trip costs roughly 1,200 rand (about $165.50 at 7.25 to the dollar) and includes a pickup and drop off in Cape Town, breakfast or lunch, boat transport, onboard snacks, sunblock, and all dive equipment. Peak season is June through September when booking well in advance is recommended. The off-season runs between December and March
WHAT TO EXPECT
- Between the islands of Geyser Rock and Dyer Island is a narrow and shallow channel called Shark Alley – reputed to be the world’s best place for Great White shark cage diving.
- Due to the resident seal colonies in the area, Shark Alley has been dubbed “the supermarket for sharks”.
- A short boat ride from Gansbaai, Shark Alley is ideal for those who wish to experience the thrill of getting up close and personal with these giant predators, but who do not possess a dive certification.
- Your cage dive takes place just meters below the surface of the water so no diving experience is necessary.
- Light breakfast
- Complimentary collection from central Cape Town hotels. Collection from other areas on request
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Departs daily (weather and sea conditions permitting)
- Bring a warm jacket
- Children under 8 years are not permitted to dive
- Tour duration and collection times may vary depending on hotel collection route
RATES & CONTACT
White Shark Projects
Price From: R1,700.00 pp (excl transfers)
To Check availability Call us at +27 (0) 76 245 5880 or visit https://www.whitesharkprojects.co.za/book-online
WHY GO SHARK CAGE DIVING IN GANSBAAI, SOUTH AFRICA?
It is the place to get down with the great whites and lies only 160 km from Cape Town. This means you can take a day trip to Gansbaai from the world renowned mother city, one of the top three tourist destinations in South Africa.
This infographic sums it up brilliantly, comparing shark cage diving in Gansbaai with cage diving at other great white shark hotspots in the world: