“ Address: Gansbaai / South Africa / Tel: +27 0 28 384 0406 „
When we recently went to stay in South Africa we stayed at a nature reserve just close to the fishing town of Gansbaai. I mention this because it is from here that the Dyer Island cruises start and finish where you can sail out into the Southern Ocean and see penguins, seals, sharks, and at certain times of the year, Southern Right Whales. Unfortunately, as we were in South Africa in February, we did not see any whales, but we did see all of the others I have mentioned, along with a good variety of sea birds too.
You start your cruise at the Great White House in Gansbaai where you are given a talk about the cruise and the conservation projects on Dyer Island. We were particularly interested in the CapeNature project 'faces of need 'which is providing penguin nesting boxes on the island. You can also sponsor a nest box for which you get a certificate. We did this particularly because I do really love penguins. The sponsorship is a one off payment of 400 SA rand and this goes towards nest box construction and placement, conservation, monitoring and penguin research.
After all this everyone has to put on a life jacket and there are different sizes for adults and children. Someone is also on hand to make sure that you have it on properly. You then walk a couple of hundred metres down to the boat ready to go. The boat is called the Whale Whisperer and can take up to twenty four people but I should imagine that would feel a bit squashed. There were only eight people on our trip and that was very roomy. The seats are along the middle of the boat and all face outwards so you are always looking outwards to sea. They also open up so that you can place all of your belongings inside so that they are protected and safe. There are some stairs up to a narrow viewing deck. These are quite narrow and I wouldn't advise trying to climb them while the boat is going at speed. Also, very importantly if you're anything like me, there is a toilet on board. This is very good to know especially as the trip takes about two hours.
The boat is launched in to the water with the aid of a tractor. It then sets out to sea at a very fast rate of knots and is extremely bumpy! For the first couple of minutes my daughter absolutely hated it and kept crying that she wanted to get off! However, this did not last long and for the rest of the trip she absolutely loved it! The boat travels quite quickly and then will stop and slow down in the best places or if one of the crew spots something interesting.
There were three main creatures we were looking for on our cruise - African penguins, cape fur seals and great white sharks. We saw all of these although, the most disappointing for me were the penguins. In my mind, I had envisaged stopping on Dyer Island and walking around with penguins at my feet. Unfortunately, as Dyer Island is a conservation area, you are not allowed to land and have to make do with sailing around the island. This meant that although we saw the penguins they were all at a distance and certainly not close enough to take any good photos! There were much better views of the seals though and these were abundant in their thousands! We also saw some sharks particularly in the area that is known as Shark Alley. In this area you see a lot of people in boats that are doing shark cage diving (we did not fancy this at all!). IT is good to get near these boats though as they throw bait into the water in order to lure the sharks near. We came quite close up to these awesome creatures! As we saw plenty of birds as well (helpfully identified by the helpful crew) we really felt that we got good value for money. Also when you are out at sea you get fantastic views of the mountains and South African coastline.
Overall this is a very enjoyable trip with lots to see. The captain and crew were very knowledgeable and friendly and very willing to answer any questions. It is a bit bumpy out there though and one person in our party did suffer quite badly with sea sickness so be warned. One crew member was also videoing our trip and we had the opportunity to buy a very well put together DVD.
The cost of the whale watching trip was 900 rand for adults and 550 rand for children with under fives going free. In the summer months when the whales have departed the trips are shorter and cost about half this amount. 900 rand is just under £80 so it was not a cheap trip but it was worth it! We only wished that we had been in South Africa when we could have seen the whales too but it is a great trip at any time of year!