South Africa – Simon’s Town – On the route of the Great White Sharks (and African Penguins)

Great White Shark trying to catch a bite made of tuna heads

We have been dreaming about visiting South Africa for long time.

The incredible landscapes, the astonishing wildlife and the amazing people always made it a dream destination for us.

The opportunity finally came in the form of an expedition to follow the great white sharks (also with wonderful friends).

We really could not let this one go. Given our passion for wildlife, for scuba diving and more importantly for sharks, we had no doubt this was the perfect mix to enjoy South Africa.

We really had an unforgettable experience and as usual we will share this with you.

This is the Simon’s Town map about the attractions we have been visiting:

Please also follow the link to the Google Maps list Simon’s Town Random Odyssey Best where you can find more detailed reviews about the places we visited. Once you access the list please always look for Gianmarco Cicuzza reviews.

If you want to discover the full itinerary we took during our South Africa journey please follow the link to this blog post.

If you have any question at any time please reach us at info.randomodyssey@gmail.com.

Top experiences in Simons Town and False Bay

Although being a relatively small town, there are many nice things you can do in Simons’ Town – especially when it comes to enjoying nature. Here is what we really consider the MUSTs:

Visit Simon’s Town

Simon’s Town is a very small village south of Cape Town on the Cape Peninsula.

The city itself – hosting one of the biggest South African Naval Bases, is not a great turistic destination per-se. Without too much to see apart from the gorgeous beaches and a very relaxed and chilled out atmosphere. I think that it is much more leveraged by locals who live it as a summer holidays location.

However, Simon’s Town is one of the first stops if you decide to go for the magnificent Garden Route departing from Cape Town.

Ultimately, it is definitively the place to be if you are on the route of the great white sharks.

If you are strolling around the very small city center we definitively recommend you to visit the statue of the Able Seaman Just Nuisance. This is a memorial statue to the first dog ever enlisted in the Royal Navy. The story behind this dog is really amazing. This huge dog – a Great Dane – started following sailors when they disembarked by their navy ships. He was so used at following them that would end up also accompanying them on long train trips in the continent when sailors where enjoying their time on land and the dog was having food security. However, given its size, the dog was soon requested to have a valid train ticket to travel with the sailors. It was at that point that he was enlisted in the Royal Navy by sailors’ popular demand. In fact, the sailors did not want to miss the company of their good dog friend and at the same time they did not want to pay the ticket also for the dog. By being enlisted in the Royal Navy, the dog effectively was a seaman and could enjoy of all the benefits – including food and free train tickets – while still following the sailors in their train journeys.

The statue of Just Nuisance is located in a very nice place – this is the Simon’s Town waterfront.

Simon’s Town waterfront is just few steps away from the Simon’s Town Broadwalk Center or simply Waterfront shopping mall where you can find nice restaurants (check our Simon’s Town restaurant suggestions here) and couple of souvenir shops. The Broadwalk Center is also home to the best (if not the only) hotel of the city: the Simon’s Town Quaiside Hotel….a real pearl which will make your stay in Simon’s time more enjoyable by far.

To close your little tour of Simon’s Town, you can walk on the Waterfront pier up to the statue of South Africa Stand By Diver. This statue is to honor the Navy Divers and it is worth a picture.

On the route of great white sharks: shark (cage) diving and sea exploration!

Simon’s Town lays gently on False Bay which is where one of the greatest shows of nature takes place almost every morning.

False Bay is a very large bay contained between Cape of Good Hope and Pringle Bay. Almost in the middle of the bay – not far away from Simon’s Town – you can find Seal Island. Even though the name of the island might be self explanatory, it probably does not tell that Seal Island is actually home to more than 70.000 seals (correct, seventy thousands). This amazing eco-system and natural reserve is also enriched by penguins, cormorants, frigades and other amazing birds.

Seals, Cormorants and Seagulls sun bathing on Seal Island in False Bay

This little and super crowded island is the primary ingredient to the great white shark diet and presence in the bay. False bay is not only famous because great white sharks are attracted there to hunt into this rich seal “supermarket” but also because this is probably one of the only places in the whole world where you could actually see the great white sharks hunting seals with their unique breaching technique.

In fact, the seals are happily living and sun bathing on Seal Island. From time to time though, they need to leave the safety of the island to go in open sea to hunt. They can stay away from the island for many days but after a while they go back to bring food to their babies and families. When they come back – normally at dawn – is when the white shark – the apex predator – goes hunting them with his spectacular breaching technique. Once the lonely seal returning to the island swimming on the sea surface has been identified, the shark attacks it by hitting the seal at massive speed and therefore with a violent impact. These attacks culminate with the shark jumping completely out of the water and then splashing back into the sea. The jump is because the shark cannot stop when it reaches the surface due to the outstanding speed of the attack. The seal can hardly escape these attacks and dies either because of the violent impact or because the shark manages to keep the seal is his jaws directly during the jump.

Wanting to take pictures of breaching white sharks is the dream of many photographers (and clearly also mine). Apart from some solid technical skill, it also involves a good dose of patience and a significant amount of luck. Just for reference, I have personally spent one entire week (5 days) at sea in False Bay every single day, in all see and weather conditions, heading to seal island before the sun came out and….I came back home with no picture of breaching shark. Out of the whole crew with me (5 people) only one of us manged to take a fairly good picture of breaching shark and the sharks only came to breach on one of the five days.

Breaching sharks are clearly not guaranteed and even when they breach they are not easy to catch on camera because the whole thing only lasts few seconds and you need to be pointing exactly in the right direction. There is no room for error.

This is just wild nature at its best and this gives me a wonderful excuse to come back one day.

Despite breaching sharks are not guaranteed there are a lot of reason to go out in False Bay on white shark’s route.

First and foremost you can cage dive with sharks. Even if they do not breach, sharks are attracted close to the boat with a mixture of iced fish and tuna heads. People are let in the cage and they can enjoy these huge apex predators coming very close to the cage (and biting the cage sometimes) to really see real hunting action. Depending on the season you decide to go in False Bay the water might be very cold. We visited in July – South Africa winter – and the water was quite freezing even with wet suit. Still – a little bit of cold water is a good price to pay to enjoy such unique experience.

Cruising in False Bay also offer quite a lot of other amazing shows. You can expect to see whales swimming in and out of the bay, dolphines, lots of seals and from time to time even orcas.

Keep reading the article down to the section on “Random Odyssey Recommended” to find our suggestions on which operator to choose to go for this amazing adventure.

Scuba Dive with Seals in the kelp

If you like scuba diving, then you cannot miss the opportunity of having a proper scuba dive off the shore of Simon’s Town.

The amazing thing is that you will have the chance to swim with seals – which are wonderful swimmers – and also discover the wonderful kelp. Sometimes also penguins can join the party.

Even if the diving center will surely take you offshore for the dive, the dive guides will surely also tell you that there are probabilities of encountering white sharks even in the dive without the cage but this is quite rare event.

Kelp is a seaweed which grows from the bottom of the ocean up to the surface and sometimes it develop real forests where density of kelp plants is very big.

We had our dive just on the hedges of Smitswinkel Bay – more precisely at Miller’s point – and even though water was not warm – we could stay 40 minutes underwater with a 5mm wet suit.

Have fun with the Cape Penguins

Aftican Penguins, are surely another great natural wildlife attraction in Cape Town.

There are at least three photo spots we recommend to take epic pictures of these wonderful creatures – especially at sunset. Even if you do not take pictures – I still recommend you go to enjoy penguins because you will hardly have another chance to stay so close to African Penguins in their wildlife environment and share a slice of their life and funny behaviors.

As you might have appreciated by the map – all three destination are walking distance from the city center and also from each other.

The first destination is Seaforth Beach – where the Seaforth Restaurant is located. This is point “F” on the map posted at the very top of this article. Here you can find a numerous colony of penguins which generally lay eggs on this part of the beach as well. The penguins here are super approachable and you can get very close. Although they are totally wild, they are generally not super scared of humans and if you behave correctly – i.e. you avoid making rough movements, screaming, etc) they could get to used to you at some point and come very close.

You can easily take pictures with your wide angle lens here because the zoom is really not needed.

If you plan to take pictures to enhance the sunset colors on the background of False Bay, please remember not to use flashes (which are harmful to penguins’ eyes) but only use continuous light. In my case I used my front light. Given you should be normally very close to the subject you do not need a lot of light to reach the desired effect.

African penguin at sunset at Seaforth Beach

The other MUST destination is Boulders Beach National Park where even a larger colony of African Penguin is preserved. This is point “G” on the map posted at the very top of this article. In this case, differently than the Seaforth Beach you are not allowed to freely walk in the natural park but you need to follow the assigned path. Still you will walk very close to penguins laying eggs and having their nests in the bushes, until you get to the real attraction of the park which is a relatively large beach at the end of the path where a lot of penguins have their nests and are busy feeding their babies. Here you can see many of them coming back from the sea with food and feeding new borns. Really nice experience.

At this location, if you plan to take pictures, it is advised to have a tele / medium-tele lens because you are not allowed to get as close to your subjects (penguins) as at Seaforth. At the same time, a wide angle lens make the job well if you intend to show the overall environment and give an idea of the beach and the crowd of penguins living there.

Mother feeding her baby penguin at Boulders Beach National Park

Finally, if you follow the full natural park path, you will be exiting in the car park which I marked with “G” on the map. It is basically the Natural Park exit and the car park of the Boulders Beach Lounge and Restaurant. To enjoy one of the most spectacular scenery possible I truly recommend you go there at sunset. This is when penguins normally come back to some of the nests they have in between the rocks and you can enjoy them with amazing sunset colors in the background for shots like this.

Penguins returning to their nest at dusk

Visit Cape of Good Hope and beware of baboons

Once you are in Simon’s Town and in case you want to take a break from sharks and penguins you can have a ride to Cape of Good Hope.

Cape of Good Hope under the rainbow shot from False Bay while we were out at sea waiting for breaching sharks

Cape of Good Hope is the southern most point of the Cape Peninsula. It is erroneously considered the southern most point of the entire African continent dividing the Indian from the Atlantic Ocean but actually this is not really the case.

Once you are in the national park of Cape of Good Hope there is a supreme panoramic path which you may want to take to get to the real tip of the Cape. The walk is enjoyable especially when the weather is nice although it is on a very high cliff – so if you are scare of heights this can be tricky at times.

One of the most incredible discoveries we made at Cape of Good Hope is BABOONS.

They are everywhere and they are not scared at all about humans. Actually, humans should be scared of them. In fact, baboons are jumping on tourist to attack their backpacks and steal food or other stuff. So if you plan to go visit Cape of Good Hope, please beware of Baboons.

Postcards from Simon’s Town and False Bay

Enjoy some of our pictures from our days in Simon’s Town – all pictures are copywrited!!

Random Odyssey Recommended – Organize Your Trip

Here is what you may want to consider when planning your trip to Simon’s Town.

Please remember to book your experiences well ahead of time because they go fully booked very easily.

Planning your trip

When you plan your trip to South Africa there is not a lot you need to be aware of. There are no vaccinations specifically mandated and it is generally not a very dangerous country.

The only remarkable thing to remember is the fact that they are on the south hemisphere of the world – as such the seasons are different vs. those in the northern hemisphere of the planet. So if you plan to go in the European Summer you need to be aware that this is the South African winter. As such get organized with clothing. In any case the weather can be gorgeous also if it is officially winter time and you may have very warm temperatures. The ocean water is quite chilly instead.

Traveling with kids

This trip is particularly indicated also for kids. I would recommend traveling with kids older than 7 years old of age and with a good spirit of adaptation to the relatively rough conditions that can be found at sea sometimes. However, there are so many amazing experiences for them to live that it would just be a waste if they could not enjoy all this. By the way, if they can swim and are able to do some minimal snorkeling they can also cage dive with shark. And you can imagine how impressive it is for them to see such huge apex predators in their environment.

Choosing your SHARK operator

SHARK EXPLORERS DIVING EXPEDITIONS

Shark Explorers is the best operator in Simon’s Town to go for shark exploration, shark cage diving and scuba diving in False Bay.

You arrive at Shark Explorers as a customer and you leave with a bunch of amazing friends and unforgettable experiences. They are simply great and extremely professional when it comes to going out at sea to spot the great white sharks and other outstanding marine wildlife passing by in False Bay. We have been venturing with them for a full week. They are full of knowledge and can really explain all sorts of aspects also from a scientific and biological standpoint. Stephen, Nina and Jessica truly know how to take care of you. We also leveraged these guys for some scuba dives at miller’s point where Ernest was just an outstanding dive guide. Definitively the super recommended crew for searching for sharks.

Shark Explorers Diving Expeditions is available on facebook but also at this phone number +27 82 564 1904.

Where to sleep

AHA SIMON’S TOWN QUAYSIDE HOTEL

The best choice in town by far is the Aha Simon’s Town Quayside Hotel.

Simon’s Town is a very small town. There is not a lot of choice when it comes down to hotels. Not only the hotel is very well decorated, rooms are very comfortable and large (and also very recently renovated) but it is amazingly located. It is facing the marina and Simon’s Town Waterfront. This is quite of a specialty not only because you will enjoy a room directly on the sea and can enjoy great sunsets on the little balcony of your room but also because the hotel is just a staircase away from the jetty where you can board for your sharks expeditions. The shark expeditions normally start 6am and so having to just walk out of bed and be on the boat is a massive advantage on the time of the alarm. Moreover, you can just walk out of your room entirely dressed in your wetsuits and no one will notice.

Check the address and the website on Google Maps to get booking information.

Please also follow the link to the Google Maps list Simon’s Town Random Odyssey Best where you can find more detailed reviews about the places we visited. Once you access the list please always look for Gianmarco Cicuzza reviews. Let us know in case of questions!

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