South Africa dive holidays
The Sardine Run
The Greatest Shoal on Earth
Every year, from the end of May to the beginning of July, a spectacle larger than anything else on the planet takes place off the south east coast of Africa, from the Transkei coast up to the shores of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. The Natal Sardine Run is legendary, not only because of the sheer volumes of these shiny little fish, but also due to the attendant escort of hungry predators.
Sardines thrive all year round off the Southern Cape coast of South Africa. Once a year, however, the warm Benguerra current that flows naturally south from the equator moves slightly off-shore and with it flows an incredible food chain made up of microscopic plankton and millions of sardines. In their wake come the predators, including many sharks and other game fish shooting into these massive shoals, like torpedoes with teeth.
From below come the dolphins, the fast and agile common dolphins supported by their slower and bigger cousins, the bottlenose dolphins squeaking and launching into the air and herding the sardine shoals into bait balls.
Then come the sharks – copper sharks, ragged tooth sharks, tiger sharks and, of course, the great white shark shovelling down dozens of sardines with every gulp.
On the fringes of this incredible activity are the majestic whales, the humpback, minke, Bryde’s, southern right and the killer whale.
Loading large twin-outboard zodiacs with photo and video equipment, snacks and drinks, snorkellers and scuba divers head out in the early light to spend the day searching the sea for sardines and predator activity. Arial spotters in micro lights buzz above the waves keeping radio contact with the boat skipper. The action is not for the feint-hearted and days can be long, hard and hot. Seas can be smooth or rough and the action is never to be guaranteed but when we find it, our blood turns to pure adrenalin.
Divers and snorkellers prepare dive gear and underwater cameras. At the skipper’s command they fall overboard into the middle of the action. The sardine shoal is so thick it blocks out the light. As we are enveloped by the swarm all we can hear is the chattering of dolphins and the deep grunts of whales. Bigger shapes move through the shoal – sharks – but they are totally focussed on the sardines and don’t bother us. Pure, bucket-list dive holiday magic!
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Sardines thrive all year round off the Southern Cape coast of South Africa. Once a year, however, the warm Benguerra current that flows naturally south from the equator moves slightly off-shore and with it flows an incredible food chain made up of microscopic plankton and millions of sardines.
Where to stay
The best places to stay close to the action
Port St John’s River Lodge
The Port St. John’s River Lodge is perfectly located on the banks of the Umzimvubu River; a perfect choice for the stunning annual Sardine Run.
Star Rating: 3*
Number of Rooms: 13 rooms
Distance to dive centre: 1 mile
Distance to Airport: 30 mins by car
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