Activity Review: Shark Cage Diving with Great White Shark Tours (South Africa)
Gansbaai, South Africa
SHARK DIVING SEASON
On November 5th, we took to the waters off Gansbaai to get friendly with some great white sharks. We did some research about the best time to go and apparently we were going outside the high season, which meant the odds of us seeing sharks were slightly lower. Luckily, it also meant we had no trouble booking just two days in advance.
From April through September, the sharks tend to congregate in or near ‘shark alley’ (see photo above) which is a strip of ocean that runs between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. From October through March, an area to the north called Shark Bay is known to be better for diving. Despite it being low season, we had great visibility and saw five different white sharks.
The company we chose offered a ‘we guarantee you see a shark or your money back’, incentive. I can’t imagine they take the boat out very often for free, so I figured we would at least see a couple! Positive thoughts, right?
GREAT WHITE SHARK TOURS WITH BRIAN MCFARLANE
After some time reading reviews on Tripadvisor, we booked with Brian McFarlane’s Great White Shark Tours through his website, http://www.sharkcagediving.net. Great reviews combined with the prompt customer service from his staff convinced us to book with them. We paid R1,550 each. Thats approx. $134 USD.
The shuttle picked us up in Cape Town’s city centre directly from our accommodations at 6:30 AM. There were ten of us in the shuttle by the time we picked everyone up in and around Cape Town, then we headed south towards Gansbaai. Gansbaai is about 170km or a two-hour drive, with a 15 minute break halfway at a coffee shop/convenience store.
We arrived at the tour office around 9:30 AM where we enjoyed a tasty complimentary breakfast, watched a short safety video and were briefed by Brian on the weather, sea conditions, visibility, and overall what we should expect when out on the water. They have a shark cage by the office, which Brian used to demonstrate how to safely access the cage, where to place our hands and feet when in the cage, etc. NEVER STICK YOUR HANDS OR FEET OUT OF THE CAGE!
The boat ride out took about 20 minutes and once Brian found the ideal spot, his team dropped the cage over the side and got to work ‘chumming’. Chum is the bait used to attract the sharks to the area and ideally right to the cage.
Apparently Brian has a secret recipe that the sharks love, but its main ingredients are dead fish and blood. They also use giant tuna heads on fishing line to lure the sharks right toward you in the cage.
As there were 38 people on the boat, 32 of which were diving, we were divided into four groups. There would be eight in the cage at a time, for about ten minutes each. No one enters the cage until a shark is spotted because the water is pretty cold at around 12 degrees Celsius (54 F), although the wetsuits are pretty thick.
It wasn’t long before our sharks arrived. We had a close encounter with FIVE in total with the largest estimated at 4-5 metres 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.
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. (To the Danish guy next to me in the cage, who captured this moment on his GoPro: If you ever happen to read this, contact me and I will BUY the rights!)
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. 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.
Watch this video which summarizes our amazing day with Brian McFarlane and his team at GREAT WHITE SHARK TOURS! Special thanks to Brian’s videographer from Infinity Freelance Filming for allowing me to use a portion of their video!
This is not like taking a leisurely river cruise. You are on a relatively small boat in the Atlantic Ocean. Remember, sharks don’t need calm water, so they don’t hang out where the water is still. You have to go to them, and that often means going where the water is rough.
It is true; a lot of people get seasick during these tours. There were three or four white-faced and vomiting on our tour (Jess came close, but pulled through!), there is no way around it. Apparently the day before we went, the entire boat got sick and they had trouble even getting the cage in the water it was so rough. Our advice is to take seasickness medication in advance (they suggest the night before) and on the day of your tour. We picked up some Sturgeron in Cape Town, took it before bed and then again in the morning. We didn’t get sick.
WHAT TO BRING
Brian and team have just about everything covered. New, clean wetsuits, boots, and masks as well as rain coats for everyone, and adequate vomit bags, so fortunately you do not have to bring along much.
Below are some suggestions, based on our experience:
- Camera(s) – An underwater camera is a MUST. Ours was stolen somewhere in Tanzania and to this day I regret not buying one for this tour. Get one.
- Seasickness/motion sickness tablets – we took Sturgeron.
- Warm jacket/fleece
- Drysack – not a must as there is adequate space on board for your things, but to keep electronics dry if it gets choppy.
- Vomit bag(s) if prone to seasickness – they are onboard, but its good to have extra, just in case.
Overall, we would highly recommend Brian and his team at Great White Shark Tours. Despite the choppy waters and fact that we were diving with sharks, we felt completely safe. The large group didn’t stop Brian from making an effort to interact with everyone on the boat, and although Brian and his team go out daily on this tour, we never once felt like this was “just another tour” for them. They genuinely enjoy what they do, have respect for the sharks and the other tour groups on the water.
Would you go diving with great white sharks? You should…
jess + trickett
Looking for activities in Cape Town? Read about our stay here: Dine, drink and discover Cape Town