With only 36 precious hours in the beautiful city of Cape Town, time was of the essence. My usual activities on quick stopovers to this particular South African Capital (South Africa has three capital cities) include a visit to the nail bar, a delicious meal at NV80 with Don Pedro desserts and a swim in the hotel pool.
The flights to Cape Town are long and usually challenging, so this chilled out agenda was the perfect recuperation plan.
However, on this particular occasion, my boyfriend joined me for the whirlwind layover, so I felt obliged to make the most of the time we had.
NB: Most of the photos were taken on an old GoPro so forgive the poor quality of some!
Gareth has always had a lifelong dream of diving with Great White Sharks. Yes. Great. White. SHARKS. I can’t say it was something I had ever contemplated doing for obvious reasons, but this job offers chances to help those closest to me to realise their own dreams and this was one such opportunity. We had travelled to one of the best locations globally to see the razor-toothed beasties, so see them we shall, even if I thought I might get eaten in the process.
On arrival to the hotel we quickly booked a trip through the concierge to go shark cage diving with the White Shark Diving Company out of Gansbaai, a fishing town three hours south of Cape Town and notorious for shark sightings.
We arranged to leave extremely early the next morning for Gansbaai so had the remainder of the day to explore.
We headed for Table Mountain and grabbed the cable car to the top. The views from this natural wonder are incredible and often rolling clouds can be seen billowing over the edge of distant mountain tops like waterfalls.
After exploring Table Mountain, I decided to treat Gareth to dinner and drinks with a view. We headed to The Bungalow, a restaurant nestled under the cliffs of Clifton and overlooking the sea. The service can be very slow here and this occasion was unfortunately no exception. But the food (and cocktails) are delicious and the view is beautiful, so we spent our one and only night in Cape Town dining in the glow of a South African sunset.
An early departure for Gansbaai meant a 3am start. We had managed to convince three other crew members to come along for the fun. In my head, this meant that maybe I could convince Gareth to let me watch the big fish encounter unfold from the relative safety of the boat, as he had company now.
On arrival we had a safety briefing from the operators which struck all kinds of fear in me that I was pretty sure I would rather handcuff myself to the boat rather than dip a toe in the water with the sharks. Characteristically, Gareth was as cool as a cucumber.
On boarding the boat, we were all given wetsuits and wet boots with goggles and the boat departed on a mission to find them. In doing so, they launched a tuna head into the water to trail behind the boat and had several members of staff hanging off the sides in an attempt to spot the grey figures under the ocean waves.
Putting on a wetsuit on a moving boat is no small feat, and one of our party, Mia, ended up with sea sickness. However, we weren’t moving long before one spotter had seen a shark lurking behind the boat. We came to a halt. The tossing of buckets of fish guts into the water at this point did no favours for poor Mia.
Up until this point, I had held on to the hope that I might be able to stay on the boat and watch the others. Watching the shark circle the boat, and realising there were in fact three different sharks in the water at the time, gave credence to this hope. However, as soon as the shark was spotted, everything happened so fast and no chance was given to wimp out.
Goggles on, we were quickly encouraged over the edge of the boat and lowered ourselves into the cage. One thing we were not expecting was the temperature of the water – it was ice cold and immediately gave us brain freeze when we had to submerge for the first time.
The cage roof was closed and we all held onto the bar on the inside of the cage – we were under strict instructions not to hold the frame of the cage or stick limbs out to take photos for obvious reasons; we all wanted to keep our little phalanges in tact.
The method adopted by the boatmen was to drag the fish head around in the water to lure the shark closer. Not the most attractive method but it certainly worked. As soon as the shark approached the call ‘DIVE, DIVE, DIVE’ came and we all pushed ourselves down into the cage to get a good look.
Even with the relative safety of the boat behind us and the cage around us, it was hard not to feel the adrenaline pumping as the shark glided past us time and again. It really gave perspective on how pointless it would be to try and escape one in the open water. Luckily, sharks don’t eat people on purpose.
The sharks did several passes that were within touching distance. Each time they came close, we could see all the scars on their skin, the layers of teeth in their mouths and the movement of their gills. I distinctly remember us all coming up from each dunk in the icy water with gasps of both breathlessness and amazement.
It was a truly humbling experience – particular when one shark got it’s head temporarily stuck between the cage and the boat and thrashed around within inches of us – and we all came away with a greater respect for sharks than we had before our close encounter.
After the shark ‘dive’ we napped on the long drive back to Cape Town, succeeded by a dip in the non-shark infested waters of the swimming pool and another nap before our departure back to the UK.
This cage dive will always rate highly in my travel experiences as one of the most memorable and exhilerating.