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Hi Guys,

Fiona and I used these guys when we did our 3-centre dive gig in SA a coupla years ago - they are very good and very thorough when organising you both a 'must-see' intinerary and decent and well priced accommodation. We didn't do the Sardine Run, but like most of these things, it's serioulsy on our 'to-do' list. Hope the info's of use.


Due to the ever increasing popularity of the Sardine Run, Dive The Big 5 now offers 8 by 6 night / 7 day expeditions. For more information - read on.

Please note that the Sardine Run is a natural phenomena and unfortunately we cannot guarantee that it will take place. This year (2003) was the third time in 23 years that the sardines failed to run with the result that the 2003 Sardine Run was a non-event!!  All we know is that it "should" occur every year, usually during the latter part of May and extends into June and sometimes even into the beginning of July. Exactly when during May/June/July nobody can say. Dive The Big 5 have reserved a number of "slots" which historically fall right in the middle of the sardine run. These "slots" are all of a 6 night/7 day duration so as to maximise our chances of getting Sardines and the resulting action and begin on May 31 and run through to July 18, 2004. The first dates run from May 31 to June 06, then June 06 to June 12, from June 12 to June 18, from June 18 to June 24, from June 24 to June 30, from June 30 to July 06, from July 06 to July 12 and finally from July 12 to July 18. 8 "slots" in total.  

The Dive:
The shoals of sardines move up the coast from the south and usually reach the Transkei Coast at about the end of May - beginning of June. The size of the shoal differs from day to day and from week to week. They could be small pockets of fish or the shoal could be as large as 1km wide and 5km's long. It's not one continuous shoal but it is many different shoals that come through during the "sardine season". Mother Nature is in charge and we abide by Her rules.

We launch the boat just before sun-rise, at about 06:30, and then the waiting game begins. As soon as the sun is up the micro-light takes off and flies up and down the coast looking for the tell tail signs of the shoal. Because we are looking for activity that is moving, we spend most of the day out at sea, on the boat. When we find any activity - Sardines, dolphins, whales, sharks etc - a decision is made as to whether we will do a snorkel dive or a scuba dive on that particular activity. Depending on where we find the action, which is often quite far out to sea and in deep waters it is not possible to drop down to the ocean floor so most dives are done in mid-water, as the bottom is often far too deep for sport divers. Dives on average are of a fairly short duration as the action moves past quite quickly. Often it is a matter of being in the water for 5 or 10 minutes and then quickly back on the boat to follow the activity and then jump in again. The activity, as a whole, is considered strenuous. When on snorkel, the divers are dropped in front of the "activity" and wait on the surface for the activity to reach and pass them. The emphasis of the trip is on the surface activity and being in amongst the action with all the sardines, dolphins, sharks, birds etc. Not for the feint hearted!

We suggest that you bring your own equipment due to the extreme nature of the dives. You will be more relaxed and at ease in the water with equipment that you know and are used to using, but if you wish to hire gear this we can do for you at an additional charge. Should you wish to hire equipment, because Mbotyi is so isolated, we will e-mail you beforehand requesting from you a list of your requirements. Please also be aware that computers are not available for hire.

Level of certification:
The sardine run is restricted to advanced divers only. The activity as a whole is considered to be strenuous, therefore any diver interested in this trip should be at least an advanced diver and in very good health.. The emphasis of the trip is on the surface activity with all the dolphins, sharks, game fish, birds etc. The nature of the diving is - big sharks, no bottom diving, deep blue type diving, dirty water, multiple ascents and strenuous boat trips. The trip is strictly for the avid diver/photographer. Any non diving guests are welcome to join the boat ride to witness the surface activity but it must be advised that the boat is a "duck" and does not have toilet facilities or any shade. The cost for a non-diver is the same as for a diver.

The Boat:
We will be using 2 eight meter "rubber ducks" (RIB's, Zodiac’s or semi-inflaterables), each accommodating between 6 and 8 divers. Each boat is licensed with the Department of Transport and has a fully qualified shipper and dive master on board. There is oxygen, a DAN First Aid Kit and ship to shore radio comms on board.

The Launch:
Although at Mbotyi there is a river, its not always possible to launch through the river mouth as the mouth is often closed by a sandbar which prevents the river flowing into the sea. If this is the case then it will be a "standard" Sodwana/Aliwal/Protea beach launch, which has often been described as "white water rafting in a wet suit". The divers push the "duck" into the water, holding its nose into the waves, and when waist high in the water, on the skippers command, the divers scramble onto the "duck". Once the divers are all settled and holding on tight, the skipper reads the sets and punches his way through the surf until he reaches the back-line where he pauses for a moment to ensure everyone is ok, and then heads out to sea to the activity.

Water temperatures and visibility:
Water temperatures are around 19 degrees and 21 degrees C. (66 to 70 degrees F)
Although the "run" takes place during our winter which is our dry season with little or no run of from the rivers, which theoretically should result in good viz. the viz. can be poor due to the churning up of the waters by the sardines and the predators chasing the prey. Viz. could therefore be anything from 5 meters(15 ft) to 20 meters plus (60 ft).

How do we spot the sardines?
Normally the activity of the sea birds are a dead give-away, but if the shoals are far out to sea we use the services of a microlight aircraft. The plane gets airborne at sunrise and as soon as the pilot spots the sardines he communicate with the boats and guide them to the shoals of fish. Plus we get information from the Natal Sharks Board boats and other boats in the area who are also there to view this spectacle.

Accommodation is at Mbotyi River Lodge www.mbotyi.co.za on a fully inclusive basis.

All meals are included. Breakfasts is usually a "packed breakfast" which we have whilst at sea as we launch before the hotels restaurant opens. Lunch is served on the veranda of the hotel after we return from the dive, usually between 14:00 and 15:00 hours, depending on the shoals and the weather. Dinner is served in the restaurant and is "table d’hôte". Please advise any special dietary requirements well in advance as supplies can not be obtained once we are there.

Medical facilities:
Mbotyi is a very remote spot on the Transkei coast. The closest town with any medical facilities is at Port Edward which is 172 kilometres south of Durban which has the closest decompression chamber. Each diver is covered by DAN Insurance and a helicopter is available for an emergency evacuation should the need arise.

Transfers from Durban International Airport and back again after the Sardine run are included in the tour price.

US$ 2 150 per person sharing.
Single supplement. US$ 180 per single accommodation.

Best "Fishes"


Your South African Dive Buddies & Wildlife Specialists.

Dive The Big 5,
PO Box 2209,
White River.
Republic of South Africa.

Tel: +27 13 750 1832
Fax: +27 13 750 0018
Cell/Mobile: +27 83 700 4597

Web: http://www.divethebig5.com

Are you doing business with a legal and credible member of the Southern Africa Travel Trade?

Dive The Big 5 is a member of SATSA for your protection and peace of mind.
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