Did you know?
Female southern right whales come to South African shores every 3 years to calve and mate.
Two hours east of Cape Town lies the fishing port of Gansbaai. And as the staff of Dyer Island Cruises can attest, this is the possibly only area in the world where you can see great white sharks and southern right whales in one place.
In fact, you might see them within a few minutes of leaving the shore.
But they’re certainly not the only species you’ll see. One a single trip with Dyer Island Cruises, you stand a very good chance of seeing the Marine Big Five. These are the aforementioned great white sharks and southern right whales, along with endangered African penguins, Cape fur seals and dolphins.
Owned by well-known conservationist Wilfred Chivell, Dyer Island Cruises is highly respected in the industry for an uncompromising commitment to ethics, the marine environment and continuing research. These are some of the reasons it was certified for its responsible tourism efforts by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa.
The company takes its name from an island 8km off Gansbaai, where there’s always something interesting happening.
Dyer Island was once teeming with penguins, until guano was stripped off the island decades ago. That has compromised the penguin population, which used the guano to nest, because their chicks and young are now exposed to the weather and hungry kelp gulls. Dyer Island Cruises took the initiative, in cooperation with marine conservation authorities, to install fibrecrete penguin nests. The birds in question love these nests, moving in as soon as they’re dug in.
Just across a short sea channel from the island is a small outcrop called Geyser Rock, every metre of which is heaving with Cape fur seals – several thousand of them.
The sea channel between the island and Geyser Rock is appropriately nicknamed Shark Alley. It is traversed by dozens of great white sharks on the prowl for unwary seals – their favourite food. This is where Dyer Island Cruises operates its shark-watching operation, called Marine Dynamics.
Even if you’re on the whale-watching boat, called the Whale Whisperer, you’ll stop here a while, just to see if there are any sharks visible – and 80% of the time, they are.
The Whale Whisperer is an extremely comfortable, custom-made boat. It is even fitted out with a hydrophone to better hear the sounds made by the southern rights, and any other whales, in the area.
It’s not unusual to see Bryde’s whales, humpback whales, dolphins and even the odd orca.
Chivell frequently skippers the boat, and there are usually two marine biologists on board. It is this commitment to ongoing research that makes Dyer Island Cruises one of the most interesting and informative marine trips you’ll ever take.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
Gansbaai is about two hours’ drive from Cape Town. Take the N2, then the Botrivier turn-off onto the R43 towards Hermanus. Go through this pretty coastal town to nearby Stanford, where you’ll continue towards Gansbaai. Dyer Island Cruises operates from the small boat harbour in the town, called Kleinbaai.
Best time to visit
The southern right whales start arriving in June and spend about five months in the region, departing in November and early December. Great white sharks are in the area all year round, but are most active and easier to see in the winter months, from May to September.
Around the area
Gansbaai is in the middle of 1 of South Africa’s most scenic areas – the Overberg – and is not far from Cape Agulhas (Africa’s southernmost tip).
What will it cost
A shark-diving trip (you don’t have to go in the cage, and can stay on board) will cost approx. R1 400. A whale-watching trip in season will cost about R900. A transfer from Cape Town will cost R300.
Length of stay
This is a perfect half-day excursion. Both whale-watching cruises and shark trips take about 2 to 3 hours. It takes 20 minutes by boat to get to Dyer Island and Shark Alley.
What to pack
It’s always colder at sea than on land, so take a warm, weatherproof jacket. Bring a hat and sunscreen, camera and anti-nausea medication if you get motion sickness. Either a breakfast or light lunch will be provided, as well as drinks and snacks on board.
Where to stay
The Dyer Island Cruises people can recommend local guest houses in Gansbaai. Hermanus is also not far. You could also organise a transfer if you're based in Cape Town.
What to eat
Dyer Island Cruises operates from the Great White House, which also houses an excellent restaurant serving fresh seafood.
While you’re at the Great White House (headquarters of Dyer Island Cruises), ask about the fascinating Faces of Need project that provides protective housing to Dyer Island’s African penguins.