The sardine run in South Africa is the wildlife spectacle of a lifetime!
The Sardine Run is one of many wildlife spectacles to be seen across the african continent - The milling masses of Hippopotamus in the Luangwa river in Zambia, The world famous wildebeest migration across the Serengeti plains with the frantic crossing of the crocodile infested Mara River.
It is a lesser known but by no means less spectacular, or indeed dramatic, spectacle than the famous Wildebeest migration.
It is probably more accessible as well.
Every year in June/July the sardine run, an unexplained phenomenon occurs – millions of Sardines migrate along the South African coastal waters from the Agulhas Banks gathering in the Port St Johns area and moving in unison until close to Durban before gradually dispersing along with the current they are carried by, out into the greater Indian Ocean.
The spectacle of the sardine run is generated by the huge numbers of predators which follow the ‘Greatest Shoal on Earth’, Bronze Whaler Sharks, Zambezi Sharks, Common Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Orca, Humpback Whales, Gannets and numerous Game Fish.
The Shoal reaches sizes of in excess of 7 km by 1.5km by 30 meters deep and is seen easily from the spotter planes and micro lights plying the coastline during this period looking for the location and resultant start of the ‘Run’.
The Humpback Whales which are doing their annual migration north at this time only add to the incredible panorama of the sardine run, their breaching forming an awesome backdrop to what can only be described as out of this world.
The Dolphins ‘herd’ the Sardines into what are called ‘bait-balls’ of up to 20m in diameter then gorge on the masses of fish along with the other predators.
Adventure diving operators combine with naturalists like National Geographic and Discovery amongst many other television organisations, in disgorging divers and cameramen, snorkelers and surface viewers wherever the Sardines draw near the surface and the seas boil in a feeding frenzy of epic proportions, hundreds of Sharks dolphins and Game Fish vie with Gannets.
Gulls and comorants for their share of the bounty, each bait-ball lasting for up to ten minutes before dispersing, only to gather again further away.
The roaring of boat engines as the Semi-rigid boats, with excited clients screaming, locate the Sardines adds to the frenzy.
Diving in this environment is a daunting experience and not one which is taken lightly by those seeking adventure in their scuba diving vacation.
The swooping Dolphins and Sharks passing within feet of the diver is an adrenalin rush not easily rivaled and one you will never forget. It is frankly one of the scuba diving vacations of a lifetime!
It has to be understood this is a natural event and like anything else in nature, not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination. It is believed the water temperature has to drop below 21 degrees and as the entire phenomenon is largely unexplained, there are likely to be many other factors governing its occurrence. In 2003 and again in 2006 the run did not, to any great extent, occur. So whilst the main reason for your scuba vacation being here may not happen, there is plenty for you to do while in the location.
So..... diving vacations on hold?
While you are waiting for the real action to begin, the scenery in the area is beautiful so you are not exactly in hell while you wait, there are many places to visit, the locals are only too happy to welcome you and to show you the South African way of entertaining with a 'braaivleis' (barbecue) which is a national pastime in South Africa.
You can also take a microlight flight and view the shoals from above.
There are local interest activities like visiting a 'Sangoma' a traditional healer/medicine man.
Horse riding the surrounding areas is available as well as some beautiful hiking trails in the forests and up to the Fraser Falls.
Right..... some details:
19 - 21 degrees celcius at this time of the year - The run itself is dependent on the water temperature being at this range.
Anything from 5 - 30m
It is the dry season so little or no sediment flowing in from the rivers but the activity from the sealife surrounding the sardine run baitballs can stir the water up significantly so as usual 'it depends....'
It is always best to bring your own scuba gear, generally the operator you are with will have rental equipment available
At least 5mm wetsuit, there is a strong chance you would spend some time snorkeling so bring one!
The outside weather is warm during the day although it can get cold, particularly at night so warm clothing is also required.
The climate is quite mild in comparison to what you may experience in the northern hemisphere. People I know have arrived out in this part of the world and the locals are bundled up in warm clothes and the Northerners are out sunbathing.....
Most scuba diving vacation operators will require you to be at least Advanced certified. This really is not the activity to be involved in unless you are absolutely comfortable as well as 'unconciously competent' underwater.
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