Sardine Run - South Africa Diving Expeditions
- Maximum of 10 divers per boat
- Whales, dolphins, sharks and birds by the hundreds
- Combine your waterside adventure with a safari on land
Watch this incredible video and be inspired!
Wildlife Warning! While we do our absolute best to provide you with unforgettable wildlife encounters, nature is, by its very definition, unpredictable and so bait balls cannot be guaranteed.
Just ten divers in a boat and more creatures under you than the East African great migration: now that’s an experience! Although you may feel outnumbered by the sheer extent of the marine life you are about to join, we like to ensure that at least your fellow divers will not crowd you.
This trip seeks to combine the finest South African hospitality with the pinnacle of marine experience. Although, as with all wildlife encounters, nothing can be guaranteed, we work with the most experienced local operators to ensure that when the sardines run, you are there to join them. Please note that this itinerary is just a guideline to give you an idea of how this type of trip can be.
Durban / Sodwana Bay / Aliwal Shoal / Port St Johns / Durban
The anticipation has been growing for weeks, but now your departure has finally arrived. Head to the airport and board your plane. Destination: South Africa!
Sodwana Bay Lodge – Half Board
Land in Durban, the vibrant heart of KwaZuluNatal. There you will travel by car/ bus and drive north, out of the city, through the green fields of sugar cane and into the bush land of Zululand. The journey will last for approximately five hours, but, with breaks and a good road, it will fly by. Your destination is Sodwana Bay and the lodge of the same name, a place where forests meet sandy beach, and your access to the most southerly tropical reefs in Africa.
Sodwana Bay Lodge – Half Board 2 Dives
Sodwana Bay is a place of great marine diversity with over 20 beautiful dive sites and a host of large pelagic visitors. Look out for the whale sharks, join the turtles floating over the reef, or get close up for a bit of macro action. You will spend three nights here, so enjoy and make the most of it.
SODWANA BAY LODGE – HALF BOARD 2 DIVES
Back in the boats and confidently enjoying the surf launch, you will spend the day diving the reefs our local guides are confident will give you the best diving experience. However, should you want a break from diving, it will be possible to arrange other excursions, not included in your package, such as quad biking, horse riding and even a flight over the bay in a micro-light (weather permitting).
Ellingham Resorts – Breakfast – 1 Dive
After a final early morning dive, you are heading south to the coast again. Destination: the village of Umkomaas, entry to Aliwal Shoal, the home of the tiger sharks. It is time to dive again. Sharks and a surf entry are the order of play again, but this time it’s for the tigers. Staying at Ellingham Resorts next to the dive centre, you will be well fed, watered, and as comfortable as you will have grown to expect.
DAY 6 & 7
Ellingham Resort – Breakfast – 4 Dives
Diving is with tiger shark experts, who are suspected to prefer shark to human company, as they spend so much time with them. You will be fully briefed on the ecology and behaviour of these beautiful creatures. The dive briefing will be comprehensive and don’t worry: there is no such thing as a stupid question. Launching from the beach, you will break the surf line and head out to the waters of the shoal. This is RIB based diving at its best.
In the afternoon, you will dive cathedral on Aliwal Shoal, a dive known for its raggies. Each day you will enjoy 2 dives: a perfect warm up for the challenge of the Run to come.
Psj River Lodge – Breakfast After breakfast (and a slightly lazier morning), you will leave Ellingham and head south, towards the Wild Coast and Port St Johns, your home for the next seven days. The journey takes about five hours, but with beautiful scenery and plenty of stops, it will past quickly. Port St John is a former trading post, a sleepy town that for much of June is given over to divers.
DAY 9 to 13
Sardine Run means five days of chasing the shoals and fighting for space in the water along with anything else with an appetite. The aim of the days is to locate bait balls, hundreds of thousands of silver sardines crowding together as a protection mechanism against the hundreds of sharks, dolphins, seals, whales and seabirds that have followed the fish ever since they left their spawning ground of the Agulhas Bank hundreds of km to the south. Although often extending up to 20 metres in diameter, these bait balls are short lived and so a successful dive depends upon vigilance, speed of reaction and a little luck.
This is an expedition! As Port St John is a small place with very little in the way of facilities, the group becomes a mobile dive centre, transporting all boats and equipment up from Port Elizabeth.
A typical Sardine Run day
Staying at the River Lodge, a comfortable apartment complex situated in densely forested dunes overlooking the river, an easy stroll from the town centre; the day begins with the 08:00 weather check. Then you make your way down to the boat, launching into the Uzimvubu River and making your way to its mouth, there to wait for a break in the wave sets and your chance to launch into the ocean.
This is possibly one of the most hectic launch sites in the world and must always be approached extremely carefully. However, your team has great experience of this annual festival and before long you will be beyond the surf bouncing on the waves to the current line. This runs for approximately 100km along the coast. There are many technical challenges to operating successfully on the shoal, so the number of boats is limited to six or seven.
Once out, you kit up and wait. Spotters scan the water for the tell-tale signs of the bait balls forming: sea birds dropping like arrows, whales breaching and waters boiling.
Once the spot is made, the boat will be maneuvered into position and your guide will drop into the water to ascertain the appropriate type of dive. During this week you will scuba, snorkel and free dive, depending on the situation and the advice of your guide.
Common dolphins, bottle nosed dolphins, Bryde’s whales (pronounced Brutus), dusky sharks, bronze whalers, black tips, tigers, bull sharks, king fish, and cape fur seals are most commonly seen.
With a packed lunch on the boat to keep your energy levels high, the day draws to a close at around 16:00 when the boats head for home and divers stream to the bars. Although a quiet place, Port St John is a good home to divers as BBQs abound and the different boat occupants mingle to discuss the day’s adventures.
Packing away your dive gear and committing a week’s surf launches to memory, you will be driven north, into KwaZuluNatal, to Durban, the vibrant city of sugar and spices and home of the famous ‘bunny chow’, and unfortunately the end of the expedition. After a final breakfast, you will be transferred to the international airport and your return flight to your Nordic country.
Arrive back home with plenty of stories.
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