South Africa TravelBlogue (Part 3 - Great White Shark Cage Diving)



On Saturday morning my mom and I hopped in our rental car and set out for Gansbaai. The small coastal town is known for fishing, great white sharks and whale watching. It took about 2.5 hours to get there and we had a close call on the road when we were only a few miles away from our destination. A small pick-up truck carrying sheets of corrugated metal suddenly lost part of its load. The truck was directly in front of us. Three long sheets of metal flew up into the air and hovered there for a split second before plummeting down to the ground in three different trajectories. Luckily my mom had enough time to slam the brakes (even though it meant stalling the manual transmission car) and we didn’t even come close to hitting the metal with our tires. Once everything was holding still and the truck pulled off the road (a car traveling in the opposite direction had signaled to them that something was wrong) we cautiously started the car again. If there was ever a time to give a “look that could kill” this was it. As we passed the pick-up truck I gave one of my most hostile you-almost-killed-us looks of all time. I hope they got the message and they never make the mistake of carrying an unsecured load again.

We finally got to the little house where we were meeting up with everyone who had signed up for the noon shark cage diving trip. Unfortunately we weren’t going anywhere until 1 pm. (They did that thing people do where they tell you to be somewhere at a certain time because they’re counting on you getting lost, and then you arrive on time only to find out you’re “early” and you’re stuck with nothing to do for an hour. Actually there was plenty to do once I started imagining the number of ways a shark could kill a person.) We snacked on some lunch items the staff put out and tried not to laugh out loud when one of the Icelandic tourists revealed his cackle of a laugh. I think everyone was a bit high strung considering what we were about to do.

Finally the clock wound down and we went out to the patio for a quick run-down of how to use the cage we would be in. We weren’t supposed to wrap our fingers around the exterior bars for grip because we’d be exposing our fingers to the big guys with triangular teeth. Instead there were a few horizontal bars on the inside of the cage including one we’d use to push ourselves under water and a lower one that we could wrap our feet under to hold us in place. Many people have asked me if I had to be SCUBA certified to do this. The answer is no – the cage is securely attached to a boat and the top two feet of the cage remains above water. All of the divers stay above water (safely enclosed in the cage) until the guy controlling the bait line catches the interest of a shark. Once the bait guy is somewhat convinced the shark will follow the bait over the cage he says, “Watch the bait – down! Down right!” or “Down left!” It is then up to you to push yourself underwater and get your face as close to the front of the cage as you can so you can see something.

These instructions all sound fine and good when you’re standing on solid ground. However, the process of actually boarding the boat while a guide is cheerfully pointing a handheld camcorder at you is hardly a reason to rejoice. You’re just thinking, “Well, this is the end.” The worst part is seeing how nervous everyone else is. It just confirms that there is a good reason you had to sign your life away in the company’s waiver. The boat ride was pretty rough but we got to see a whale breaching in the distance. When we got out to the diving site we could see the cage floating on buoys. We realized that there were three sharks circling it. They were ready to play! 

The crew anchored the boat and dragged the cage over to prep it and attach it. The designated chum guy started mixing up a barrel of fish blood and guts and dumping it over the side. The bait guy started throwing out a line with a really thick and buoyant seal-shaped silhouette attached to it. The sharks were definitely interested in that.  Another guy called for a group of 7-8 volunteers to get wetsuits in the cabin.

My mom was in the first group of volunteers. She was worried she’d get seasick if she waited on the boat too long and then she wouldn’t be able to get into the water. Her group included a lot of hyper Irish men and when they got in the water they couldn’t stop talking about how cold it was. They had some good viewings and I think they were in the water for about 20 minutes.

I ended up going in the third group and I’ll tell you putting on that slightly damp wetsuit was a bit of a battle. A deck hand helped me get it on and zipped up. Next we walked over to another guy who put a weight belt on us. That thing had to be about twenty pounds. Last stop was to get a diving mask put on over our eyes and noses. Then it was MAN OVERBOARD! Seriously they were just like, “Okay, now hop in there.” Sorry but do you know what you’re asking me to do? We had to get into the cage through an opening at the top and then go to the far end of the cage to make way for the other 7 people in our group. I made it in alright (mostly because someone was holding my weight belt so I didn’t drop into the water like a rock) and moved over. The only problem is I immediately thought I wasn’t going to be able to put my face under the water. Luckily I managed to do it and my 20ish minutes in the water were great.

"Hop in? Seriously?!"
Here sharky, sharky, sharky
Surprisingly being in the same water as the sharks isn’t very scary. You are in a very secure little environment and the water was so dark and dreary you couldn’t really see more than the outline of the sharks. When you tell other tourists you’ve done it they’re like, “No way! You must be an adrenaline junky!” but this is really something that people who are into nature would enjoy. Plus it helped that we didn’t see the sharks actually kill anything.

Okay maybe they're a little scary
After my group went people were allowed to go in for their second time. My mom hopped right in and had better viewings than her first time in. The way back to the little house was long and cold (it had become very overcast) but we were able to recover and get on with our day in a short while.

After we left Gansbaai we headed to another small town to see the Betty’s Bay Penguin Colony at Stony Point. We were planning to see the most well-known penguin colony (at Boulders Beach) two days later but my mom heard this penguin colony was a must-see. Unfortunately we didn’t get there before it closed at 5 pm. We were sad to see the locked gate (which prevented us from walking the boardwalks to get a closer look) but we could see hundreds of penguins covering the landscape. Some of them were kind enough to walk under the gate and up to the nearby grassy areas – perhaps for some evening nesting time. If you ever go to Cape Town you simply have to make your way to this place. It is a little remote (watch for a brown and white “penguin crossing” warning sign on the main road – it will lead you toward a maze of tiny beach roads and ultimately to a small parking lot) but completely worth the search. Just be sure to get there before 5 pm!

1 comment:

  1. There's NO way I could do that! Holy cow Amber!!! Penguins, sure, but not sharks.