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Friday  - Day 1 - We’ve arrived.

Well we arrived in Cape Town after a not too unpleasant flight (Myself, Sam (My better half) , Dave and Tracy Hurst).  

The car hire place took one look at our luggage that would not have seemed out of place for a major expedition up everest and promptly gave us a free upgrade from a Megane to a BMW estate (Result!).

We found our guest house (Brenwin/Cha mel) without too much trouble and were greeted by a most accommodating and friendly host Chantel (Who throughout the week proceeded to prove that nothing was too much trouble – I would thoroughly recommend this guest house for anyone considering a stay in Cape Town).

So after setting up base camp, a quick 10 minute took us down to the Victoria and Alfred waterfront (The V&A) for a quick recce and to check out the prices at the local restaurants, watering holes and shops.   The food and drink was very cheap, a good meal for two including copious quantities of falling down water worked out at about £25.  Vodka 70p, beer or glass of wine 80p or £3 for a bottle of wine and this was restaurant prices.  A steak meal was between £4 and £8.   Most other goods seemed to be on par with the uk or more expensive especially clothes.

Saturday - Day 2 - Off to Cape Point and the search for Elusive Baboons.

The day greeted us with strong winds but a sunny outlook so off we headed to Cape point to try for a bit of Whale watching, the views were stunning from the headland but with an extremely choppy sea the chance of spying a whale in amongst all the white horses was nil.   However given that we were now in a national park we were confident of seeing some of the other local wildlife and after doing our best to get a group photo from the top of a precarious cliff in gale force conditions, we decided to go looking for Baboons.

Now despite numerous signs warning us “Baboons are dangerous” we did not see one.  Yep not one the whole holiday…  In fact all we spotted was a solitary Ostrich wandering up the road.

So back to our friendly guest house, fine food and plenty of falling down water.

Sunday  - Day 3  Table mountain – A goodie


The day greeted us with beautiful sunshine and a fantastic view of table mountain so we decided to strike while the iron was hot and take advantage of the clear conditions for what would prove to be a fantastic view over Cape town from the top of cable mountain.  What followed was a drive up a steep winding road and an even steeper cable car trip to our vantage point.  

The views did not fail to disappoint and after a small hike that any mountain goat would have been proud of we had a clear breathtaking view over Cape Town, the bay and Robben Island in the distance.  It seems we were not the only ones to take advantage of what would prove to be the best day for views from the top as we happened upon a BBC crew and Bill Oddie performing a spot of filming.

A trip to the local market and some good natured haggling in the afternoon was followed by…  Yep you guessed it more food and even more falling down water,  I had really started to build up a taste for the local wines and this was to prove pretty handy later in the week.

Monday – Day 4 – Robben Island and the 2 Oceans Aquarium.

A trip to Robben Island served as a reminder to us of the history of South Africa, the Aparteid years and was generally a very informative and interesting place to spend a morning.  Our guide was a previous guest of the establishment and was more than willing to discuss openly and honestly the full history of the prison, the prisoners and how different prisoners were treated depending on their colour or political position.

Our afternoon was spent with a visit to the Two Oceans Aquarium,  a fascinating place to observe some of the many different animals found both in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  One of the main exhibits, the predator tank also held quite a fascination for us and ideas for a return visit were already starting to form.

Food…ummm.. Drink…Bed

Tuesday – Day 5 – Big Sharks, Big Whales and Big Waves.

Well the day we had been working up to had finally arrived.  We originally planned 2 days cage diving but due to a sudden increase in the price decided to give one day a try and see how things panned out.

So firstly off to our meeting place at Hermanus and a chance for some impromptu Whale watching.  There were a few in the bay but nothing spectacular aside from some breaching far out in the bay.  Anyway off to Gaansbai for the main event.

We met up with 3 other potential shark bait and after we unloaded our drysuits (A smart move on our part as we found out and numerous cameras, housings, assortment of elastoplasts, prosphetic limbs and the like we proceeded to meet our 2 crew.

My first view of our boat bought to mind that immortal line “Better get a bigger boat”.  Although well equipped she was what appeared to be a very modest 30ft twin outboard and after the standard signing of disclaimers and a briefing that included instructions on the use of the buoyancy jackets in the event of our vessel sinking (Which included incidently the information that Great whites tend to attack objects floating on the surface – “Thanks for that”) we were off.

The sea was none to calm and the 3ft swells promised to make the transfer from the rolling boat into the cage a interesting if not precarious task.  We actually anchored some way between Dyer Island and the mainland.   Apparently the infamous shark alley is pretty murky and the sharks tend not too hang around due to the abundance of other interesting odours in the area.

The standard plan was a leisurely kit up while the crew proceeded to ladle a interesting soup of fish oil and other good stuff to form a slick leading away from the boat.  A lure of fish heads on a rope was chucked from the back of the boat and we waited and waited and waited.  Now we were advised that the standard practice is to wait until a shark shows up and then once everyone had seen it from the boat we would proceed to take turns to get in the cage and view from lower down on the food chain.  This was assuming that one finally turned up and secondly that it stayed around.

The sight of so much water around us did start to make us think that maybe we had more chance of spotting a baboon when finally our ever alert crew man uttered the phrase we had all been waiting for “Well isn’t she a beautiful fish!”.
We all had chance for a quick view of a 3.5m fantastic specimen gliding slowly in to check out the fish heads when it was time for the first 2 victims to realise that they now had to get from the boat into the cage in fairly adverse sea conditions while the very reason for being there cruised slowly past.  So discretion being the better part of valour we ganged up on an Australian woman and a young man from London, with threats of violence and a change of bait to a more Australian flavour we convinced them to get in first.

As soon as they entered the cage, she was gone…  

This behaviour was the first thing to shatter any preconceptions about mindless killing machines that would attack anything it found.  We all observed throughout the day how timid these magnificent creatures really were and even the bait was treated with great suspicion.   Any attempt to eat the bait was usually after a number of exploratory passes and the bait was drawn away from the shark (Usually towards the cage !!)  as they do have a policy not to feed them.  The organisation we use also make notes about all sightings – size, sex, markings as part of the local research.

Anyway I digress

So now we have 2 people in a cage and no sharks.  So we wait and then wait some more.  Eventually when the 2 in the cage started going blue (Did I mention we were the only ones with drysuits
) they decided to get out and warm up.  

So now for my chance.  After a slightly precarious transfer to the cage I look up at the boat to discover that no one else has decided to join me
)  So I wait, 45 minutes follows with me trying to perch on the cage and keep as much of my upper body clear of the water to retain heat when the skipper turns towards me and says “Time to get down”.  All thoughts of cold are now gone and replaced with adrenalin.  I drop into the cage and sinking down to the bottom, with video camera switched on I look through the viewfinder to be met with the wonderful sight of a magnificent female 4m specimen cruising in to check out the fool in the tin can.  Now at this point it suddenly occurs to me that I am so busy concentrating on getting the shot and holding the camera housing steady with both hands that in order to brace myself at the bottom of the cage I have one leg stuck through one of the many gaps at the bottom of the cage.  What then follows is a frantic scramble and repositioning of legs.

I really do not remember how long I was in that cage watching this magnificent creature making exploratory passes but it seemed to pass all to soon and it was time for the other to get a chance.  

The rest of the day was spent with hardly a quiet moment and I was fortunate to have a number of other chances to return to the cage and view other specimens that decided to check us out.  In all we saw at least 5 different individuals, and were fortunate to have 2 turn up at the same time while Dave and myself were in the cage,   we were treated to a number of reminders of the power of these animals and one that decided to check the cage out a bit closer did leave us slightly shaken (Literally!).
And my wife…  Well she was pretty nervous but finally plucked up courage to join me in the cage and using me as a handy shield she managed to spend quite some time getting up close and personel with our new found friends with the big smiles.  Her first comment on surfacing summed it all up..  Can't really recall hearing the comment clearly with water in my ears and all but it seemed to rhyme with "Clucking Bell"

We were left with one final reminder of a fantastic day when we were treated to what could be considered the only true attack of the day.   We had not seen the last shark for some minutes and assumed it had lost interest and left the area.  The crew were proceeding to tidy up and were just about to pull the bait in when the shark came from down below at some speed and performed what I can only describe as your stereotypical national geographic breach.  It launched itself clear of the water and with bait firmly in it’s possession it disappeared.  Awesome.   Sometimes you just can’t help but feed them !.

A  fantastic day was finished off with…  some food and bed (Oops did I forget the copious quantities of falling down water J )

Wednesday – Day 5 – zzzzzzzzz

Shopping (Well we did have the girls with us!)…  Also ate and drank.

Thursday – Day 6 – Tee total day.

Well   OK not quite but it was drinking for research!  So off for a day on the wine route.  Well this is where my building up a tolerence for South African wine really paid off.  My fellow traveling companions were not great wine lovers and I had not bought my driving license so could not drive the hire car J.  So a very pleasant day was spent visiting vineyards.  We sampled many different wines and I assisted my companions by disposing of the wines they were not so keen on.  Our last vineyard of the day was Spiers who do produce some fantastic wines and Samantha spent a happy 5 minutes stroking a young Cheetah in the Spier’s cheetah enclosure.
A very pleasant day was finished off with more fine food and even finer wine.

Friday – Day 7 – Aquarium

Yep that’s right back to the aquarium!,  A seed had been planted on the previous visit when we spied signs offering the opportunity to dive in the Predator tank.  

So down to the aquarium and for the pricely sum of 400 rand (About £40) we were kitted out, signed disclaimers and given a quick safety briefing with instructions not to touch any of the ragged tooth sharks (Who really are a very placid species despite the toothy grins).  Immediately on entering the tank favouritism was evident as myself and Dave discovered why the guide carried a stick (It was to herd me and Dave),  meanwhile Sam was allowed to play with the turtle and taken across to a ragged tooth shark to see what it felt like.

Actually the guide was excellent and gave me the opportunity to get some great footage.
Our 30 minutes seemed to pass so quickly but it really was money well spent and great fun.

Do I really need to tell you how the evening ended?

Saturday – Day 8 – Whale Watching

Down to Gordon’s Bay for a spot of whale watching.  We were fortunate to see some of the more interesting behaviour including spy hopping, tail slapping and some weird swimming on their backs waving fins in the air.  Basically a chilled out day ended with a spot of very fine food at Mortons on the Wharf (Fantastic steaks) 3 bottles of wine, dessert and some more alcohol for out final night (Total bill £15 per person)

Sunday – Market/V&A

Our final day.  Down to the local market to get rid of what remained of our currency with some more friendly haggling.  A quick trip down to the V&A for lunch at Tequila Cantina (Who do a wicked Mexican steak sandwich with loads of chillis) and then time to pack, wave a fond farewell and off to the airport.



What a fantastic trip,  I genuinely enjoyed every moment of every day and apologies for the drawn out cage diving report but it really was the highlight of the trip for me.

Hope you enjoyed and if anyone want’s any more specific info on prices, places and things to do drop me a PM.

Daz
 

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Not as tall in real life
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Some Piccies

Ragged Tooths
 

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Another piccie of a raggie
 

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Friendly Grin !
 

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Final One
 

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Absolutely Top Draw Dude!

I'll dig out a coupla pics from our Shark-fest on the Natal Coast and add em here for everyone's delectation. Good to have ya back matey.
 

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Nicely written Daz, glad you had a good time, you've wetted my apetite especially as my wife has relatives down there and she's keen to get down to see them. So she can stay with them whilst Adam & I go diving. Thanks for pointing me in that direction.

Matt
 

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Here's those pics I promised ya, this one is the throng of Hammerheads which came to say hi at Protea Banks:
 

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And this is one of the squad of Raggies at 'Raggie Cave' at Aliwal Shoal, a natural nursery area for them; the blue shimmering 'haze' above the shark's head is our air bubbles collecting in the roof of the cave:
 

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Given Daz's obvious 'boots-filled' session in SA, and the fact that I've just reponded to a query 'in another place' to a guy called Nick on the subject of diving in SA, I thought it time to post a quick report of the diving we did when Fiona and I went a coupla years back. Here ya go:


"Hey Nick,

We did this trip in October 2001. I'm happy to recount that it was simply the Nads!

After you've finished in Ponto Do Oro (Mozambique), head down the KwaZulu-Natal coast (Richards Bay etc. this is the nearest chamber also) and check out the first of your 'must-see' diving stops: Sodwana Bay.

A National Marine Reserve Park with outstanding diving and the potential, if you've not already seen them at Ponto, to see Whale Sharks. We drove over a baby one (BY ACCIDENT!) in the RIB (or 'Rubber Ducks' as they call them out there) as we were speeding our way out to one of the dive sites (9-Mile Reef, if memory serves), it was OK and none-the-worse for wear I'm happy to report.

We stayed at the Sodwana Bay Lodge - see here:

http://kwazulu.hotelguide.co.za/sodwana-bay-lodge.html

- cabin/hut-type accommodation with en-suite flushing dunny, shower, basin etc. Beds with Mozzie-nets (although we never had cause to use them), big veranda-balconies for sitting out in the afternoon/evening and taking in the African Bush whilst sipping the poison of your choice, wonderful sunsets! The place has an on-site pool, sun-loungers, bar, pool room with satellite TV and restaurant/cafe with a varied menu and great fresh fish! There is an on-site PADI 5* dive-centre which takes you and your kit the 1.5 km to the beach, from where you launch. Top place and highly recommended. You can do other things like midnight hoarse-rides across the moonlit beach and sand dunes, as well as visit the massively recommended Hluhluwe (pronounced 'Schluschluwe') National Game Park - just as enjoyable as Kruger. The diving here is mainly reef diving, but none the poorer for that. I saw many species I'd never set eyes on before. Masses of turles and reef formations that are unique in a lot ways (trenches, bowls, scrapes, top swims-through etc.)

Moving further down the KZ-N coast, towards Durban, you'll come to Unkomas, the town which services Aliwal Shoal.

The diving here is also excellent with a mixture of good reef systems, 'nursery' areas for Raggie Tooth Sharks (inquisitive, look fearsome, but gentle as goldfish) such as 'Raggie Cave' and 'The Cathedral', the latter being spectacular as the sharks gather in such numbers and merely rest or circle in the cave.

You also have two 'must-do' wreck dives here: the 'Nebo' and the 'Produce'; the 'Nebo' being a bulk-carrier in about 33 metres, massive, snapped in half so penetration of holds, cabins, wheel-house and other deck-spaces is easy and offers massive choice. She's on her starboard-side and is covered in fish (lots of fish!) - inside and out. The 'Produce' was sunk pre-1900 and is an older and relatively collapsed wreck, but still provides loads of nooks-n-crannies for divers to wander around and have a peak. The plates on here rise out of the seabed and her strutts and ribs (which seem endless) can easliy keep you occupied for the dive.

We did both dives (both circa 30 metres, dependent on tides) in one day; we clocked up abpout 12 mins of deco on the last dive, but if you're happy with that, then fill yer boots, we did. We stayed in a wee B&B (again with massive deck/veranda area for after dive sherries and to sit and chat with other divers/guests) in Unkomas, but the local dive centre came to pick us up every morning and drop us off back when we'd done for the day. Here too, and one of the overriding memories we took from our second trip to SA is the complete and sincere openess and friendliness of the B&B owners and hoteliers. They realise that you are their 'life-blood' and treat you with the customer-orientated 'how can I help sir/madam' attitude which can be, alas, lacking in other countries.

Then on down to Protea banks - shark-fest-central!!

It has to be said that you don't dive 'The Banks' for the reefs! If you're after reefs, stick with the above two options. We did four dives here over two days and as a result would recommend it to anyone wanting decent 'shark action'.

All the diving we did, and most of he divng off the South African coast, as far as we can tell (with the possible exception of cage-diving for Great Whites), is done off very large RIBS ('Rubber Ducks'). You all gather around the RIB on the shore and face her into the breakers. Then you run with the bow facing seaward and get her afloat. When the water is up to everyone's waist, the ladies get on; when it's up to your armpits/shoulders, the men get on. Once all aboard, the skipper gives a brief orders drill on the dos-n-don'ts, strapping yourself into the foot and hand-grips, then does a double circle close to shore to signal the harbour/beach-master's tower that all is OK and then you're off - out through the breakers, and what a rush!

As you bounce merrily along (some of it in mid-air), you speed up and head off-shore. This is true 'bounce-diving' in the 'blue'. The skipper knows the GPS points and takes you right to them. All kitted-up (tanks and kit arrayed in central holding-spine onboard), you backward roll off the RIB and with a very quick surface visual and an all round 'OK' signal, you all head down, finning, following the DM who carries a surface marker buoy so the skipper can keep tabs on where you are in the drift.

On the first dive, I think we saw one retreating Raggie and just pootled around in a group (watching as various shoals of fish went by), all at neutral-buoyancy and watching and waiting. The dive lasted about 40 mins (about 33m max depth - although other dives were to 42 and 47 metres) and we came ashore with thoughts of 'oh well, what ever happens at Protea Banks obviously happened to someone else on a different day'. We spoke way too soon!

The second dive saw us drop in off the RIB and straight down to 30 metres. Almost immediately we saw a family of Ribbon-tail Rays (we'd never seen them before) doing a family jig! Then, and with the DM 'bellowing' through his reg, we turned to see two Zambezi (Bull) Sharks come over to check us out! No sooner had they left, then a couple of Angle Sharks, followed by a Guitar Shark hove into view on the seabed. At this stage, we'd comepletely changed our minds about Protea Banks as these sightings alone had made the trip worthwhile.

Happy in our reverie, we began a very slow ascent and were at about 22 metres when the DM again began to 'windmill' his arms to grab everyone's attention - an Oceanic White coming towards us for a brief look-see! Wow, these beasts usually stay deep (40+ metres) during the day and come closer to the surface to feed at night, so what a bonus.

But, we had seen nothing yet!

As we continued the ascent, we hit about 15 metres when a couple of Bronze-Whaler Sharks came screaming past us, stopped, and then carried on about their business.

And THEN the event happened.

We were at 13 metres doing the 1st of our safey stops (12 days of bounce-diving to depth and with very short surface intervals meant that deeper stops made sense) when in excess of 120-150 Hammerheads came right towards us: above, below and from all sides! A genuinely awe-inspiring sight! Cameras and videos going like crazy we just hung there and watched the spectacle. Amazing.

And all that on one dive! After the 1st dive's disappointment! There's an old adage at Protea Banks: 'if you don't see what you want, have another look in 30 minutes..' and they are dead right.

To be honest, after this magnificent display, we couldn't really care if they turned round and said that all diving was cancelled for the rest of the week, we'd been treated to a series of underwater memories that will last a lifetime.

Diving in South Africa is HIGHLY recommended, and I'm glad Yvonne/'Bunny' enjoyed it so much and is going back. You will NOT be disappointed.

The other outrageous bonus is that the country is dirt-cheap (though markedly more so in Mozambique) for just about everthing. The Rand, last time I checked, was standing at about 17 to the £! Happy days.

Hope this gives you a flavour of what's on offer - and there's a lot. We booked with 'Dive the Big 5' (see URL below) who hooked us up with, if memory serves, African Dive Adventures in-country. Their URL also has detailed info on the wrecks and reefs we dived and the many other options.

Oh, one last thing, I advise you take/rent a semi-dry (we dived in O'Three 5mm semis with a 3mm shortie undersuit and were toastie warm). Your call dependent on how much you feel the cold.

http://www.divethebig5.co.za/

HTH, enjoy and dive safe.

Bren."
 
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