Western Cape, Gansbaai

By Amilda Boshoff
Photo's by Johan Boshoff
Map by Izelle Hickey

Gansbaai - Where white sharks rule!

Gansbaai is known for its great white shark sightings, especially near Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. We paid a special visit to bring you this article as part of our dedicated shark edition.

ImageOur excursion to Geyser and Dyer islands began at the picturesque Kleinbaai harbour’s Great White House. After the two and a half hour drive from Cape Town that morning, we met the charters there for a light breakfast and to warm our hands at the fireplace. Having come from Gauteng, it was quite strange seeing the winter sun rising behind the majestic mountains only at 8:10 am.

We finished our breakfast and headed down to the slipway at Kleinbaai harbour. It was a great day with clear blue skies, the sun shining lazily above the calm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Boarding the boat, I felt a chill of exhilaration – I have dived with sharks before, but not with the ‘undisputed lords of the deep’ as they are known here. We were dressed warmly as it gets cold on the water and the wind can start blowing at any time. Fortunately, only a light breeze ruffled the leaves on the trees that day.

The boat left the harbour at about 8:45 am and took about 20 minutes to reach the channel between Geyser and Dyer islands, known as Shark Alley. The anchor was lowered, the cage went into the water and a scent trail was made with a mixture of mashed sardines, fish oil and seawater. It normally takes about an hour of chumming and baiting for the first great white to make its appearance, but we were lucky – it only took 20 minutes before it was time for the first four people to get into the cage. The water was a chilly 14 degrees Celsius and much colder than the subtropical waters we are used to!

Whilst the first divers got dressed in their wetsuits, we went up to the top deck to get a better view and to capture the exhilarating action on film. From there we had a 360- degree view around the boat and we could spot sharks swimming from the depths to try and catch the tuna head attached to a float. The skipper throws the lure into the water, but before a shark can bite the lure gets pulled away, leaving the shark interested but not fed.

The motto here is never to feed the sharks. The public’s common misconception is that the sharks get fed here and that that is why there are so many of them in this area. They also believe that the sharks get used to being fed when they hear the sound of boats. However, according to research great white sharks do not stay in an area for longer than three weeks. By using the decoy-fish float, the sharks lose interest after a few tries when they see that they cannot catch the lure. Luckily for the cage divers and spectators, there are more than one interested great white in the ocean willing to try and outsmart the skipper!

Then it was my turn to get out of my warm clothes and into a wet suit. That was challenge enough, but getting into the freezing water was an even bigger one! Armed with my mask and my weights around my hips, I glided into the water like a seal – but with one difference: seals do not get the ice-cream headache I did. (Did I mention that the winter months are the best time to do this dive, because visibility reaches up to ten meters, providing beautiful blue-green water to capture the sharks on film? See, I’m not crazy!)

ImageThe moment of truth arrived when the dive master called out to the divers to put their heads under the water. A great white shark came swimming by within touching distance. At that moment, it felt like time was standing still, and in the presence of this majestic animal I did not even feel the cold water. When you look directly into the intelligent dark blue eyes of a passing white shark, you get the feeling that you do not rule these waters – they do!

Great white sharks are very curious animals and that leads to some amazing moments, especially when their heads are above water. They are also extremely cautious animals – a good thing for their own survival – and we should respect these behaviours. White sharks also have very distinctive personalities, a trait that makes every encounter with one so special. No two sharks are alike and one can easily distinguish them by the characteristic notches and pigmentation patches present on their dorsal fins, as well as the markings and scars present on their bodies.

All too soon, it was time for me to get out of the water as other divers were waiting to experience this awesome animal of the ocean. I decided to keep my wetsuit on, just in case I wanted to go in again, but in the end, it was too cold and I had to succumb. I exchanged my wetsuit for a dry towel, clothes and a snack in order to get rid of the chills in my spine. Heading up to the top deck to take some more pics, I thought about my encounter with the white sharks and I realized just how lucky I was to see this great creature in its habitat, knowing that it is protected along our coastline for future generations.

After everyone had a turn in the cage, we stayed on the boat until the sharks were no longer interested in what the skipper had to offer. We had been on the boat for four hours now and everyone agreed that it was time to turn back. Some divers suffered from seasickness, but they did not want to make use of the ‘sick boat’ that was chartering people with severe seasickness back to dry land (at an additional cost). It was nice knowing that such a service was available and that you did not have to bribe the skipper into taking you ashore should you get seasick to the extent that you could not take it any longer.

Back on dry land, everyone gathered in the Great White House’s lounge to watch the footage taken by the onboard cameraman whilst we were enjoying ourselves. Orders were placed for taking the memories of this day back home to show off to friends. After we had a hot cup of coffee and lunch, a nice hot bath waited at the cozy Great White House chalets just behind the restaurant. A fire burning in the fireplace just three meters from your bed was heaven during that cold afternoon.


ImageAfter a nice rest, it was time to venture into town in order to experience the nightlife of Gansbaai. There are very nice restaurants, such as Farango’s, which has a refreshing menu. You will also find a Saddles steak ranch and many more. The one we chose was a local pub near the Kelders called The Buite Steen, where I had the best calamari steak I have ever tasted. We played a round of pool with the locals and made great conversation and jokes about the events of the day on the boat. The people of Gansbaai and Kleinbaai made us feel so welcome that we did not want to leave.

We want to thank White Shark Diving Co, Marine Dynamics, Great White House and Heli-link Aviation for this magnificent experience. Thank you, too, for all the help and friendliness – we will definitely be back!


Our sponsors’ contact details

The Great White House/Heli-link Aviation

Leonie & Mauritz du Plessis
Tel: +27 (0) 28 384 3273
www.white-house.co.za
E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

White Shark Diving Company

Mariaan Ritter
Tel: +27 (0) 28 384 0782
www.sharkcagediving.co.za
E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Marine Dynamics

Maximillian Oertel
Tel: +27 (0) 28 348 1005
www.whitesharktrust.org/marinedynamics/
E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

What is included?

  • Snacks and soft drinks
  • Required diving equipment such as wetsuits, weight belts and masks.
  • Dry towels

What should we bring?

  • Warm clothing as it is cooler at sea than on land.
  • Sunscreen and a cap or hat.
  • Please use anti-seasick medication well in advance if you are prone to motion sickness.
Note: Scuba gear is seldom used as sharks are extremely sensitive to the bubbles.

What can I do during my stay in Gansbaai?

  • Gansbaai has become a booming tourist coastal town during the recent past few years. It stretches along 20 km of coastline from De Kelders to Pearly Beach. It offers some amazing walks along the rocky shore of De Kelders (to visit Duiwelsgat and Klipgat rock formations), and along the beautiful beach of Uilenkraalsmond. De Kelders offers some amazing shore-based whale watching from June to December, whilst Dyer Island Cruises offer boat-based whale watching, which gets you closer to southern right whales than you ever thought possible.
  • Walks in the unique Fynbos can also be undertaken, but a guided tour is highly recommended in order to learn about the hundreds of indigenous plant species. Gansbaai is definitely a place to get in touch with nature, but should the city slicker in you awaken, the larger town of Hermanus is only 50 km away.
  • When visiting Kleinbaai, be sure to take a helicopter flight with friends to get a bird’s eye view of the beautiful coastline.
  • You can dive into history on the wreck of the Birkenhead. According to divers in the area, a great white is spotted on almost every dive!
  • A visit to the Birkenhead Memorial at the Danger Point lighthouse is a must.
  • For those ladies not interested in diving, a leisurely massage or manicure in this peaceful and quiet environment is definitely recommended.
  • Visit the Birkenhead Brewery to taste the locally brewed beer.
  • At Franskraal you will find the Strandveld Museum. A guided tour of the house here makes you want to learn more about the history of the surrounding area. For example,
  • did you know that Dyers Island is named after Samson Dyer, an American Negro who came to the Cape in 1806. He lived on Dyers Island where he collected guano.
  • You know where to go if you want to learn more...

What can you do to avoid seasickness?

Here are some tips from the operators to help you prevent it:
  • Do not consume any alcohol the evening before your excursion, or at least drink with moderation. Alcohol and hangovers are a near guarantee for seasickness.
  • Take an anti-motion sickness tablet the evening before your excursion, followed by another one in the morning an hour before boarding the boat. (These are available at any pharmacy without prescription.) You may also want to wear wristbands during your excursion (available from the Great White House.)
  • Do not think about it! If you have ever been seasick, you will remember it, and some seasickness is psychological. Convince yourself that you will be fine and forget about seasickness.
  • During the excursion, stay outside the cabin and remain in the fresh breeze – and avoid the toilet. Keep your eyes on the horizon from the start and try not to look through your camera's viewfinder for too long (most compact digital cameras have a screen, so rather use this option).
  • When the sea is choppy, avoid going on the top deck where the boat's movements will be accentuated. Wear comfortable and loose clothing items, or just make yourself as comfortable as possible by opening buttons or belts.

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Author: Amilda Boshoff