Stare your own mortality in the eye when getting up close and personal with one of nature’s most majestic creatures, the great white shark. Great white sharks are by far one of the most elegant marine creatures on the planet and can be found in just a handful of the Earth’s most temperate shores. Gansbaai, located in South Africa’s Western Cape, has one of the densest great white shark populations in the world, making it one of the best places to go cage diving with sharks.
Gansbaai, meaning bay of geese, is a fishing village situated some 2-hour drive east of Cape Town. While the town’s economy is primarily dependant on fishery, Gansbaai has recently become a tourist hotspot due to the emergence of shark cage diving as one of South Africa’s most popular tourist activities.
The islands around Gansbaai, namely Dyer Island and Geyser Rock, are home to abundant marine life. The channel between Dyer Island and Geyser rock is aptly named “Shark Alley”, as it is teeming with marine wildlife and is therefore a rich feeding ground for great white sharks.
- Be prepared for an early start. Shark cage diving in Cape Town usually involves a 6 am pick-up from the city and a two-hour drive to Gansbaai, followed by a boat trip off the cape coastline and into shark territory. Once there, you will be lowered into the waters off Gansbaai in a secure metal cage, for what many have described as a thrilling experience. It’s important to take your own swimsuit to wear under the wetsuit which will be provided. Also carry some warm clothing to change into afterwards.
- Don't go for cheap tours! There are about a dozen different tour operators in and around Cape Town offering shark cage diving. It’s always best to choose a professional and knowledgeable operator who complies with health and safety regulations and has the requisite permits. This way, not only will you avoid disappointment, you will also be more likely get the most out of your shark cage diving experience. Try this Shark Cage Diving Tour.
- Expect some sea sickness. The best time to see sharks is in winter (see below). Unfortunately, during rough weather the water can get quite choppy. The bobbing and dipping of the vessel combined with the smell of fish guts used for luring sharks can be a bit overwhelming for some. If you are prone to motion sickness, taking a nausea pill beforehand is a good idea.
- Don’t confine yourself to shark viewing. The drive from Cape Town to Gansbaai is splendid with plenty to see along the way. With mountains on your left and the ocean to your right, the adventure begins just as soon as you hit the road. Once on the boat, look out for other marine life such as dolphins, seals and birds. A pair of binoculars is a handy tool to have on this journey. You will also want to keep your camera on hand to capture all the sights.
- Stop at Seal Island. Seal Island is a rocky outcropping near False Bay and is home to over 60,000 Cape fur seals. Consider visiting Seal Island to watch the shark breaching behaviour, as seen on internationally televised wildlife programs such as National Geographic.
Shark cage diving in Gansbaai can be booked at any time of the year. However, the best time of the year for shark encounters is between autumn and winter (March to September). Sharks often hunt nearer to the shore during colder months and venture into deeper water during warmer weather. While the water is cold during winter it also offers the best visibility.
Gansbaai is known for the big five of the marine world — whales, sharks, penguins, seals and dolphins. While no trip to the area is complete without trying to spot at least a few of these, there are other things to enjoy in Gansbaai such as the rich flora, untouched beaches and stunning landscape.
You’ll be blown away by the gentle giants at Kleinbaai. Kleinbaai is a ten-minute drive from Gansbaai and offers spectacular whale watching opportunities. One can often spot the marvellous southern right whales, so named because they were the “right” whales from the southern hemisphere, and hunted nearly to extinction. Southern right whales have been declared an endangered species and their numbers are gradually beginning to increase. They migrate thousands of miles from Antarctica each year and can be seen in Cape Town between June and October. Other whale species such as humpback whales and Bryde’s whales can also spotted in the Cape during different times of the year.
- Good to know: Some of the best on-land whale viewing can be done from the cliffs at De Kelders. Boat tours are a better option allowing passengers a closer look at the giants. Whale watching by plane is another popular option.
Here are some whale watching in Hermanus tours that you might like.
2. The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary
The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) is a nature project focussed on marine avian species, their care, conservation and rehabilitation. This is a great place to make a short stop to see rescued penguins. It is also conveniently located and has a lovely coffee shop.
- Good to know: The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary is open every day from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Feeding times are at 8:30am and 3:00 pm. There is no entrance fee but donations are welcome.
Take a walk on the wild side. Learn about the local flora and fauna while visiting pristine beaches and rock pools or take a stroll through an ancient forest. Hiking in the Gansbaai area can be both educational and stimulating. There are some beautiful coastal hikes as well as woodland nature walks available.
Visit Platbos, an indigenous forest, where you can experience a walking meditation in a delightful labyrinth situated in a fynbos enclosed glade. There is also a walking trail at Platbos which will take you through a path consisting of ancient trees, some as much as 1000 years old. This walk includes gentle gradients and can be completed by young and old alike. Platbos Forest has been described by visitors as ‘hauntingly beautiful’ and ‘magical’.
- Good to know: If you want a short hike, the Pearly Beach stroll is for you. The short shoreline walk and rock pool exploration can be completed in approximately 3 hours.
If you enjoy hiking, you might also like our list of best hiking trails in Cape Town.
4. Bike tours
Combine the gorgeous terrestrial landscape of Gansbaai with the adventure of mountain biking. Exploring Gansbaai from a mountain bike gives you a totally different perspective on the area and is ideal for visiting secluded beaches and tackling the dunes.
- Good to know: There are several bicycle rentals in Hermanus, and while a bike ride from Hermanus to Gansbaai is 30-minute long, the ride is worthwhile. If you are up for it, try riding on the beach from Hermanus to Gansbaai. You can also opt for a rather thrilling and long bike tour lasting two to three hours and starting from near Grootbos Nature Reserve and ending on top of sand dunes.
5. Wine tasting
Stop at one of the lovely wineries near Gansbaai for wine tasting or a food and wine pairing. The Western Cape is South Africa’s historic wine region. While most wineries are situated along the famous Cape Town wine route, there are a few remarkable wineries along the route between Cape Town and Gansbaai, and also further afield towards Cape Agulhus. The wines from this region are unique and exciting in both flavour and intensity due the unique terroir.
- Good to know: Lomond Wine Estate is situated only 8 km from Gansbaai. While there are as many as eleven wines made under the Lamond label, their most popular wines include the sauvignon blanc, merlot and shiraz.
There are plenty of wine tasting opportunities in Cape Town. Some of these wine tasting tours might interest you.
Seeing the great white shark in its natural habitat can be an exhilarating experience and one that stays with you for a lifetime. If shark cage diving in South Africa is your decision, there is no better place to do it than in Gansbaai. A visit to Gansbaai is well worth the trip, not just for the opportunity to get in the water with sharks, but also for the many other fun and interesting activities the area has to offer.