Trip Report: the Ultimate South African Dive Safari

by Martijn Schouten & Monique Schouten

In February 2023, CW Azores organized the first Ultimate South African Dive Safari, a 10-day guided expedition focused on finding and photographing as many animals, big and small both on land and underwater and let us tell you, we found a lot!

In February 2023 CW Azores organized the first Ultimate South African Dive Safari, a 10-day guided expedition focused on finding and photographing as many animals, big and small both on land and underwater and, let us tell you, we found a lot!

Combine all of that with a team of passionate divers from four different countries, Cape Town’s beauty and amazing cuisine, you can imagine we had an amazing expedition.

Through this trip report, we would like to give you an idea of what we did and saw day by day. If you like what you read here, definitely have a look at our special expeditions page for the 2024 dates!

Day 1

The expedition started by picking up most of our guests at Cape Town international airport. Some of the guests decided to come a few days earlier to enjoy the city, so we picked these remaining guests up on our way to Simon’s Town where we would be based for the expedition.

Before heading to the hotel we passed by the Shark Explorers dive centre to drop off the dive gear and talk about the plan for the next few days.
The weather, which can be unpredictable in Cape Town, looked good for the first few days of the trip, so the plan for the first sea day was to go offshore to the deep to look for Blue sharks and Mako sharks.

After checking in to the hotel, the guests had some time for themselves before we went for a group dinner in one of Simon Town’s restaurants and a good night's rest.

Day 2

Because of the weather forecast that predicted the wind to drop during the early morning, we decided to have a late start for our first trip to the deep, which was a good call. We left Simon's Town harbour and headed for the famous Cape Point, the South-westernmost tip of Africa.
Once we arrived at Cape Point, we made a brief stop to take some photos and have a sandwich before heading deep into the South Atlantic.

The ocean was a little bumpy, but we made it out to about 20 miles offshore, where we found a good body of water before we started chumming to attract the sharks to the boat.

It didn’t take long before we were surrounded by an array of pelagic seabird species and a swift surface encounter with 2 oceanic sunfish!

Luckily, we spotted the first Blue shark soon after, a beautiful female shark of about 1.7 meters, surrounded by 7 pilotfish that looked very comfortable around the boat. Her confidence and curiosity were a good sign that she would stay for the dive and she did!

Blue shark with pilot fish. Photo by Joost van Uffelen

A beautiful female Blue shark with pilot fish. Photo taken by our guest Joost van Uffelen.

We spent roughly 80 minutes in the water with her and she gave all the divers and freedivers some nice and close passes, resulting in amazing photo opportunities. Right at the end of the dive she was joined by another big Blue shark! What a great start to the trip!

Day 3

The plan was to do two inshore dives in False Bay. However, although we had beautiful weather conditions, the visibility was not exactly working in our favour. The cause of the bad visibility was a fairly large swell in the bay and a phenomenon called red tide, an algal bloom that reduces the visibility greatly.

With some searching accompanied by the beautiful landscapes of False Bay in the background, we found one spot in the bay with promising visibility and we managed to do a dive in the kelp forest, where we saw the first species of Catsharks that live in the kelp, we saw Pyjama sharks, Dark shy sharks and a few Puffadder shy sharks.

Pyjama catshark. Photo by Joost van Uffelen

The visibility wasn't great, but we still managed to find a few species of sharks including this Pyjama catshark. Photo taken by our guest Pieter Firlefyn.

In the meantime, the freedivers went off to explore the shallower waters in the kelp forest, where they also encountered an array of Catshark species and the endemic Spotted gully shark!
Southern Africa and False Bay are the ideal destinations to observe these sharks. While it was initially the plan to do a second dive, we decided to save it for a day with better visibility.

Apart from the kelp and the small sharks, a highlight of our day at sea was a Cape clawless otter that hopped on the boat and inspected our dive gear, and was looking for an easy meal maybe? Considering how timid and elusive these animals normally are, it was a treat to see!

Day 4

This was a day for the books!

Sandy and Puffadder shyshark. Photo by Joost van Uffelen

The visibility improved a lot and we managed to see 6 species of sharks. Here is Sandy v/d water looking at a Puffadder shyshark. Photo taken by our guest Joost van Uffelen.

We started the day with a cage diving trip offered to us by Shark Explorers as an extra activity.
The main target species of sharks were Bronze whaler sharks also known as Copper sharks. Upon anchoring the boat, it didn’t take long before we spotted the first sharks and the guests were in the cage, diving with these bold and fairly large sharks.

When everybody had their turn in the cage to observe and photograph these sharks, we lifted the anchor and went back to the harbour for some sandwiches on the boat, before we headed out for two inshore dives.
The visibility improved drastically overnight, so we headed for another stretch of kelp forest to see if we could find some smaller sharks. On this dive, we encountered four species of catsharks; we had Pyjama cat sharks, Dark shy sharks, Puffadder cat sharks and the elusive, usually nocturnal Leopard cat shark!

We changed location for the second dive to look for another extremely rare species of shark, the Broad-nose seven-gill shark.
False Bay is one of the few places on the planet where you have a chance to find these sharks, but only if you know where to look.
After descending to about 9 meters, we made a short swim before we got to the area where we hoped to find these seven-gill sharks. Once we got to the spot, it was a matter of seconds until we saw the first Seven-gill shark slowly cruising close to the bottom. It made a close pass by the divers and disappeared. We spent the rest of the dive observing at least 8 different individuals between 1.5 and 2.5 meters in length.
Everybody managed to get some good photos and videos of these prehistoric-looking sharks and all the guests were extremely excited after resurfacing next to the boat!
On this particular day, we saw and photographed 6 different species of sharks! A good dinner and drinks were in order after such an awarding day!

Day 5

The morning gave us a weather gap, so we decided to head offshore again in pursuit of finding more Blue sharks and, perhaps, a Mako shark.

The ride out to the deep was easy but, as soon as we stopped the boat to chum, the wind and sea started to pick up rather fast. We decided to give it at least an hour before making a call to turn back and in the end, we saw a small Blue shark from the boat, it didn’t show any interest in sticking around for the dive, we also saw many Albatrosses before we had to head back in to hide from the wind.

On our way back we saw another Mola mola basking in the sun close to Cape Point and we stopped at the Partridge Point seal colony, a small island in False Bay to dive with the always entertaining Cape fur seals and explore the beautiful and vibrant cold water reef system around the island.

Cape fur seals at Partridge point. Photo by Pieter Firlefyn

We spent the morning offshore, looking for blue and mako sharks until the wind came. On the way back from the deep, we did a dive with the Cape fur seals at Partridge point. Photo by our guest Pieter Firlefyn.

While we had to cut our offshore trip short due to the weather conditions, the Cape fur seals saved the day!

Day 6

This was a day for exploration and adventure; we planned an ocean safari on the other side of the peninsula in hopes to encounter some Oceanic sunfish among other potential ocean surprises. The day started with a drive over the famous Chapman’s peak drive, a winding road on the mountainside with high cliffs and beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean. After a quick stop to take in the breathtaking surroundings, we continued to Hout Bay, where the boat was ready and waiting for us.

Expedition leader Mona exploring the kelp forest. Photo by Martijn schouten.

Mona, one of our expedition leaders, exploring the kelp forest on the Alantic side of Cape Town. Photo by Martijn schouten.

We got on board with nothing but our snorkelling gear and cameras and set out for another adventure! We spent more or less an hour in search of dolphins, whales and Mola Mola, which we unfortunately did not find, but we did some kelp forest exploration in crystal clear visibility! It was a great opportunity for everyone to practice their freediving skills as well as get some beautiful shots of the sun rays piercing through the kelp.

After playing in the kelp, we stopped off for a snorkel at Duiker Island, another seal colony that 5000 - 8000 Cape fur seals call home.
After calling it a day, it was time to go back to the harbour, change into some dry clothes and go for a well-deserved fish & chips, something not to miss when visiting Hout Bay!

Day 7

With the majority of ocean activities done, and the South-Easterly wind blowing at a gale, it was a good opportunity to explore Cape Town's surroundings by land. Warren, our land-based guide and driver took us on a tour of the peninsula.

Penguins at Boulders Beach. Photo by Mona Schouten

With the Southeast wind now blowing, the guests explored the Cape peninsula by land. We visited the penguins at Boulders Beach, Millers Point and the famous Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. photo by Mona Schouten.

Our first stop was at Boulders Beach, home to a colony of African penguins that can be observed on a boardwalk or the beach! After spending some time observing and photographing these flightless seabirds, it was time to move on and make a stop at Millers Point, part of a marine reserve and also the site where the world-renowned Netflix documentary "My octopus teacher"* was filmed. The remainder of the morning and early afternoon was spent exploring the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve, this included a mandatory visit to Cape Point, the South-westernmost and, on this day, the windiest point of Africa.

Some of the animals that were spotted on this land tour were penguins, baboons, ostriches, cape hyrax, and different species of buck.
We ended another adventurous day with an authentic South African braai (BBQ) at the Shark Explorers dive centre. The team prepared some delicious food and we shared many stories before calling it a night for another early start!

Day 8

It was an early start, but with good reason because it was game drive day! The Aquila Game Reserve is located three hours from Simon's Town, so we had a long drive ahead! Upon arrival, we were seated at a five-star buffet breakfast before we got into the 4x4 vehicle to start the safari.

Buffalo. Photo by Mona Schouten

After an early start and an amazing breakfast, we set out on a 4x4 safari, where we spotted four out of the Big Five and a lot of other animals! Photo by Mona Schouten.

Although the weather was drizzly and overcast making it more challenging to spot wildlife in the bush, we still got to see four out of the African Big Five! We saw buffalo, rhinos, male and female lions and elephants! We also saw an array of other animals like baboons, zebra, eland and springboks.

When we returned to the camp from an adventurous safari, we had a hearty lunch before the long road to back Simon's Town with full bellies and SD cards!

Day 9

We started our last full day in South Africa with one last dive in hopes to see more Seven-gill sharks. We found them again and we had an amazing dive with seven individuals!

Sevengill shark. Photo by Photo by Martijn Schouten

We started the day with a dive to look for Sevengill sharks and we found them good! After the dive, we went for a wine tasting tour and had our last dinner of the trip. Photo by Martijn Schouten.

After the dive, we hung our gear for one final dry before heading out for an afternoon of lunch and wine tasting at one of Cape Town's many beautiful wine farms. It was a great lunch filled with chats, laughs and memories of the trip over a few (too many) glasses of wine.
After the afternoon spent wine tasting, we had one last dinner at one of our favourite restaurants called 'Dixies', followed by some much-needed rest before our long way home.

Day 10

It was unfortunately time for the safari to end and to say goodbye to our guests and the wonderful Shark Explorers team: Morne, Steff, Lindy, Nina, Jason, Ernest, Tristan, and Ria for their hospitality, professionalism and great work ethic before Warren took us on one last drive to the airport.

What a trip, what a team, what an experience! We can't wait to do it again in 2024! Photo by Warren Hardenberg

What a trip, what a team, what an experience! We can't wait to do it again in 2024! Photo by Warren Hardenberg.

To conclude, we at CW Azores look back on an epic trip with an even better team of passionate divers!
On this trip, the environmental conditions were not always easy, but we made it work every single day and we are extremely satisfied with the fact that everyone went home with a smiling face and fantastic photographs and memories of South Africa!

This was the first of many South African Dive Safaris to come, and we can't wait to do it next year again!