Great white shark cage-diving with Shark Zone

23 December 2015

The weather. Our flights. What hotels we're staying at. Seasickness.

In the middle of Shark Alley in Gansbaai bay, a boat of strangers is filled with chatter about anything but what has driven each of us to don a wetsuit and hop into a floating cage in the hopes of coming face-to-face with a great white shark. Whether referred by word of mouth, found through TripAdvisor, or happened upon in City Sightseeing's Travel DepotShark Zone has drawn a diverse crowd of South Africans and globetrotters alike, with this one common goal.

Our adventure starts the day before the cage-dive, with pre-trip instructions confirming times based on optimal sighting conditions, and reminders of what personal items to bring. Once gathered at Gansbaai the next day, my fellow cage-divers and I enjoy a warm breakfast together in the Shark Zone office and receive an overview of the day to come, including safety instructions and an introduction to our videographer.

One by one we board the aptly named Megalodon and stow our bags and loose items for a bouncy ride out into the bay. A November outing doesn't require long jaunts or terribly rough waters; within 20 minutes we arrive at our dive site in Shark Alley. Nestled between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock, Shark Alley is prime hunting territory for great whites in search of the 50 000 Cape fur seals living nearby.

While cage-divers receive wetsuits and instructions, boat crew members scatter fish into the surrounding water to attract nearby sharks, a process known as "chumming".

Though fish and seagulls arrive to the feast within minutes, we appreciate the true vastness of the ocean during the more than hour-long period it takes to draw sharks. Slowly but surely they appear and we prepare to enter the water.

Cage-diving is a simple and thrilling experience. Shark activity is most visible near the surface level, so no scuba equipment is necessary. The cage-divers hold on to the inside of the cage, watch the water, and wait for the captain's yell to plunge. We do so quickly, watch the shark pass the cage, and surface for enough breath to see its second pass returning back out into the deep.

Groups of cage-divers take turns in the cage as four nearby sharks investigate the bait surrounding the boat: a bronze whaler, not seen by that day's captain in more than two years, and three great whites, up to 3m in length.

After each of us has had an opportunity in the cage to see a shark up close, we return to the office to eat lunch, watch the recording of the day's excursion, and share our shark sightings. Warmed up and well fed, chatter resumes.

Cage-diving with these creatures has helped us to see past their vicious reputation and appreciate their true nature: curious and fleeting. Their interest in humans extends no further than confirming that the cage is not a threat to them. Whatever called us there, this is perhaps the most important takeaway.

On land and sea, from booking to boat, we had the adventure of a lifetime.

Ali (Alexandra) Tobolsky is a User Experience consultant for the United States federal government, specializing in web usability, information architecture, and content strategy. She is an adventurous traveler always looking for a good story. Feel free to contact her at [email protected].