Establishment: Great White Shark Diving
Location: Gansbaai, South Africa
Address: GPS co-ordinates: 34°36'52"S - 19°21'18"E
Editor’s note: Have you ever wanted to see a shark up close and personal? Ling Tan and her hubby did. To observe these apex predators in their natural habitat, they decided to sign up for a shark cage dive during their trip to South Africa, where the technique was first developed. If you have ever wondered about going Shark Cage Diving with kids, read Ling’s story and be inspired to stare a killer in its eyes, perhaps?
Last year (2014), on our trip to South Africa, hubby and I decided we had to try Shark Cage Diving with our kids.
After all, if you are not a certified or experienced diver, it is almost impossible to see a shark up close and personal, in its natural habitat. With Shark Cage diving, you’re basically placed “behind bars”, caged up in “safety” whilst observing these magnificent creatures in the waters. A truly unique experience. Since we were already in the Western Cape of South Africa, where it all started 20 years ago, it was an opportunity not to be missed, we thought.
On the internet, you will see shark cage diving tours offered as day trips from Cape Town. Those entail an early start in the morning (around 5am), with a long drive (sbout 2.5 hours) up to Gansbaai, for the morning session – usually with the best chance for viewing. You are at the mercy of the weather, as dive trips are cancelled whenever weather conditions are not suitable – and in Cape Town, we soon learn, weather can turn quite quickly. Since shark cage diving with our boys were a priority for us, we decided to spend three nights at the Gaansbai area, to ensure we get our shot at the activity.
We chose to stay at the Grootbos Nature Reserve (a lovely place, worthy of a review all of its own).
The customer service ladies at our resort were able to book the experience for us (though at a higher price compared with direct booking with the tour operators). Grootbos has a great relationship with all the reputable operators in town, and are kept up-to-date with the weather conditions – if the weather is bad and the dive’s off, Grootbos takes care of all the rebooking and details for us, whilst we are free to enjoy other attractions and activities Grootbos offer.
After two false starts (yes, we had our dives cancelled on us TWICE), we were finally able to go on the dive on our second last morning in South Africa (whew). Thinking back, I was glad we did not have to reschedule our paragliding adventure too – we’d have ran out of time completely!
There are quite a few operators in town. We were booked with Great White Shark Tour; others included Great White Shark Diving, Marine Dynamics and Shark Diving Unlimited. The Gansbaai official tourism website has a list of companies you could easily book with. The cost per trip, per adult in June 2014 was typically Rand1,200, excluding transfer from Cape Town.
Upon arrival at the dive centre, an almost lavish breakfast spread had been laid out – fruits, yogurt, muffins, bread and spread, coffee, tea and milk. Though it is definitely not advisable to eat too much before heading out to sea – it WAS rocky – we still ate. A safety video was played, and safety manuals handed around. Once all guests had registered, the dive master gave a safety brief – yes, safety is the buzz word here.
Finally, after about 30mins, we boarded the boat and set sail for Dryer Island.
The area between Dyer Island and Gansbaai is commonly known amongst as ‘Shark Alley’, because, well, sharks pry the area. Dyer Island is home to thousands of Cape Fur Seals – also know as yummy meals for the sharks.
It was windy and a little rocky as we set sail. A note for folks who tend to get seasick – it is rocky, and yes, at least two persons onboard with us that morning were earnestly throwing up. You might want to bring along ginger pills, or pop some anti-seasickness pills before going on the cruise.
Our dive master suggested that you should sit on the upper deck of the boat, and glance into the distance far away if you feel yourself getting a tad sick in the tummy.
As we approached Shark Alley, the crew sent out wetsuits according to our sizes, and helped us suit up. The waves were strong, but the sense of excitement in the air even stronger – many guests on the boat that morning have had their dives postponed for the last few days too.
Our turn came, and we stepped (bravely) into the metal cage and the icy cold water. We hardly had to wait before two sharks came our way. Some of us stared at the sharks with amazement while others snapped pictures with their waterproof cameras (we went with a GoPro).
The sharks had long, grey bodies and razor sharp teeths. They swam majestically to and fro in front of our cage, as if they were posing for the cameras. The sight was surreal – and intimidating. These marine predators are powerful, and their glares, fierce. It felt like they too, were really curious about us, the way they stared.
We were literally being dunked into the waters, repeatedly. We’d be raised out of the water to catch our breathe for a few seconds, and the cage lowered into the waters each time the dive master see the sharks approaching, repeatedly.
Having just came from the safaris where we’ve witnessed a leopard kill, and a literal cat fight, we were extremely glad for the protection our cage offered.
Kids being kids, our sons were awed, but somewhat less intimidated than us. They went into the cage for a second round of dives when the dive master offered, after all onboard had there first dives. That’s something the operator kept offering, till all onboard the boat are satisfied.
Shark cage diving is not without its detractors. Some marine biologists argued that by using “chum” – basically a mixture of tuna mince and blood – to attract the sharks, it’s akin to teasing the predators, with no real rewards for their work. This, they argued, alters the shark’s natural behavior and is detrimental to the animal’s well-being.
Personally, I reasoned, the area we are in is the sharks’ natural hunting ground. There is a plentiful supply of seals nearby. This is surely a better way of seeing the sharks, then in an aquarium, caged-up? No regrets doing it, my hubby and I. We’d love to go Shark Cage Diving with our boys again, if the opportunity presents itself.
After about 90mins in Shark Alley, we sailed back towards Kleenbai. It was chilly, June being winter in the Southern hemisphere. We weren’t the only parents “brave” enough to bring along our kids – that morning there was another two American families on board. Along with my son, there was another 8yo kid, and the pair were the youngest divers.
Back in the office of Great White Shark Diving, the group going on the 11.30am dive had been briefed, and were waiting for their turn to board the boat. We settled down for some hot drinks whilst watching a video presentation of our adventure. Of course, we bought a DVD of the video for keepsakes, but as we headed back to the comforts of Grootboos Nature Reserve, we agreed that the memories of our adventure, shark cage diving with our kids, are forever etched in our mind anyways 😄
Editor’s note: what was your most memorable experience in the open seas with your family? Share your travel memories with us – drop us an comment, or leave a story with us. We’d love to hear from you.More on USA from our community here