Sardine Run Week - Part 2

After an amazing first week in the Cape Peninsula, it was time to head East to start the Sardine Run portion of this expedition!

  • Read Part 1 to find out what our clients experienced in Cape Town before kicking off their Sardine Run adventure…

After a early morning pick up in Simonstown, we drove to Cape Town International Airport for the short 1hr45min flight to East London where the next chapter of our adventure would begin…

Until next time Cape Town...

Arrival In A Paradise Setting

Once we arrived at East London airport, we were picked up by a driver and had short drive to our base camp for the week at a picturesque remote lodge right on the Wild Coast with direct access to a beautiful estuary as well as the beach. 

Sardine Run View From The Lodge

The lodge is surrounded by lush green bush and filled with wildlife. As soon as we arrived we were welcomed by a troop of Vervet monkeys who were a constant presence in the trees and area around the accommodation.

There is also an incredibly diverse ecosystem due to the proximity to an estuary and we were treated to regular sightings on Kingfishers, Fish Eagles and various other bird species. So in addition to the Sardine Run, the location is also ideal for bird and wildlife photographers and a great opportunity to get shots in, on and out of the water!

After some quick introductions we got to meet Sean and Sal who own and run the lodge and who played a huge role in making our time there perfect.

We were then shown to our rooms which did not disappoint! These have spectacular views of the beach and the surrounding area…

Getting Ready

Once we were all settled and met the crew, our partner Mike Nortje (who also handled the Cape Town leg) got everyone together for the briefing as well as crew introductions. This included a overview of what the Sardine Run is, what animals we could potentially encounter, how to conduct ourselves in the water (and on the boat) and how to do it all while staying safe.

After a few questions, it was time to get our equipment ready  and we also took a stroll down to the beach the same way we would each morning to go diving.

Briefing the guests

After a few questions, it was time to get our equipment ready and we also took a stroll down to the beach the same way we would each morning to meet the boat when heading out to sea. Even this daily walk became a great and very scenic routine to start the day and was something to look forward to.

That evening we experienced the first of many meals Sal and her team prepared for dinner (and breakfast) and there was not a single dish the entire week which was not incredibly satisfying and delicious! 

With that it was time to head to bed for a good nights rest before the start of an epic week at sea!

Sardine Run!

After a sunrise breakfast we all headed to our rooms to get ready for the day. Getting into wetsuits and walking down to the beach, we met Mike and the crew who brought the boat down and where we were all reminded of the surf launch procedure. After a very easy first launch, we had barely left the beach when we spotted the first cetaceans for the day. A pod of Humpback dolphins!

Humpback Dolphins In The Shallows

After spending a bit of time observing them we started heading out to sea and it did not take long to find the first real Sardine action. 

It was quite an overcast and rainy day, although just a few minutes from shore we started having several common dolphins riding and playing in our bow and then we observed a large flock of gannets circling the same area and hitting the water to dive down for fish! The video below shows this first encounter as it started to build into something bigger…

We approached the area and observed it for a while and after a quick boat briefing we got into the water for what was to be our first proper Sardine Run experience for the season. As expected the sardines were being hunted by hundreds of common dolphins and sharks, as well as more gannets hitting the water and circling overhead than I would wager a number.

Common Dolphins - © J de Vos

Having spent quite a bit of time freediving around the feeding seeing mostly dolphins,  it started to disperse and we got in the boat to continue exploring along the coast. 

During the day it became even more overcast and rainy (not very usual for this area and time of year), although we had numerous more encounters with hundreds of common dolphins as they moved up and down the coast.

After an attempted dive on some gannet activity we had the incredible bonus of a large pod of roughly 500 (!) Bottlenose Dolphins who appeared out of nowhere and some decided to play with us. Due to the rain and proximity to a river mouth when this happened, the footage is a bit murky, but still shows just how interactive (and close!) these dolphins came to us.

Having personally dived with Bottlenose Dolphins many times before and even though we had bait ball feeding events in this week, for me this day with the bottlenose dolphins was one of several highlights of the week!

Sardine Run Tip - Everyday Can Be A Good Day!

Over the course of the next few days we had some more cloudy and rainy weather, which as mentioned is quite unusual for this time of year on the Wild Coast.

This meant we had some very wet days and we even had a day or two with biggish swell. But on every single day we were at sea we got to see something special!

One of these days was on day 2 – it was raining and the swell was rolling a bit and as we moved down the coast towards an area with known activity (battering into a bit of rain and waves) a white line of water approached us… As the line came into clear view, it turned out to be over a superpod of common dolphins! Truly an incredible to witness as dolphins were jumping all around us and of course bow riding in front of the boat,  gliding alongside (looking at us through the water) and surfing and jumping behind us.

Over the next few days we had a lighter mix of activity with mostly topside feeding and also spotted quite a few humpback whales as they migrate up the coast during this time of year. In addition to the humpback whales, there were also a few Bryde’s whales in the area, although it appeared both dolphins and whales were ‘waiting’ for something to move up the coast. On the third day we also had another session with bottlenose dolphins at sunset in glass flat seas with some beautiful light and these dolphins were also in a very playful mood!

Over these days we also saw some lighter baitball feeding, with mostly topside observations, although the signs were stacking up that something big was coming our way…

Sardine Run GOLD - Feeding!

Although we saw marine life of a daily basis, the highlight for many was the biggest feeding session we had towards the end of their week.

In what turned out to be multiple sessions over several hours with dolphins, sharks, whales and gannets devouring a massive school of sardines which had moved up the coast. 

Common Dolphins feeding - Sardine Run 2023

In this feeding session we saw Gannets diving all around us,  a few Bottlenose dolphins on the edge of the activity, Bronze Whaler sharks and even a Ragged Tooth shark (aka Sand Tiger shark). Of course there were also hundreds of common dolphins driving the feeding…

Common Dolphins Sardine Run

With so much going on around you, it is quite an intense experience and the adrenaline is certainly pumping! Watching the video below from this season, it is easy to understand why the Sardine Run is a bucket list expedition for many divers…

Ragged Tooth sharks are usually found closer to the ocean floor in this region and not often seen during these feeding sessions at the surface. That being said, most likely they do come up higher in the water column when there is this much action going on!

Ragged Tooth Shark

It is common to have Dusky sharks and Bronze Whalers feeding around the bottom of the sardine ball and they will sometimes also come right up to the surface to feed. Here you can see a ‘Bronzy’ cruising through the bait ball with dolphins and other sharks;

Play Video

Both in and out of the water was a spectacle and something truly amazing to see. The footage below shows some of the topside action from the same session we had on this day…

After an epic Sardine Run week, our guests could not have asked for a better last day! 

With that it was time for our guests to head to shore for the last beach landing and to start packing for their departure after two amazing weeks with us.

Heading Back To The Beach...

As night fell and bags were being closed, it was time for our farewell dinner…

Throughout the week Sal and her crew delivered amazing meals and I don’t think any of us could resist a second helping! On the last night Mike, Sal, Sean and the crew put together an awesome Braai (traditional South African barbeque) for the group and even had some great vegetarian/vegan alternatives. 

Spread over Cape Town and the Sardine Run – At the end of two weeks we had seen an incredible variety of marine and wild life, as well as breathtaking landscapes. We also got to meet amazing people and experience some of the local offerings South Africa has to offer.

So many great memories were made and needless to say new friendships were formed for future possible adventures (oh, and along the way something called a ‘Space Sardine’ was invented – If you ever join us be sure to ask about it!)

After saying our goodbyes, it was time to head to the airport, although I am sure we will be seeing some of the same faces again soon!

A very BIG thank you to our guests who joined us for this pilot expedition and also to all our partners who helped make it possible!

Want to join our next expeditions?
Check out the South African Expeditions section of our website here.

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