Holding your breath as a great white passes in front of you is a sharp thrill rarely matched outside a steel cage submerged in South African waters. And, Cape Town, and some nearby coastline, is THE place to make your super predator dreams come true. Even if you don’t get in the water, watching the chunky shadows snake up the chum trail gets your heart beating faster than you thought possible.
Yes, you might experience a fear like you’ve never felt before. But expect nothing less from a primal and evolutionarily perfect hunting machine. And when you’re done? The sheer exhilaration at having shared the same waters with a 3 – 4 metre beast will keep you on an endorphin high until sunset. The bonus DVD some tours offer is a nice touch too. Don’t watch Jaws before you sail, take your seasickness pills and keep your arms inside the cage…
Most of you will be here for the Great Whites. Whether you’ve been glued to ‘Air Jaws’ on the Discovery channel or can’t look at the ocean without thinking ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’, Cape Town’s the place to see them (more on that later). But, if you’re experienced in the open water, you can also spend time in the company of bronze whalers, blue sharks and mako sharks. And, when the dive company tells you you’re going to get close to these sharks, believe them.
Great whites are nosey types that aren’t too shy to inspect the cage you’re in. Blues and makos? These bold scamps – that can be up to 4.5 metres of solid muscle – often like to ‘bump’ into divers and their cameras. Nerves of steel aren’t optional in Cape Town’s waters. On the cuter end of the shark spectrum, shark diving trips close to Cape Town occasionally get visits from chilled and chubby broadnose sevengill cow sharks.
Where and when to see them
First up, it helps to know before you go that you don’t really go shark cage diving in Cape Town, as such. Gansbaai and Hermanus are the ocean life hot spots – but they’re only 1.5 – 2 hours away by car. If you’re keen to stay local, there are cage diving options in Cape Town – but you’re still looking at a 45 minute drive to Simon’s Town. From there you’ll be headed to False Bay – the stunning spot where the Air Jaws and Discovery crew film those famous breach shots. As for when to go, we’ve got great news. You can see sharks year round from Gansbaai. Cage diving trip sightings do vary by season though. For big numbers, you’ll want to be watching the chum slick like a hawk from June to September, though that is South Africa’s winter. January through to March – Cape Town’s summer – is the low season. Though you can still expect to see a few sharks in the water.
Orbzii Tips: If you’re wondering whether all that travel is worth it, you don’t just get to see sharks in these locations. In Simon’s Town you can chill out with 2,500 African penguins on Boulder’s Beach. Hermanus is THE place for whale watching – in season you can see the whales from the shore. And Gansbaai is the shark capital, with the best options for multiple shark spots.
Cape Town’s Shark Diving Companies
(Gansbaai / Kleinbaai)
Kim – the Sharklady – MacLean has been passionate about sharks, and great whites, for decades. One of the first to tag South Africa’s great whites, she was also the first to get people in the water with the fearsome fish. Well connected – you’ll see quite the line–up of famous faces on the walls in the office – the Sharklady has used her shark powers for good. Chairing the Great White Shark Protection Foundation, her tours are as much about education as they are adrenaline boosting dives. Her boat is small – and so are group numbers. Great for getting close as can be to the sharks – and that’s before you get in the water. Kim’s team dish out a basic brekkie before you sail – and warm you up with soup when you get back.
Cost: Special offers start at R800 per person (~£37) – prices usually come in at ~R1600
Orbzii Tips: Cage ‘diving’ can be a misleading title. With this group you’re in the cage and hold your breath to go underwater. This is due to sharks being put off by scuba bubbles etc. And while yes, the tour does include a breakfast. It’s basic food designed to line the stomach to help with seasickness.
Great White Shark Tours
(Gansbaai / Kleinbaai)
If the small boat tours are tipping you towards bigger boat territory, hop aboard the ‘Apex Predator’. Specifically designed for shark cage diving – it also benefits from a flushing loo, changing room and some protection from the sea spray on the journey to the shark grounds. Tour numbers can reach as a high as 40 – so it’s a less intimate experience – but the larger hull should quell any seafaring nerves. At this point, it’s worth getting into this company’s chum details – as grim as it sounds. The ingredients are a ‘trade secret’ – with the owner taking years to perfect his recipe. What we can say is – sometimes you can be on a boat and see no sharks, meanwhile a boat in the same area is seeing sharks. Chum? Luck? Or just the random behaviour of wild animals? Who can say, but if he’s that cagey about his chum – we reckon it must be good.
Cost: R2300 / ~£105.50 – One of the pricier trips, but this comes with breakfast and light lunch – plus top notch kit, dry wetsuits and towels.
Orbzii Tip: Though they offer two prices, one for the full experience – wetsuit and time in the cage – and one to watch only. We recommend paying for the full experience – and deciding when you’re at sea if you want to sit the dive out. Changing, getting in and out of the cage, and getting warm again afterwards, means you miss out on the above the water action. To see the most sharks, sometimes you’re better off viewing from the boat. But an extra £9 to avoid dive FOMO is worth it.
African Shark Eco-Charters (Simon’s Town)
Another big name in the shark business is Rob Lawrence. Working with Cape Town’s sharks since the late 80s, Rob’s in demand. His Simon’s Town operation has been used by Discovery, the BBC, Animal Planet and National Geographic to get some unique footage. All fancy enough – but what about the tours? Top. Notch. Enthusiastic reviews, online accolades and they are the only shark cage diving company in Cape Town to offer scuba dives in their cages. Their boat is small but sturdy – so you’ll be viewing sharks with up to 18 other people max. The best bit? You’ll be headed to Seal Island. From May to August, this is the place to witness the impressive breaches this part of the world in renowned for. As for that ‘eco’ nod in the name. It’s backed up with an environmental policy and a ‘do no harm’ approach to all tours.
Cost: R1650 / ~£76
Orbzii Tip: Seen the seals and fancy getting closer? This company offer seal snorkelling trips where you can expect the more playful members of the colony to frolic in the water with you.
Planning your trip
Shark diving is among Cape Town’s top attractions – but it’s worth noting a few things before you jet out to see the white pointer in the flesh. Numbers are in decline off the coasts here. Although protected, the shark’s food supply hasn’t fared as well. In an intriguing twist, Cape Town also has a couple of notorious orcas who have been suspected of preying on the smaller sharks. All of which is not to put you off cage diving in Cape Town, just plan accordingly. If you’re flying here specifically to see a species, book your shark cage dive early in your trip. Weather could postpone your excursion – and if you don’t see a shark you can book another dive during your stay.
Sea bands and nautical-themed outfits in the suitcase? Let’s get you within touching distance of a great white sharpish with the Orbzii app. Dream, plan and book – but don’t touch – your shark trip today.