Cape Town and Sardine Run Expedition: Part 1

During May and June 2023, we welcomed our first groups to South Africa for what was a very successful first season! This expedition proved to be an underwater photography paradise and bucket list destination (with incredible diversity) for any ocean lover and set the tone for coming seasons.

Cape Peninsula week – Just the beginning 

After arrival our first guests received a welcome from our friends at the dive center and got to work on the plan/logistics for the first few days of the first week, which would all take place in the Cape Peninsula area. Taking everything from weather to shore based activities into account, Mike (our partner and owner of Pisces Divers) helped lay out the perfect plan for the week!

What makes these Cape Peninsula weeks so exciting and interesting is that the Cape offers the opportunity to explore to completely different oceans – The Agulhas Current drives down the East coast of Southern Africa, bringing warm water from the tropics, while on the West coast, cold, nutrient-rich upwelled water drifts northward. The oceans around Southern Africa hosts over 12 000 species of marine plants and animals making it one of the most diverse coastlines in the world bursting with colour and life.

Over the course of the next 5 days we had an incredible selection of variety in terms of marine life and wildlife.

After a good night sleep we were picked up for the first day just before sunrise by our excellent driver and local guide Grant to head towards the Atlantic for our first day at sea. The drive itself offers incredible views as we crossed from Simonstown through Noordhoek towards Hout Bay. Here Grant shared some history on the area and pointed out some of the local landmarks.

After getting to the boat and meeting the crew, our first dive for the day was next to a sealion colony where we got in the water with the local Cape Fur Seals (technically sealions despite their name). The haul-out was surrounded by a kelp which offered guests their first glimpse into these beautiful forests which lines the Cape coastline. Having these playful animals with such a beautiful backdrop made offered the perfect location for underwater photography and video.

The rest of the day was spent cruising along the western coast on glass calm seas in search of ocean life and during the day we encountered several species of seabirds (even Albatrosses), a pod of Heavy Side dolphins, countless more Cape Fur Seals and one of the highlights of the day was a couple of Ocean Sunfish (mola mola) which we got to swim with for quite some time. Seeing sunfish is a bucketlist item for many divers and we are fortunate to have them along the Atlantic coast most of the year.

Sunfish are some of the largest bony fish in the world and these guys were hanging out in a patch of very nutrient rich water (much greener) where they were surely feasting on jellyfish. 

On day two we started long before sunrise and this time the boat picked up our guests right in front of their hotel in False Bay. From here we cruised out of the bay (saw a float of penguins at sea on the way) and had a short break to enjoy Cape Point from a vantage point most visitors to Cape Town seldom get to enjoy – from the sea.

With perfect conditions we headed ‘offshore’ and eventually reached a suitable spot to start our search for Mako and Blue Sharks. 

It did not take long for the first Mako to arrive and during the course of our freediving session with the sharks, we even got to see the Mako chase a seal and even some Blue Sharks which arrived. This was another perfect session for underwater photography / video and we got some great shots.

Heading back towards False Bay and closer to the shoreline we explored a beautiful kelp forest where we encountered multiple species of sharks including pajama sharks, puffadder shysharks and dark shysharks. Kelp forests are always a great place for underwater photography and everyday exploring them offers something special.

False Bay Kelp Forest

While freediving through the kelp we even found a few baitballs being fed on by Cape cormorants…

Day three was another full day on the water exploring the richness False Bay has to offer! During the course of the day we encountered more sealions, multiple species of fish (too many to list!), a few octopuses – including one in the same location as where ‘My Octopus Teacher’ was filmed’ – as well as more species of sharks. 

The biggest sharks for the day was found during our last session (see below) and were a couple of Sevengill Cowsharks which are considered a prehistoric shark species with links to the Jurassic age from over 150 million years ago.

Broadnosed Sevengill Cowshark

The end of the day was quite special as we (quite randomly) spent time freediving and playing with some Cape Fur Seals under a floating shipwreck. 

The wreck was in the process of being dismantled, so by the time this blog is posted it will most likely be gone. Despite the odd location and lack of light under the ship, it was still a lot of fun!

The next few days were a mix of shore and sea based activities which included a tour around the Cape Peninsula with Grant as our guide. It was rainy, but still a great day out and about. Passing through the Cape Point nature reserve towards the beautiful town of Scarborough (a beautiful conservation village on a scenic coastline) and from there up the coast, around the Atlantic seaboard and into Cape Town city’s historical section.

Here Grant shared some interesting history surrounding the city and how it came to be, including an insightful history into the Cape Malay people and their rich culture, whos origins came from the Malay people who were from countries such as India and Eastern Indonesia as slaves, political prisoners or exiles from the Dutch East Indies.

Bo-Kaap - Rich in Cape Malay culture

But here the plot thickens…

We continued to Signal Hill where everyday like clockwork since 1806, the Noon Guns on signal hill are fired every day at noon sharp to mark the time (except on Sundays and public holidays to not disturb those who wish to sleep in). We arrived 10 minutes to noon and waited….but nothing happened. 

So according to records, the guns not firing at noon has happened less times than you can count on two hands, so it was pretty odd.

For anyone interested in unraveling this mystery – It was on 25 May 2023 (a Thursday) we witnessed the impossible and with no mention of it in any news outlet or social media source since. 😁

Noon Gun on Signal Hill

But on with the adventure….

We then visited the V&A Waterfront with a stop at the Two Oceans Aquarium – a perfect example of what an aquarium can be as many of their animals are rescue animals which are rehabilitated and later released. On the roof of the predator display there is also a huge area (off limits to public) which is dedicated to the care of rescue animals including turtles, fish and more. The aquarium also holds no mammals and has a heavy emphasis on education.

Day four we enjoyed an awesome hike up the iconic Table Mountain under the guidance of local expert Mike Wakeford. The hike itself started just above the beautiful suburb of Camps Bay and snaked up the backside of Table Mountain into the clouds. Once at the top we crossed the ‘table’ and made our way all the way to the cable car station for lunch and a ride down.

Here we return to our noon guns story…  Shortly after we reached the top we all gathered at the edge of the mountain hoping to hear the gunfire (because at this point the guests thought we were pulling their legs about the noon gun firing). And when 12 hit, so did the guns! Probably one of the strangest moments of excitement (actual cheering from us) considering the nature of our expedition😂

Squeezing all the experiences of this one week into one blog post is impossible (its just too much to cover!), but with that we had our last day in the Cape.

We started the day with a spectacular sunrise freediving / snorkeling  session at one of Cape Town’s most beautiful (and quiet beaches). Exploring more kelp between large granite boulders while penguins kept watch, there were more sharks, an octopus and even some hyrax (on shore) to see. 

From there we headed for Cape Point nature reserve (seeing some baboons along the way). Here we toured the coast and saw ostriches on the beach, stunning scenery including the iconic Point ‘where two oceans’ meet.

After lunch at a beautiful panoramic restaurant at the Cape Point, it was time to head back to the hotel and start packing for the second week of our journey – The Sardine Run!

Stay tuned for the next post which will continue with the second week this group had during their Sardine Run experience…

A big thank you to our partners at Pisces Divers, organisers, local guides and drivers!

One of our guests (actor Nik Škrlec) created a brilliant video for his YouTube channel of this first week with us and you can check it out here (its in Slovenian , but has English subtitles)

Want to join us in 2024?

Visit our South African Expeditions section of this website to find out more…

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