Gansbaai: visitors guide plus shark cage diving lowdown

Gansbaai is the best destination in the world for cage diving with great white sharks. Picture it: the ocean’s greatest predator in the water with you. It’s wild. It’s mesmerizing. And it’s what you do when in Gansbaai.

The magnificent hunter jumps from the water, gnashing its teeth. Crashing back down it creates its own waves. And then it’s gone, cruising effortlessly into the ocean blue.

This article has all the essential information for planning a trip to Gansbaai, including shark cage diving and things to do out of the ocean.

Where is Gansbaai?

Gansbaai is an old Afrikaner fishing town on South Africa’s southern coast. It’s roughly two hours by road away from Cape Town.

How long do you need to go shark diving?

Aerial shot of Kleinbaai harbour near Gansbaai

Shark diving takes half a day so you don’t need to stay in Gansbaai. However, the town is pretty cute and the best shark experiences are usually in the morning. So consider spending the night in Gansbaai before your dive.

How do you get to Gansbaai?

All the shark dive operators offer pickup services from Cape Town, making it a day trip from the city. This is the cheapest option if you are traveling alone. If you’re three people then an Uber or private transfer will be cheaper.

There is no convenient public transport from Cape Town to Gansbaai. To get out here you would need to travel in a succession of local minivans, which would take most of a day.

From Cape Town it’s a stunning journey. An hour after leaving the city you zigzag up Sir Lowry’s Pass, with majestic views down into False Bay. Cross the pass and urban life is replaced by wild landscapes, taking you south to Gansbaai.

Destinations to combine with Gansbaai

Whale watching town of Hermanus in South Africa

Hermanus is only 30 minutes down the road and is one of the world’s best destinations for land-based whale watching.

Almost everyone visiting Gansbaai passes through Cape Town, perhaps the most beautiful city on the planet.

Gansbaai is also an ideal and easy stop on a trip from Cape Town to the Garden Route. The town is roughly halfway between Cape Town and the start of the Garden Route, making it an obvious stop on a self drive tour.

Things to do in Gansbaai (except for shark diving)

  • Go drinking in an Afrikaner bar: the locals will give you a funny look but they are very friendly!
  • Eat fresh seafood. There are some good local restaurants but it’s more authentic to buy catch from the harbour and cook it on a braai (barbecue).
  • Search for jackass penguins on a boat trip to Dyer Island (it’s less touristic than on Boulders Beach).
  • Visit jackass penguins and rescued seabirds at the African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary.
  • Stand at Danger Point Lighthouse and listen to the crashing of waves.

Shark Cage Diving in Gansbaai – The Essential Planning Guide

Big great white shark underwater in Gansbaai

What is shark cage diving?

It’s not actually diving. There is no scuba gear, not even a snorkel!

A cage is attached to the side of a boat. Lower yourself in and stand on the safety bar, with your head above the water.

Guides on the boat will shout out when a shark is coming past. Take a big breath, duck under the water, and watch the ocean’s biggest predator swimming past.

Is it safe?

Fin of a great white shark Gansbaai

Erm, yes. Well, kind of. Three tourists died a few years ago but not because of sharks – the boat they were on capsized.

Are the sharks wild?

Oh yes they are wild! Bearing razor teeth and measuring some four metres across, these are intimidating giants.

They live in close to Gansbaai because of seals. A colony of 60,000 Cape fur seals occupy Dyer Island and Geyser Rock, just off shore.

When the seals want to go fishing they must swim a gauntlet of great white sharks. It’s a dramatic show, as Sir David Attenborough narrates.

Guides chum to attract sharks towards their boats. This is a mix of fish blood and discarded fish parts. It’s the smell that lures in the sharks, meaning you are able to see them from very close quarters.

Where do shark cage diving tours leave from?

Gansbaai harbour in early morning light

The most popular tours leave from Gansbaai. Each operator has a different address close to Gansbaai Harbour. You’ll receive a safety briefing upon arrival, pick up a rental wet suit, then head out to the boat.

Shark cage diving is also possible in Mossel Bay, on the Garden Route further along on the coast. There are less sharks here but the bay is more sheltered, so there are less tour cancellations.

How close do you get? How much do you see?

As the sharks swim past they often crash their bulky bodies into the cage. You could literally stick your hands out and touch them (not advisable if you want to keep your hand).

Sharks are stealthy predators and don’t hang around. They swim past, inspecting the smell, then swim off in their continued search for food.

On a safari you could watch the same lion or elephant for hours. With great white shark diving you see one for about as long as you can hold your breath for!

No operator absolutely guarantees seeing great white sharks. However, you must be incredibly unlucky to miss out. Most tours see between four and 12 sharks.

You don’t only see sharks when in the cage. You’ll watch the apex predator from the deck as well, a spectacular sight when they jump clear of the water.

How does it work when you’re on the boat?

Getting into the shark cage for some action

On every group tour there are too many people for the size of the cage. It’s like a conveyor belt. You get in the cage from one end and out at the other end. As one person gets out another gets in, and so on and so on.

Rather than a time limit, guides try to ensure everyone has encounters with the sharks. So you could be in the water for five minutes or 30, dependent on the action. On most tours you’ll go in the cage twice.

Important: Different Gansbaai tour operators have different boat capacities and different sized cages. On most (cheaper) boats the cage only takes four people. If there are 24 people on the tour that means you hardly get any time in the water. More expensive boats have a better ratio, with eight-person cages that provide more time with the sharks.

When is the best time to go shark diving?

Gansbaai’s seals move to different locations for the summer and winter. The sharks move with them and so do the boat tours.

There’s no difference in the wildlife experience dependent on the time of year. Summer (especially December to February) is peak season so the boats can be busier. Winter (especially June to August) is colder and wetter with more cancellations.

The great white sharks are most active earlier in the day. Most tour operators run three boat tours a day. The earlier tour almost always encounters more sharks and more dramatic action.

Important: Tours are cancelled in bad weather. The ocean swell gets too big when there’s a cold front so the boats can’t go out. This means cancellations on around 100 days of the year (including in summer). If your tour is cancelled you’ll be booked onto the next day or given a refund.

Try to stay flexible with your itinerary and contact the boat tour company four days before your dive. They will know the weather forecast and can advise on the probability that your tour will be on or off.

Tips for Booking a Shark Cage Diving Tour in Gansbaai

Great white shark splashes around the surface Gansbaai

There are eight different boat tour companies and their prices vary. More expensive tours typically provide more time in the water: are you willing to spend 20% more for double the time with sharks? Ask the operator how big the cage is before you book.

Every hotel or hostel in Cape Town and the Garden Route has a link with a shark cage operator in Gansbaai. The price is the same whether you book directly or through your hotel.

Important: Every hostel or hotel makes a 20% commission on a shark cage diving tour. You can negotiate a discount by calling a Gansbaai tour company direct and asking them to remove the commission. It’s a great tactic if you are a group and can get you a 5 – 20 % discount.

We don’t recommend one company over another (though Sharon’s post provides “ethical” options in Kleinbaai). This article is purely to inform you about what happens in Gansbaai, helping you to book your own adventure.

So jump in, connect with your wild side, and get ready for those big predatory fish!

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