A wise man once said that one man’s heaven is another man’s hell. When it comes to cage diving, this couldn’t be more true. For some people, being dangled into the Atlantic in an iron cage with a pair of Great White gnashers fast-approaching is a big tick on the bucketlist. For others, it’s like being dropped unwillingly into the set of JAWS. Well, to each his own...
Interestingly, the shark cage itself was invented by shark attack survivor Rodney Winston Fox, who was attacked during a spear fishing contest off Australia and needed a whopping 450 stitches. Not only that, but he still has part of a shark tooth embedded in his wrist! Rodney built the cage to learn more about his jagged-tooth assailants and he is now regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on Great Whites. In fact, he’s still running expeditions to this day! Whatta man.
Following Rodney’s invention, commercial shark cage diving kicked off in Australia in the early nineties and sprung up soon afterwards in South Africa. Today, it’s firmly on the adrenaline junkie radar, with thousands of tourists quivering in their wetsuits as they come face-to-fin with sharks each year. Those with the bravado to drop in on the apex predators of the deep blue describe their humbling feeling of respect for the sharks. In addition to their crumbling feeling of terror, that is.
Image courtesy of: www.stgeorgeunderwater.com.au
There’s always been a fiery level of controversy surrounding cage diving, which is mostly connected to the ‘chumming‘ used by dive operators to attract the sharks to the cage. Chumming is the practice of throwing a foul fishy-thick oil into the waters surrounding the submerged cage to lure the sharks towards the iron box with its human cargo (eek!). Many believe that this is akin to feeding the sharks and conditioning them to attack humans, thus creating an awful Spielberg-esque scenario for surfers and swimmers everywhere.
However, several prominent shark biologists believe that chumming isn’t problematic when used responsibly, as the chum is a scent and not - critically - a food. These experts, including Alison Kock, who has studied cage diving for over 6 years, don’t see a connection between chumming and human attacks. For Alison, a cage dive is the underwater wildlife equivalent of the ‘gorilla experience’; a rare experience that allows humans to learn about an endangered and now protected species.
Opinion is clearly divided here, so your decision to dive or not to dive might depend on which side of the fence (or cage) you fall. But if you’re a steely-nerved traveller with a fin fetish and you’re planning a cage dive of your own, there are a handful of places in the world where you can suit up and take the plunge.
Roy says, "Shark cage diving was the most exhilarating experience of my life. Creatures so large and powerful your imagination doesn't give you justice. I was very lucky to get the chance to do this in the South Australian town of Port Lincoln a couple of years ago. A large cage was lowered into the water along with fish remains and a large tuna carcass. A wait endured for what seemed like an eternity before the beasts took the bait... at this point we descended into the cage. The experience of being in close quarters to these amazing animals is very hard to capture in a few sentence's and is a must do for any adrenaline junkie!"
Here’s our guide to the Top 5 cage dives out there...
The 4 Neptune Islands in South Australia are home to huge colonies of New Zealand Fur Seals and Australian Sea Lions, which attract Great Whites to the waters all year round. It’s a stunning backdrop for a cage dive, with clear waters giving visibility of over 25m. Depending on the level of your own personal shark-mania, there are two different companies to choose from:
This company has to take the top spot in homage to Rodney himself - the grandfather of Shark Cage Diving. Rodney is hugely passionate and wants you to “get that tickle down your spine as one of the world’s prehistoric, amazing and definitely misunderstood fish swims by you”. These expeditions are eco-experiences for real shark enthusiasts and they are far from flash-in-a-cage tourist trips. Expeditions last from 2 to 8 days - www.rodneyfox.com.au
Image courtesy of: www.rodneyfox.com.au
The main season runs from May to October, when the seal pups that were born in the summer start to venture out from the safety of the shore, thus providing food for the sharks. The highest shark numbers of all are generally seen in July and August. However September and October often matches July and August and can have clearer water.
Trip starts in: Port Lincoln, South Australia.
One-day cage diving
If you’re not in the market for a fully immersive three-day dive or your budget doesn’t stretch so far, Sharkcagediving.com.au runs one day cage diving tips to the Neptune Islands. In 2012, sharks were sighted on 90% of their dives and in 2008, one lucky punter saw 16 Great Whites in one day!
Trip starts in: Port Lincoln, South Australia
Image courtesy of: www.sharkcagediving.com.au
If you happen to be in Cape Town and you feel in the mood for a tête-a-tête with a Great White, head for Gansbaai. Rated by the Lonely Planet as No. 1 Best Underwater Experience for 2011, these guys know their Great Whites from their Bull Sharks. Beneath the waves just 8km off shore from Cape Town, between two islands populated with Cape Fur Seals and Jackass Penguins, lays a channel ominously nicknamed ‘Shark Alley’. This is the dive site and it’s packed full of fins. If you need an added bonus, a continental breakfast is included!
Image courtesy of: www.panoramio.com
There are Great Whites in ‘Shark Alley‘ all year round, but the waters are clearest from March to September and these are the best viewing months.
Trip starts in: Kleinbaai Harbour, 2km from Gansbaai. The company can provide return transfers from Hermanus or Cape Town if requested.
Over many years, the Isla Guadelupe has gradually become a favourite amongst Great White diving enthusiasts. It’s now acknowledged as one of the top spots in the world to climb into a cage and duck into the blue. With up to 100 feet of visibility and wonderfully warm waters, it’s a cage diving paradise for novices and experts alike. The classic expedition lasts for 6 fin-tastic days, so it’s geared towards those with a real passion for Great Whites.
Image courtesy of: www.amosphotography.com
Trips run from August to mid-November.
Trips start from: San Diego, California
Stewart Island may be New Zealand’s third largest island, but with 85% designated as national park and only 400 residents, it’s a true wilderness of isolated beauty. Romantically named as Rakiura, or Glowing Skies, in Maori, it’s a haven for nature lovers and hikers alike. And then, of course, there’s cage diving with Great White Sharks...
Image courtesy of: www.sharkcagediving.com.au
The season for cage dives off the coast of Stewart Island runs from mid-January through to June.
Trips start from: Oban, Stewart Island, which is accessible by ferry from Bluff, NZ. The ferry operators run coach services from Invercargill, Te Anau and Queenstown that work with the ferry times.
If you’ve already earned your cage diving stripes and you’re looking for a new terrifying twist, try Tiger Shark cage free diving in the Bahamas. Yes, that’s right - cage FREE! In this deep sea scenario, you’ll dispense with the cage altogether! Eek! Although Tiger Sharks can be curious in the water and must be approached with a great deal of respect, cage free diving with these creatures is apparently perfectly possible. If you’ve got the daring, we’ve got the details.
Image courtesy of: www.sharkdivers.blogspot.com
Trips are set to run in April, May and June 2014.
Trips start from: The company runs round trips from Freeport in the Bahamas.
If you want to try cage diving in one of these destinations, we can tailor-make your holiday to include this experience and take you there. To start planning, see our tailor-made holiday ideas and round the world flights or call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email. RTW tickets that include Australia