Gaansbai, which is 40 kms from Hermanus, is a famous spot for cage diving with the great white sharks. For the adventurous this is a treat not to be missed in South Africa, the first country to protect the Great White Sharks which led to the cage diving industry. The entire cage diving experience takes about a half a day and it is better to do it in the morning which is what we did so that we had the rest of the day to relax in the peaceful surroundings of Hermanus. The cage diving with the sharks is a once in a lifetime experience and a great opportunity to overcome the fear of sharks ingrained by the legendary movie “Jaws”. There a few licensed operators for this in South Africa. We went through one of them who were recommended by our tour operator. This needs to be booked a day in advance if you want the morning trip.
Our shark cage diving operator’s team came to pick us up from our hotel exactly at 6 a.m. At their office in Kleinbaai, about 40 people, including 8 of us were provided with a sumptuous breakfast followed by insights into the world of shark cage diving to alleviate our fears. We were provided with waterproof jackets for the boat ride and wet suits for the dive. Even though it was one of the brighter days for the activity the sea was rough enough for most of us to get sea sick. But that did not dampen our spirits and the first call of shark sighting had us rushing to the sides of the boat to get a view. The cage could take 8 people together. Each group got an opportunity to be in the water for about 25 minutes during which we had 6-7 encounters with sharks. We were strictly instructed to keep our hands within the cage if we wanted to return with them intact. Chum, made of fish products, is used as a bait to attract the sharks towards the cage. Once the shark approaches, the crew shouts out to the divers in the cage to dive down into the water and get a closer under water view.
The water was chilly but once in, the excitement of overcoming one of our biggest fears was enough to make us forget the chill. We were initially quiet as we waited for the sharks so the crew also tried humorous stunts to scare us into making some noise. After the first encounter which took away all the fright created by years of watching movies about man-eater sharks, it became easy and fun to wait for the sharks coming towards us and bumping into the cage. The most hilarious memory or rather the high point of the experience was when we started singing the song “Aaja aaja main hoon pyar tera” ( translation- come near, I am your loved one) to attract the shark towards our cage for a closer view. This till date is the most bizarre thing I have done in my life much to the amusement of the boat full of people watching us.
There were moments of gripping fear as well. Like when I was coming out of the cage and the crew accidently put the bait into the water attracting one of the nearby sharks. Those few seconds as I climbed the couple of rungs of the ladder between the cage and boat exposed to a hungry shark lurking nearby were enough to cause a brain freeze. In hindsight, it made way for the thrill and drama expected!! The crew all along were extremely caring and helpful and ensured we were safe.
Once we were out of the water, we could still enjoy some great views of the sharks from the boat while others went in. The shark tour operators take videos of the entire tour which are available for purchase. Since we knew about this, we had decided to buy the video so that we could enjoy our experience more than bothering about pictures. We came back very tired but ecstatic!