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Great white shark cage diving in Gansbaai
Swim with the Atlantic’s most ferocious fish in the great white shark capital of the world
Looking for a thrill? Why not take an up-close-and-personal dip in shark-infested waters? That’s right, take a walk on the wild side and experience a great white shark cage diving tour in Gansbaai, the quaint South African seaside town (roughly two hours from Cape Town) that’s best known as the great white shark capital of the world.
Why has this little Western Cape dorp become such a beacon for these ferocious fish? “The fact that about 50,000 – 60,000 seals live just around the corner - providing many free meals for the sharks - might have something to do with it,” grins Nik Walsh, director of White Shark Diving Company, one of the most popular operators in the area. “Nowhere in the world is there a comparable natural food source available for the great white sharks.”
What to expect from a shark cage diving tour
Whether you opt to driver yourself or be picked up for the trek to Gansbaai, your departure time will be slated for the wee hours of the morning; some pick-up times from Cape Town are as early as 4AM.
Upon arrival at Gansbaai, a nice breakfast awaits. However, keep in mind that a heavy morning meal might not be the best idea before heading out to sea; depending on weather conditions, it can be quite a rocky ride.
After an extensive safety briefing and Q&A session, it’s showtime! The group (20 people maximum) boards the boat and, weather permitting, the vessel breezes through the famous Shark Alley before finding a good spot to unleash its anchor and throw the cage overboard.
Although nothing beats the ‘real thing’ - a genuine up-close-and-personal encounter with the great white sharks from within the cage - there is also the possibility to tag along for the boat ride without actually diving. For those who opt to keep the great whites farther than arm’s length away, the upper deck of the boat offers a spectacular viewing spot.
Otherwise, four to five people jump in the cage at one time. Although the water temperature might give you a bit of a fright (Nik: “people scream more because of the cold than of the actual shark encounter”), the adrenaline generally warms you up rather quickly.
The crew then lures the shark your way, while giving constant updates. “Shark in sight, go down, look right!” You take a deep breath and go down. And there he is, Mr. Shark: humongous and extremely impressive. With the intimidating predator just an inch away, you’ll want to stay under water as long as you can.
Some find diving with the ancient animals the ultimate adrenalin rush, some count it as the most daredevil-ish thing they’ve ever done– but virtually everyone considers it an absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience.
FAQ about a shark cage diving tour
- Can children shark cage dive? Shark cage diving is suitable for children above 12, and no diving certification is needed to do the cage dive. No children under 3 are allowed on the boat.
- How many people per boat? Boats contain a maximum of 20 people, but renting the boat privately for just two people is also an option. “There are boats out there that can hold 40 passengers – which is exactly what we don’t want,” says Nik. “The experience should be personal and feel exclusive, which is hard when there are 35 people around you, and you can only spend a few minutes in the cage.” The whole excursion takes approximately four and a half hours and starts with a light welcome pre-trip meal and a pre-boarding briefing. While not in the cage, divers can enjoy refreshments on the viewing deck, and the excursion ends with post-trip refreshments, lunch and viewing of the DVD of the day's trip, with an option to buy the DVD at R350.
- How much does shark cage diving cost? Shark cage diving (with the White Shark Diving Company) costs R1350 for adults and R900 for children aged 12 or younger.
- When is the best time to go shark cage diving? Funny yet ironic coincidence: when the summer hits South Africa and the touristic high tide begins, that’s when the sharks seem to take some well-deserved rest. “Most of the tourists from overseas visit South Africa for a holiday when it’s summer here. However, that’s when the sharks experience their low season; there are less of them around and the cold water (the Atlantic Ocean is warmer in South African winter than in summer) makes them a bit tired and inactive,” explains Nik. Though, this doesn’t mean sharks are absent or lazy during the European winter months of December, January and February. Plus, in the unlikely event that the great whites take the day off, customers receive a free voucher for another diving excursion.
“We want the people to see what majestic animals great whites truly are,” Nik says. “This is not the set of ‘Jaws’,” he laughs, “we want to take the hysteria out of the picture. Sharks are one of the most gracious animals alive, and it would be fantastic if people – after having been in the cage or just on the deck of our boat – recognize that fact.”
This is exactly why the company has, in addition to their daily shark cage diving tours, added ‘breaching trips’ to their repertoire. These scenic boat trips allow passengers to see great white sharks breach (leap from the water).
Many people combine the two options: they start off the tour with the breaching trip (1 hour) to get a true look and feel for the greatness and impressiveness of the animals before getting in the cage for a more ‘intimate’ encounter afterwards.
White Shark Diving Company is the only registered shark cage diving company in South Africa that is officially accredited by the GreenLine Responsible Tourism Rating Programme. The certification proves that White Shark Diving Company is managing their activities with regard for social, economic and environmental impacts. “We got the certification in 2011 and are very proud of that,” Marketing Manager Christabel Vosloo adds. “They come and do audits every year to check if we are still up to standard; which we are,” she smiles proudly.
When asked if shark cage diving – because after all, it is a controversial issue – is in any way harming the ecosystem and the condition of sharks and other populations in the sea, both Nik and Christabel shake their heads. “It’s true that using the bait to get the sharks to approach the boat and cage is in a way influencing what goes down under water; however, it has no harmful effect on the great whites whatsoever. They just continue doing what they always do.”
A great white shark cage diving tour includes:
- Transport to Gansbaai from Cape Town CBD and Somerset West
- Breakfast in Gansbaai
- Extensive safety briefing
- Education about great white sharks
- Scenic boat tour
- Shark Alley visit (only in winter)
- Sandwiches & snacks on the boat
- Wetsuit & equipment (diving masks, hoods and boots)
- Diving equipment guidance by shark expert
- Shark cage dive
- Lunch, salad, coffee and tea upon return
- Optional DVD at the end of the day for R350.
Please bring with you:
- Waterproof sunscreen
- Bathing costume
- Hat or cap
- Warm jacket