The best day ever: cage diving with Great White Sharks

Let’s get this out in the open. I am obsessed with sharks! So obsessed that the majority of my friends and family think I’m a little crazy. I will not stand for anyone talking bad of the misunderstood apex predator; the mighty Great White Shark.

I’ve ticked great white shark cage diving off my bucket list twice already and could easily do it another 10 times (at least!) There is some controversy regarding cage diving with Great Whites – some argue that it has changed the behaviour of sharks around humans; while others argue that it helps with the conservation of the apex predator. I have to admit I was dubious about cage diving when I first discussed it with Jonny. As a shark lover I didn’t want to do anything that could worsen the Great White’s reputation (we all know what Jaws did for them…!) but no one really seems to have a definite answer on if it’s right or wrong.

So, I decided to give it a go!

There’s nowhere else in the world I wanted to cage dive than in the shark capital of the world – South Africa! I chose to go with Great White Shark Tours (GWST) in Gansbaai which is home to the infamous “Shark Alley”. Brian McFarlane (the owner) is a legend in the shark world so it was a no brainer that we chose to dive with these guys. I actually just watched a programme on the Discovery Channel last night that featured Brian – Shark Alley:  the legend of Dynamite!

The legend himself!
The legend himself!

The first time we did this was back in 2014 and it was just that good that we had to take my parents for a trip on our way from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth in December last year. FYI my mum hates boats, she’s never snorkeled and wouldn’t really be a fan of sharks. But, after a lot of “hmm-ing” and “haa-ing” she decided YOLO and booked herself onto the trip with us.

YOLO?!
YOLO?!

Here’s what you should expect from a day diving with Great Whites:

First things first: how to get to Gansbaai
Gansbaai (kinda pronounced “Hans-bi” to the non-Afrikaaner!) is a little fishing town on the Western Cape of SA, located around 2 hours from Cape Town. GWST do offer a transfer from Cape Town if you don’t have a car. Although I would recommend staying the night in Gansbaai as it can be a super early start if you don’t! You’ll find the office for GWST here!

A lekker brekkie
If your stomach isn’t doing somersaults at the thought of sharing the water with Great Whites you will be treated to a delicious continental breakfast of meats, breads and pastries (no greasy foods are provided to help prevent sea sickness). You will get checked in, make your payment and sit back relax and watch a short safety video.

The Apex Predator
Now you’re ready to make the short walk down to the harbour. You’ll be looking super hot at this stage in your bright orange waterproof jacket (which is a Godsend when you get out of the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean!). Make sure you smile for the camera as you board the amazing Apex Predator catamaran. I recommend finding a seat on the top deck on the right side of the boat as this is where you will get the best view of the shark action when you’re not in the cage. It’s only a short trip out to the spot where the cage is launched.

The Apex Predator
The Apex Predator

And please note: if you are prone to sea sickness take a tablet beforehand! My mum ignored this advice and ended up very sorry (mum, you’re an idiot!!).

The best part: sharing the water with a Great White (or 5)!
GWST use a specially made top secret legal ‘chum’ mixture which they release into the water after anchoring. Once the sharks start arriving (which has been really quick on both my trips) it’s time to launch the cage! Eight people can fit in at once. When it’s your turn you’ll get your wet suit and mask fitted and then it’s time to hop into the cage. If it’s your first time this can feel a little daunting. But you are totally safe inside here! GWST have a 20 year clean safety record. You can even have a practice go on dry land first…

Practice makes perfect...
Practice makes perfect…
Ready to go...
Ready to go…
In the cage
Here we go…

When the skippers see the sharks coming towards the cage they will start shouting “down, down down!“. This is your cue to hold on to the bar inside the cage; place your feet under the bar at the bottom; hold your breath and pull yourself down to the viewing gap. Prepare to be amazed when you catch the first glimpse of a Great White swimming right towards you! Just be careful you don’t gulp down a litre of the Atlantic Ocean on your way down – chummy water is NOT pleasant!

Why hello there!
Why hello there!
CHEEEEEESE!!!
CHEEEEEESE!!!

On both occasions we have been in SA during their summer time when the visibility tends to be worse but on both trips we have had at least 5 metres visibility and have seen 5 or 6 different sharks. GWST don’t have a time limit for how long you stay in the water – they allow you to stay in until you’ve seen a good amount of shark action. And there’s a good chance you’ll be offered  a second go in the cage (if you can brave the cold that is!).

If getting into the water isn’t for you – I still highly recommend this trip just to view the sharks from the boat!

View from the boat!
View from the boat!

Back on dry land
After everyone has been in the cage it’s time to head back to shore. The whole trip in total takes around 3-5 hours depending on how engaged the sharks are. Once you’re back on dry land you’ll be fed a really tasty lunch and get a chance to watch the DVD footage of your trip (which you can purchase). I guarantee you’ll be talking about this experience for years to come!

Watch Jonny’s GoPro footage here:

Would I recommend Great White Shark Tours?
YES! 
I’m sure from reading this that you can tell how much I enjoyed my experience with this company. We were lucky enough to have Brian leading our first trip and his knowledge of Great Whites is incredible. You don’t need any diving experience to take part in the cage dive, however some snorkeling experience might make you feel a little more confident. The trip costs R1650 which is around £83 at the moment – it is totally worth every penny! And on the very off chance that you don’t see any sharks, you will be offered a full refund.

Things to remember when booking your own trip
+ Make sure the company you are diving with are committed to conservation of sharks!
+ Don’t dive with anyone who actually feed the sharks
+ Check they have a good safety record and all equipment is up to date
+ ENJOY every minute.

This truly was one of the best days EVER! I was so proud of my parents for totally getting outside their comfort zones to do this and it was great to share my love of sharks with them (my mum hasn’t quite joined my shark appreciation club just yet though…)

Have you been cage diving anywhere other than Gansbaai? Let me know where else I should give it a go!

18 Comment

  1. Jen says: Reply

    Oh my gosh, I couldn’t imagine myself doing this. You’re brave! Good job to your parents as well. They’re so cool to join you! 🙂

    1. 50 shades of freckles says: Reply

      Thanks Jen – it was cool to experience it with them! You totally could do it 😎

  2. Oh this is fantastic. I had my dive booked near Durban but could not make it due to time crunch (Had to choose between being in the bush vs dive – hard choice). Tried to fit it in when I was in Cape and just could not. I bet I am doing this one day 🙂 Btw great pic of the shark there – say cheeeese.

    1. 50 shades of freckles says: Reply

      That was a difficult decision – both are so amazing! But you definitely should do it one day ☺ thank you..such a lovely smile haha!

  3. Naomi says: Reply

    OMG I can’t believe you dared to do such a thing. I would be too nervous to listen to the instructions. What an adventure

    1. 50 shades of freckles says: Reply

      How cold the water was was actually the scariest part 😂 it was an amazing adventure!

  4. Amber says: Reply

    I’m so glad I came across this post! I’m heading there and January, and this is a must on my list! Fingers crossed that I get good weather.

    1. 50 shades of freckles says: Reply

      Have an amazing time doing it Amber – it’s such an exciting trip! You should definitely get good weather in January 🙂 Natalie x

  5. Steph says: Reply

    I understand it’s a great tourist attraction and I’ve had friends that have done it. But being totally honest, I am concerned a little about the ethics of it all – as you seemed to be at the start too

    1. 50 shades of freckles says: Reply

      I totally respect that Steph! I still continue to read articles about the ethics of it – it’s all really mixed information from different “experts” so it’s hard to know if it’s right or wrong. I think it’s important that people do their research before choosing a tour company if they do decide to do it.

  6. Janet says: Reply

    Amazing! I chickened out then I was in South Africa last year….my one big fear!

    1. 50 shades of freckles says: Reply

      Aw Janet I hope you feel brave enough to do it some day! It is so worth conquering your fear ☺

  7. Love that you did this and shared it with us. Quite an experience but not sure I would do it.

    1. 50 shades of freckles says: Reply

      It’s not for everyone Christine! My mum is 100% sure she will never do it again. But if you ever change your mind you won’t regret it ☺

  8. Nikki says: Reply

    You are way braver than me, I have such a fear of sharks! I find them terrifying! But what a incredible experience it must have been!

    1. 50 shades of freckles says: Reply

      You’d be nice & safe behind a cage Nikki 😂 I think the media are massively to blame for people being so scared of them! It was amazing – hope you get over your fear and give it a go one day ☺

  9. sarh says: Reply

    I’m not saying this is totally unethical – I actually really want to do it, very badly. But I thought I would share what we talked about only a week ago and present the other side of it. The photos and the story are amazing, and like I said, I really want to do this someday. Looks like you had a blast!

    So, a week ago, I had a conversation with my bf and good friend about cage diving with sharks. My bf is a surfer and my friend is a scuba diver. Both said that up until these companies started running trips like this, there hadn’t been fatal shark attacks in SA but there has been an increase ever since. Because when you get into the water and they throw the chum in to attract the sharks, they are teaching them that this thing (us humans) means food. So, the sharks see a swimmer who happens to look just like the thing they saw in the cage and go after it – of course, we don’t taste good to a shark so they take a chunk, spit it out and we die of blood loss.

    Just presenting another side to the story. I’m sure they take every precaution, but that doesn’t protect the people that are just out in the water at a beach, or surfing off shore.

    1. 50 shades of freckles says: Reply

      Thanks for sharing! I did read an article about that yesterday and how attacks in False Bay in SA had increased but they’re still not sure that it’s definitely attributed to the shark diving (but it is very likely, as you said!). Apparantly the sharks don’t see the person in the cage – they see the boat, cage and people as one big thing (the same way a lion sees a safari car with the people inside it as one big thing) There’s actually a company in Oz now who don’t use chum at all – they use music to bring the sharks to the cage which I think is really interesting! It’s all very confusing and because the research is so different I don’t know what to think.
      I personally wouldn’t get in the water in a place like Gansbaai just in case haha! Thanks again for sharing that side of the story!

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