Mossel Bay has always languished a bit in the shadow of its more illustrious and beautiful Garden Route siblings. But don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, as the saying goes. Because of a family connection, I have, in recent years, spent a bit of time in the town and got to know it as not just the place you bypass while speeding up the N2 from Cape Town to the likes of Plett and Knysna. And hey, things are happening there – so much so that Mossel Bay has become the new Garden Route adventure hub. It was also last year, for the second time, named as the Western Cape’s town of the year.
With the Easter holidays looming, Mossel Bay is a great place for a family holiday. When we last visited over the Christmas break, the town was buzzing. The camp site at The Point overflowed into the adjacent junior school, forming a sprawling tented town. Campers of all ages seemed to be involved in some form of hunter-gathering – fishing, diving or fossicking for shells in the rock pools, while surfers of varying ability carved or dorked-out on the point break.
There’s accommodation options to suit all pockets, from camping to backpackers to fine hotels. You can even bed down on a train parked virtually on the beach at Santos – the train’s going nowhere so you’ll still step out onto white sand in the morning. The Point area is where it all happens in the town. It’s home to both famous surf breaks, Inner and Outer pool, several restaurants, two hotels and the Point village self catering cottages. Our morning routine was to order cappuccinos or a sunrise breakfast on the deck at Delfino’s while my two kids joined an impromptu game of cricket, rugby or ‘chicken’ with the waves breaking into the tidal pool.
So what else did we get up to as a family in a few days? Plenty. Some the highlights were feeding time with lions, tigers, leopards and wild dogs at Jukani Predator Park – where I accidently got myself bitten by a honey badger; a ride in a horse-drawn cart at Outeniqua Moon stud, clambering aboard the life-size replica caravel in the Dias Museum, a helicopter flip, the giant water slides at Dias Beach, a scenic ride on the historical Outeniqua Choe-Tjoe train from George back to Mossel Bay and a cruise out to Seal Island aboard the Romanza yacht. Not to mention a bit of surfing and a lot of beaching in a town which boasts as many hours of sunshine as Hawaii. You’ll find details of these as well as plenty more on the excellent web site www.visitmosselbay.co.za.
Of course, Mossel Bay has always been renowned for white-shark cage diving. I have spent most of my life to date trying to avoid great white sharks while engaged in any kind of aquatic activity. However, there comes a time when we all have to confront our demons, so I booked a trip with White Shark Africa. But more of that later.
Mossel Bay – facing up to white sharks
Shark cage diving is a bit of a misnomer really. The activity does involve sharks and cages but does not require any diving experience. I had always pictured being lowered down in a steel cage in full scuba gear to the depths of the ocean floor while large toothy predators circled above me. Not so, as I was to discover.
Our motley group of mostly foreigners assembled as the White Shark Africa’s base where snacks and drinks were available. Were they feeding us up for our meeting with Jaws, I did wonder? The safety briefing was brief but did emphasize that it was most inadvisable to let any part of your body, particularly hands and feet protrude from the cage once in the water. That bit of procedure taken care of, we walked the short way to the harbour where the 10-metre catamaran Shark Warrior whisked us out to Seal Island, home to a barking, smelly colony of Cape fur seals.
On board with us was a bucket of bloody chum, several stiff tuna fish and a minced fish kind of stew. A recipe for seasickness, but fortunately the sea was calm. First a chum trail of blood and bits was scooped into the water. We waited. Suddenly a black fin broke the surface. We were in luck.
‘Okay, first six divers kit up,’ came the instruction from our skipper as the sturdy steel cage was maneuvered into position alongside the stern. The top was opened and six of us in full wetsuits and diving masks, climbed precariously into the cage which was submerged to about chest height in surprisingly chilly water. We waited.
‘Shark from the left, divers down’, came the next order from above. I took a deep breath and submerged. A big grey shark cruised past, paying us scant attention. We surfaced again for breath. It wasn’t long before the next ‘divers down’ call came. I settled at the bottom of the cage, as out of the depths came the ocean’s super predator, jaws open, black eyes fixed on the bait. With a flick of its powerful tail it grabbed the bait and kept on coming, straight at the cage. Instinctively I braced for the impact of 400kg of shark flesh, but just as it was almost upon us, it veered away. It was so close I could feel the swish of water as it turned aside. Adrenalin pumping, we six cage dwellers all burst to the surface to a flurry of exclamations.
The researcher aboard our boat recorded seven different sharks in total. The smallest was around 2,5 meters, the largest 3,5 meters, she estimated. Not every outing is as successful, but White Shark Africa does have a very high success rate for sightings. Check out their operation at www.whitesharkafrica.com.
Not more than a kilometre away at Dias Beach, swimmers cavorted in the small waves. I had been surfing there with my seven year old son Tom just the day before. Now that I’d seen what hung around Seal Island, apart from seals, I’m not so sure I’ll be surfing there again any time soon.