A friend of mine visited from Dubai for one week in the middle of winter. Because of her very short stay, I decided to draw up a detailed itinerary of the sites and events she needs to see/participate in so she could experience all the wonders of Cape Town. On this list was shark cage diving. Yes, this list was drawn up at 1am in the morning and she is quite a thrillseeker, so it was a must.
I did some research on the internet and googled “Shark cage diving with NO fatalities!”. Of course, this was really important to me. You know, NOT dying and all! Anyway, I found a place called “The White Shark Diving Company” situated in Gaansbaai. Gaansbaai – which is technically the channel between Geyser and Dyer islands, is also the social hub of the great white.
Question is: why are there so many great whites in Gaansbaai (aka the great white capital of the world)?
Answer is: SEALS!
According to Nik Walsh (the director of the White Shark Diving Company), just around the corner are about 50 000 to 60 000 seals just waiting to be shark food. He says “Nowhere in the world is there a comparable natural food source available for the great white sharks.” So after reading this, I didn’t feel that safe considering I was volunteering to be disguised as a seal and dropped in a cage to witness a shark encounter! Ok, so it all sounds a bit CRAY CRAY, but I had to do it! Besides, I read somewhere that coconuts kill more people than sharks.
So I emailed the company and they responded almost immediately. In no time, we had our session booked. You can either drive to Gaansbaai by yourself or choose to be picked up. I opted to be picked up as I wanted my friend to have the whole tour experience. This cost an additional R300 p/p.
The damage for the shark cage diving experience will set you back R1350 per person. This includes the following:
- Breakfast when you arrive
- The boat ride and all equipment (wetsuits, hoodies, booties and towels)
- A light lunch after the trip
- A cooler snack box containing refreshments on board for self-service
You can opt to get the DVD of the day for an extra R350.
The driver picked us up at 4:20am (crazy!) and we picked up a few foreigners along the way. I was the only South African on the trip.
Eventually, we got to the place (I’m sure the scenery was nice but I fell asleep on the way there) and we were welcomed by a spread of breakfast delights which included, tea / coffee/ juice, cereal, toast and jam. The only thing negative about the breakfast spread was that there was one toaster for about 20 people. You do the math!
After we had our breakfast, we were briefed on logistics of the trip which included the time on the boat, the actual cage and safety rules. The most interesting tip I received out of the talk was that we shouldn’t put our hands outside the cage to touch the back of the shark (who would do that?). But apparently, people want to touch the shark like it’s a cute cuddly bunny rabbit. The shark is a predator! You may think the shark doesn’t know that you want to touch its fin, but it does. Their whole bodies are pure muscle and they can break your arm with one smack.
I stood in front of the cage and thought, “Why are holes so big?” So I posed the question and they said that the shark cannot fit through. I was like, err what about a baby shark! They told me that there was an incident when a baby shark got through the cage, but luckily nothing happened and they made the holes smaller. This did NOT comfort me.
I went into the ONLY shop next to the diving school to see how much it costs to rent an underwater camera. The old lady quoted me 300 bucks! “FOR WHAT?!” I asked. She said I got to keep the media card after I took the photos. I was like oh my word, that all makes sense right now and you are totally NOT ripping me off. I mean seriously! 300 bucks for a memory card! Anyway, I was the stupid one not bringing an underwater camera with and thus I guess I needed to be punished.
So after getting the camera we walked towards the boat. The boat appeared very small. How were we all going to fit comfortably on that boat? Anyway, I was wearing a jeans, hoody and boots (it was the middle of winter). Big mistake! It was so horrible getting dressed and undressed. Yes, you change on the boat, out in the open (so wear your bikini under your clothes) or in the toilet which is absolutely disgusting so that is not an option. It smells of urine.
After changing into a damp wetsuit and not finding any booties, I prepared myself for the worst before entering the cage. My feet were freezing. I mean seriously, we were 20 people, there should be 20 pairs of booties. There were about 5 pairs of booties and one shoe! I was so angry.
After getting into the cage (we were six in a cage), they close the top off. So if you claustrophobic, this is not for you. Your body dangles in the water and your head is above water. The instructor started throwing chum in the water. Chum is fish parts and blood, which attracts sharks owing to their keen sense of smell.
Shark swimming pass the cage
After a few minutes of dangling in the water, the instructor shouted “GO UNDER!” I held my breath and down I went. Pulling myself down towards the bottom of the cage and there, right in front of me was the biggest shark I have ever seen. It swam past our cage and for a long moment I forgot I was physically in a cage, a few centimetres from a frikkin’ GREAT WHITE. I was mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the creature. I followed it right around the cage as I was in the corner. I forgot I had a camera and only after a few more dips did I manage to get a few decent shots of the sharks.
Once my turn was done, I walked up to the top of the boat and looked down as the other victims stood in the cage. I saw the biggest shark shadows. Almost as big as the boat itself. I was hoping a freak wave didn’t push the boat over as we would be chum for the sharks!
After a second dip in the cage (still with no booties), I was freezing. The water is ice cold. But you forget about the cold when you see the sharks. Nothing can describe how amazing the experience felt.
After a few hours, we headed back to shore. As I undressed from the wetsuit, I kept falling over as the sea was quite rough. The cold dampness did not help. There was so little space on the boat that we kept falling on each other. I eventually climbed to the top and stayed there the whole trip back to the harbour.
Upon arrival on shore, we were provided with a nice lunch consisting of warm lasagna and drinks. There was coffee/tea and cookies provided too as we watched the video of the day. The video was really amazing and I regret not purchasing it.
After a long day, we got back into the mini-bus and were transported back home. I would definitely recommend this company. Even though there was room for improvement, their staff were extremely friendly and welcoming and very knowledgeable about sharks. I learned a lot about the shark habitat and it made me proud to be South African.
So in the words of Nelson Mandela “There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” So play big, like SHARK BIG and book your shark cage diving experience!
Things to know:
Website : http://www.sharkcagediving.co.za/
Bookings/Telephone: (+27) 021 671 4777
Cell: (+27) 082 559 6858
(+27) 082 371 8715
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost : R1350 per person ( excluding transport)
Wear : clothes that can be easily removed and put on.