There are few moments in your life where you will experience the true terror of staring wide-eyed at a 4.5 metre great white shark; and if you make a visit to Cape Town – a city that accepts danger in day to day life – this experience is a must to push your limits. There are a great deal of tours offering varying shark dive experiences, usually operating out of Shark Bay, just over the mountain from Cape Town. Whilst sharks are not always guaranteed, the likeliness of seeing one or more of these magnificent creatures is considered high.
The experience offered by most tour operators is the same and you’ll be happy to know safety is considered paramount throughout all the different organisations. You’ll arrive at your chosen dive centre, eat a complimentary breakfast (which you may want to skip if partial to seasickness) and finally watch an informational video that covers both the operational activities of the cage dive and some impressive facts about the sharks. Then its time to board the boat in a fetching orange life jacket.
The journey to the dive site is as adrenaline inducing as the moment you spot your first shark. The chum or bait (a bloody mix of fish remains) is scooped out liberally to create a lure line in the water. And then you wait. It is a powerful thing when you imagine every glimmer on the ocean to be a potential fin. And sometimes when in ear shot of other dive boats whose passengers start to yell that they’re being approached by sharks, the tension is palpable. But nothing compares to that moment when a sliver of light becomes a fin and the shadow underneath the water reveals itself as the most terrifying predator in the world. In seconds, the shark launches itself to the surface in a fury if teeth to taste it’s meal. At once fascinating, exhilarating and horrifying, this is the point they ask you to suit up and get in the cage.
The cage seems so loosely attached to the boat that you might think it’s been strapped on with elastic bands and what you thought was sturdy steel seems like wet paper once you’ve seen your first shark. But undeterred you shakily take your seat on the edge of the boat and sink yourself into the small opening of the cage and into the notoriously cold water. Waiting for the shark to appear on the boat seems like child’s play in comparison to when you are sharing the water with the beasts. When one approaches the staff shout “down” and through the murky, grey water you try to hold your nerve and your breath as the powerful killer glides towards you with its beady eye staring coldly into your pure fear. The enormity of the shark from the boat is put into perspective as the great white stretches to about the length of a bus, with it’s slick body flexing against the cage to test it’s rigidity; and what strikes you at that moment is that you are in water surrounded by bloody chum and acting at once as both startled observer and live bait.
The shark or sharks (usually multiple) are encouraged to circle while they feed but you quickly learn they will do as they please and when it’s your time to get out of the cage the fear that you could so easily slip into the shared ocean can almost finish you off. But back on board you can enjoy the warmth of your life jacket, the refreshment of bottled water and the casual enjoyment of photographing these predators from complete safety.
Once completed you head back to shore, already polishing your imaginary medal of bravery and are welcomed with another small meal or tea and coffee, depending on the tour company. Before you head home to Instagram your photos there’s just time to review the video footage taken during the dive to prove your courage, then it’s off to see some of Cape Town’s many other attractions.