South Africa is not only a great destination for spotting the so called “big five” like lions, leopards and elephants, it is also THE place to encounter the Great White. Join us on our journey to Dyer Island, home of this majestic animal…
Dyer island is about five nautical miles off the coast of Gansbaai, a small fishing village, and is reached by a 20 minute boat ride from False Bay.
There are quite a few shark dive operators in Gansbaai. We decided to go with with Marine Dynamics, a well known outfitter who have assisted a number of documentary film makers in the past, amongst them Peter Scoones and the National Geographic team. They were also featured in the special on Sharks in Time magazine. It seemed safe enough to us…
Their offices are located in a regular house right on the ocean on False Bay. The day started by meeting the Marine Dynamics crew and the rest of the group during a huge and delicious breakfast. “To fatten you up for the sharks” was the general joke at the table!
After a short preparation talk its on to the boat, an 8 by 3m catamaran, for a short but thrilling 20 minute ride to Dyer Island. Best time for shark sighting is during the South African winter, when choppy waters can be expected. Make sure you are not prone to sea-sickness or take a pill before you head out. The boat is smaller than I hoped, but, it turns out, very equipped to deal with the waves.
Dyer island is a protected area for the Cape Fur seals on little Geyser island right next to it. The noise and smell of the animals tanning in the sun and playing in the water is slightly overwhelming at first. But nothing like the thought of joining them, and the sharks, in the water soon…
I expected a chunk of meat to be thrown overboard and off we go but there is more to it than I thought. The quest for the Great White starts starts with doing a scent trial by a procedure called “chumming” (see the side bar). When the sharks are attracted and stay around the boat, the cage is put down in the water and the adventure begins!
Nothing prepared me for the thrill and adrenaline rush you experience when you are face to face with this huge predator. Everybody (some opted out and decided to watch from the boat) gets several opportunities to enter the cage. The day lasts until about 3:30-4pm and sandwiches and drinks were served all day.
Although better maybe, you do not have to be a qualified diver to go into the cage. Air is supplied from long hoses that are attached to a tank on the boat.
Getting to Dyer Island
If you are just going for the day from Cape Town, the best way to go is to rent a car and drive down yourself. Gansbaai is situated 170 km south east of Cape Town and takes two hours to reach by car over very good and scenic roads.
Take the N2 out of Cape Town, drive over Sir Lowry’s pass and Houhoek pass. At Bot Rivier take the R43 to Hermanus, drive through Hermanus past Stanford and on to Gansbaai. Marine Dynamics is located just outside of Gansbaai on False Bay. They’ll fax you directions if you give them a call.
You can also opt to stay overnight in the area and combine your trip with Whale Watching or . There are many different places to stay in the area and there is something to match every budget and taste.
If you do not have your own transport airport and hotel transfers are easily arranged through Marine Dynamics.
Cape Town has an international airport and is also easily reached by air from Johannesburg. South Africa Airlines flies almost every half an hour. There are direct flights from many major cities including Miami, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam.
When to Visit Dyer Island
Best time to go is from May through October. Shark sightings are guaranteed during that time. There is a middle season in April, November and December when your changes of spotting a Great White are about 70%. The low season is from January through March when your changes are about 50% and you might not even make it into a cage for lack of activity around the boat.
On occasions adverse weather may prevent safe cage diving operations. The captain will make the decision when he feels that safety is at risk. He may move to a better location or even cancel the day’s trip and reschedule another trip as soon as the weather improves. Safety is always their first priority.
It’s advisable to reserve far in advance in the high season as Marine Dynamics has quite a name and is usually booked full a year in advance by photographers and film maker