There are not a lot of places in the world where you can be mano-a-mano with one of the biggest predators in the deep sea. The Great White shark is typically not something you think about swimming with but if you’re an adrenaline junkie, like facing your fears and coming away with bragging rights, cage diving should be high on your list of things to do when going to South Africa. The company we went with was Marine Dynamics in Gaansbai and here’s a little about what our experience was like.
Why Cage Diving in South Africa
The truth is, before I started planning for our honeymoon, I had no idea that cage diving was a popular activity in South Africa. The more I read about it, the more I understood why travellers preferred to be jump into a cage there.
What makes South Africa and Gaansbai special is that out of the 4 places that you can do this on the globe (South Africa, Guadeloupe, South Australia, and New Zealand), this is the only one where the boat ride out to the drop site is only 20 minutes away. This means that you don’t need to be on choppy waters for hours to get there or be part of a large expedition. South Africa is the perfect destination for this activity because it’s truly open to anyone.
Funny enough, while they call it cage diving but it doesn’t require any scuba diving skills at all. This was another surprise to me as I always thought you needed special training. This is good news because anyone can do it as long as you’re comfortable with water.
Cage diving is no joke and as a result, in my search, I was looking for an equally serious, safe, and reputable company to take us. That’s how I found out about Marine Dynamics which was not only recommended by friends, is coincidentally also the #1 provider on Trip Advisor.
The Ultimate Adrenaline Rush
Here’s a look at what our experience with Marine Dynamics was and what you can expect when you go cage diving with them.
A day prior to your cage dive, Marine Dynamics reached out to us by phone to confirm your start time because they need to account for things like water conditions. Ours was confirmed for 12:30PM which actually worked out well because that meant we didn’t have to wake up ridiculously early.
We arrive in Gaansbai a little early and it seems to be a nice and quaint town but with not much else going on other than several shark diving outfits to support it and of course the dock.
We’re greeted by the friendly Marine Dynamics staff in the Great White House when we arrive and are directed to the second floor room where we wait for the others in our group to arrive. The center itself is a large building with its own bar, restaurant, and gift shop and that doesn’t even include the massive whale fossil that dangles from the ceiling as if safeguarding everyone below. It’s quite the impressive sight to see.
Since we had an afternoon departure, lunch is served with a delicious assortment of lasagne, salad, juice, and coffee. When we finish, we’re given a full briefing about the incredible conservation work that the organization is doing, about the Great White shark, and what we’re to expect in the waters. During this time we also get called down to do our check-in process which comprises getting sized up for our booties and wetsuit.
What we learn from Kelly, our marine biologist, is that they’re in quite a unheard of dry spell in terms of great white sightings in the past 7 days because there’s been the unusual presence of Orca whales patrolling the waters near Gaansbai. As a result, this has been driving out the Great Whites as Orcas are one of their natural predators. Nevertheless, their fingers were crossed for a sighting that afternoon. We wait for anticipation as we’re told that the tides aren’t optimal yet.
Once we get the go-ahead from the captain and everyone is ready with their swim suits, we make our way out of the Great White House. It’s right outside where they hand out our lifejackets and waterproof jackets. All decked out in orange, we march down the main street to the dock with all the excitement in the world.
The boat ride out to towards Dyer Island and the dive spot is a quick 20 minutes but a thrill of a lifetime from where we were sitting. They give us waterproof jackets for a reason. As we blaze across, we’re splashed with water and we have our first encounter with how big the swells will be out in the open water.
We anchor and lower the cage. As part of the first group to go in, we suit up with the help of the crew. We very much appreciated the dry and not-so-smelly wetsuits. This is a full wetsuit including hood and mask.
One by one we drop into the cage.
With chum in the water (a sort of fish stew that attracts sharks) and fish head bait cast, we anxiously watch from our cage. That’s when we hear them shout out “RIGHT” and we take a deep breath of air and drop into the water to see if we can catch a glimpse. It’s a Copper shark!
I completely lose track of time at this point. Things are quite hectic in the cage because I’m trying to manage with my GoPro on a stick, holding my position by hooking my feet on the bottom bar. Staying submerged is tricky.
What also makes things hard is that the clarity of the water is limited to a meter or two at best so once they call out a shark, you have to get into the water right away and you might see the mouth come straight at you or see the tail whipping by on its way out.
We go through a number of cycles of this as we bob in and out of the water. Halfway through we also shift positions. Since we started on the far left of the cage, we over-and-under to get to the right side of the cage which offers better chances to spot the shark because the bait is cast from that side of the boat. And oh yes do we get to see the shark up-close and personal.
Eventually I get to the point where I’m pretty exhausted and ready to head to the top and I’d say it’s the same across the board with everyone else in the cage including my wife. You can only bob up and down so many times. They open the tops of the cage and we climb out.
Back onboard, we’re treated with beverages snacks as we dry off and watch the second group make their way down.
Now you’d think that there wouldn’t be much to see on the boat but in fact, the view is even better because the top down view gives you an even clearer big picture of all the action. From the bottom or upper deck, you get full view of the the Copper sharks (also called Bronzies) as they emerge on their own or in pairs. Slash of their sleek body, the cutting of their fins like a knife, and that terrifying bite as they chase after bait can be seen so clearly from here. I snap away.
Once the second group is done, we run out of time (we anchored for roughly 2 hours) and the crew packs up the cage back on the boat and we make our way back to land. For us, we’re glad to be on solid ground again because the water conditions out in the Atlantic is quite rough with swells reaching up to 1.5 meters high.
Sad that we didn’t get to see the famous Great Whites? Yes, but it was an exhilarating experience nonetheless being nose to nose with Copper sharks in the water. Even though we’re scuba divers, this was truly a once in a lifetime because even in the deep you only get to see small reef shark and they never get as close as they do here.
If you’re bringing a GoPro, one of the bait handlers actually has a pole with a GoPro mount. I saw one of the other guests use it and I asked to put my GoPro on afterwards. For some reason sharks love cameras underwater and so what they’ll do is put the pole in the water and the sharks will actually try to eat it which makes for awesome footage.
What You Need to Know Before You Go
Do I need to book ahead of time? Yes you need to reserve your spot ahead of time but I will say that it’s not the kind of thing that needs a 5-6 month lead time. Check the Marine Dynamics booking page for availability as you’re planning your trip and if it’s looking tight for the date that you’re interested in, I would book ASAP. I would feel comfortable booking a month in advance.
What do I need to bring with me? Marine Dynamics is as full service as it gets. You don’t need to bring a towel, snorkel gear, dry bag, or snacks. They’ll provide everything that you need. What you do need to bring is:
- Gravol – If you get nauseous easily, bring your own motion sickness medication. The crew will have some in hand as well but you’re going to want to start taking these before hitting the water.
- Camera – Something like a GoPro is your best bet for underwater footage. I’d recommend an extension stick like the official GoPro 3-Way Grip/Arm. For above water, you can bring any camera that you travel with but just know that on the boat ride, those at the bottom may get splashed so keep it covered.
- Swim suit – This is a given but if you’re planning on hitting the water, make sure you show up to Gaansbai with your swim suit already on or with you so you can change into them at the Marine Dynamics center.
- Sunscreen – There’s cover on the bottom deck but if you plan to be up top, you’ll get seeing a lot of sun.
- Warm clothing – For the boat ride there, it could get chilly especially in the morning so layer up with a jacket and/or fleece
It’s a full day activity – Gaansbai is close to Cape Town but not that close. From the city, it takes 2.5 hours hours to get there. It’s a lovely drive actually but if your dive is early in the morning, you’re going to have to get up really early. You’re also going to have to factor in traffic or road closures that you might encounter as we did on our way back to Cape Town. So if you add it all up, the whole thing will take approximately 8 hours (yep a full day) if you’re based in Cape Town so plan your itinerary accordingly.
Contact number – This one applies to most things you book when in South Africa but since you won’t know your local number until you arrive in the country, remember to contact tour operators like Marine Dynamics to let them know what your mobile number. This is particularly important for these guys because they need to let you know a day before when your experience starts.
When is the best time to go? – The best time to go is probably March to September when the water visibility is the clearest. If we narrow down that further, May to August is even better because you will have a better chance to see what’s called breaching. This is when Great Whites use a hunting technique to surprise and kill its prey where they attack with such explosive energy that they appear to fly out of the water.
The Practical Stuff
Address: 5 Geelbek Street, Kleinbaai, Western Cape, South Africa
Costs: Adults are R1900. Children under 12 are R1100. If you require transfer from Cape Town, it’s R500 per person. There’s a videographer onboard and you can buy the video for R200 after your trip.
Parking: There’s a good amount of parking at the center (Great White House) and it’s free!
What’s included: Beyond the shark cave diving experience, your trip will be guided by a marine biologist. You’ll also get a light meal (breakfast or lunch depending on start time), refreshments/snacks onboard and lastly soup/bread on return. Equipment such as wet suits, booties, masks, and towel are provided. Life jackets and waterproof jacket is also supplied on the boat as there’s quite a bit of splashing on the bottom deck.
Watch the action unfold
Vlog coming soon…
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