One of my very favourite days out of the whole four months I spent in Australia was the day that Jacob and I took a boat out to the Neptune islands to dive with great white sharks. Before I went down under I had several people telling me that this was one of the highlights of their trips. How I laughed in their silly little faces about the fact that they had willingly jumped into shark-infested waters with only a flimsy aluminium cage to protect them. Who in their right mind would put themselves in such danger? Well, we did, and it was incredible.
The main place to dive with Sharks in Australia is Port Lincoln, which is a little bit out of the way from just about everywhere. We took a seven-day road trip from Melbourne through Adelaide there and back, and incorporated the Great Ocean Road too, which was a good way to do it. We hired a little yellow Hyundai Accent from Hertz and it was a whole lot of fun! The drive through the Great Ocean road to our first stop, the Kaniva Midway took ten long hours. The first four flew by as we were completely enamoured with our new car, and with the gorgeous scenery, but times quickly changed and we were soon guzzling down the lucozade in an attempt to remain alert on the one very long straight and dark road that took us to our first destination.
A note about Kaniva
If you opt to take on this crazy drive then staying in Kaniva is a great halfway point between Melbourne and Adelaide. The Kaniva Midway is a cute, clean and cosy old-school motel that will make you feel as if your car is actually a DeLorian and you’re back in the 80s. Don’t expect to find any food here past 8pm though, as you will be sorely disappointed. Kaniva becomes a ghost town as soon as the sun goes down, so it’s a cup of tea for dinner and then straight to bed situation if you stop here!
The next day we hopped back in the car and drove an easy three hours to our next stop in Adelaide. We made the most of our full day here by visiting the Cleland Wildlife Sanctuary – which was a great experience! Not quite up to the standard of Lone Pine sanctuary in Brisbane, it was still a lovely place to see animals roaming free and be able to feed and play with them. Here are some pictures of us meeting some of Aussie’s best.
After Adelaide came a full day of driving to Port Lincoln. This took us seven hours and we arrived pretty late at night. Our hotel, The Pier, was cheap as we were watching our budget, and for £6 a night each we got a reasonably sized room with two comfy single beds and a shared bathroom. We also decided to book this hotel due to its affiliation with the company we were diving with in the morning, as we were able to get picked up by a nice warm mini-van, rather than try to navigate our way to the harbour in the cold and dark!
Morning came and we awoke full of nerves and excitement. We were picked up by our guide and driven the short distance down to the Port Lincoln harbour. Before I actually went to Australia, I naïvely believed the notion that it was a tropical paradise that is “just a bit chilly” in winter. Let me just shatter that illusion now – Australia in winter is FREEZING. Seriously, it is so freezing cold, especially in South Australia, you will barely be able to breathe before 9am, and this day was no exception. If you choose to take the plunge (if you’ll pardon the pun) and dive in winter to get the best chance of seeing some sharks, then make sure you take lots and LOTS of layers on the boat!
After much research, the company we decided to dive with was called Calypso Star Charters, and you can find their website here. There were so many reasons I chose this company, from their Advanced Eco Tourism accreditation, to how helpful the lovely lady was on the phone when I rang to enquire about pricing, and I am so glad that we decided to dive with Calypso. This company differs from others operating in the area because of its license to bait. This means that throughout the day the crew chum the water around the boat with meat and fish to attract sharks near to the cage. Other companies operating in Port Lincoln use music and vibrations to try and attract sharks to the perimeter of the boat. I followed my sharky logic on this one because, lets face it, every shark is going to follow the smell of a nice juicy fish over a few musical vibrations. Another great thing about Calypso is that if you want to see the sharks but are just that little bit too nervous to dive, you can join the crew and divers on the boat as an observer, and pay to join the dive team whilst you are out there if you can gather up the courage!
After being picked up, we were served a hot breakfast and coffee and tea. The crew were hilarious and super friendly and incredibly matter of fact about handling sea sickness, providing bags for all. The two-hour ride out to the Neptune islands was very choppy, so if you do get sea or motion sickness like we do, I definitely recommend getting your hands on some kwells or other sickness tablets before you even think about setting foot on the boat if you want to hold onto your breakfast. There’s only so much nausea relief that can come from standing outside and watching the horizon!
Eventually, we made it to our spot amidst the Neptune islands and the waiting game for the sharks to arrive began. The Neptune islands are a popular location for shark spotting and cage diving in Australia because it is where the seals come to mate. In wintertime, a higher seal population equals a higher chance of spotting a great white searching for his tea and this day certainly did not disappoint. While we were waiting for the sharks to arrive the crew kept us occupied, handing out snacks and giving us a bucketful of information about their beloved white pointers. There was literally no question they could not answer. They all had a great sense of humor so the two hours we were waiting flew by and as soon as they saw a shark coming near to the chum they notified us immediately. We were split into five groups to dive and each group got around a 45-minute session. I was in the second group, so I got to watch as a group of four Scottish lads climbed into their wetsuits and entered the cage. As ominous as this may sound, the whole procedure was actually incredibly calm. Every time a crewmember would move chum around in the water, a shark would glide gracefully past until about four were gathered around the boat and cage. Seeing the first group bobbing around inside the cage looking completely protected by the bars really put my mind at rest, however, if you think this might freak you out rather than soothing you (perfectly understandable) I’d definitely suggest asking to go first!
Before I knew it, it was our turn to get into the cage and I was a ball of nervous energy as I climbed into my wetsuit. We were also given scuba hats and gloves as it was so cold, but if you dive in summer you may not need these added extras. One by one we were shown how to operate the breathing piece and then, go pros in hands, clambered into the cage. Being in the actual cage was an experience like no other. As a (very) inexperienced diver (I had never even had a go at using breathing apparatus before this point) the first thing I had to concentrate on was getting used to the feeling of being completely submerged in water, yet still able to breathe. If you have a Padi or are a keen diver this will be absolutely no problem for you, but it is something I struggled with for the first few minutes. (Jacob actually said he found attempting to keep his breathing steady through the apparatus was actually more stressful than seeing the sharks!)
Swimming around the cage were a LOT of tuna so after a few minutes of looking round I was able to let my guard down and just enjoy the peaceful serenity of the complete silence under the water and watch the fish swim by. Then, out of nowhere an amazing, sleek, five meter shark glided towards the cage. This beast was incredible, it’s fins were perfectly formed and its body was covered in scratches and dents from fighting but it looked completely majestic from where I was floating. Despite all the videos I had (stupidly) watched of sharks aggressively swimming at the cage, at no point during the entire experience was I worried about one of these things attacking me, or even opening their mouths. From our vantage point under the boat we could see sharks coming from all angles, and our original whopper was eventually joined by about four more. I spent a happy half an hour videoing and taking pictures of the sharks. It was only after my Go-Pro battery died that I began to really feel the motion of the cage being bashed around on the side of the boat and began to feel scared, not of the sharks, but of the idea that the cage may come away from the boat where it was fastened! Although this was absolutely ridiculous (the cage has lots of buoys attached to it so even if anything did happen, you would be safe) I decided enough was enough and climbed out of the cage. Above water I was happy to discover that I had managed to remain under the water for a full forty-five minutes, and just a few minutes later Jake and the rest of my team emerged safely from the cage too.
The rest of the day passed smoothly with all teams getting to dive and experience the presence of the six sharks that swam to our boat throughout the day. We enjoyed taking pictures from the side of the boat and learning about the White Pointers from the crew. To be honest, I could have probably done it every day for several weeks and still not get tired of it, there’s something about seeing a giant killing machine glide peacefully past your boat that just does not get boring.
After each team had completed their dive, we headed back to shore. The sea was like a possessed beast at this point, with huge waves crashing in all different directions. Despite this, the crew made us feel incredibly safe and kept us informed at all times about what was happening, as well as explaining the effects that different weather conditions have on the sea. When we pulled safely back into the port, we were met by our minibus driver and deposited safely back to our hotel. We had been fed well on the boat and didn’t have to go and find dinner, as we were so full! This meant that we were free to spend the entire evening binge watching our go-pro videos and excitedly instagramming and messaging our families about our experience.
Calypso Star Charters provided an incredible day for us from start to finish, and I would absolutely recommend them to anyone that has a Shark Dive on their bucket list! You can find their Trip Advisor here and they can be contacted by phone, or you can just book online.
Would you take the plunge and swim with the Sharks?
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