How South African Scuba Diving, and Dive The Big 5, has evolved since 1996

When Dive the Big 5 was first established in 1996, South Africa was primarily known as a Tropical Coral Reef diving destination with most of the diving being done at Sodwana Bay. Umkomaas was also little known as a diving location, despite its reef and wreck dives, the Nebo and the Produce, and for those adventurous divers the Raggies sharks.

At that time, the waters off the Cape were considered far too cold for the "locals", and why dive in the icy waters known to be home to Great White Sharks, who were responsible for many fatalities?

Then the revolution started.

Adventure divers would do anything to dive with the Great White Shark, and hence the birth of Great White Shark cage diving industry off Gansbaai by Theo Ferreira and Dive the Big 5. The use of 7mm wetsuits, semi-dry and dry suits introduced the visiting diver to the wrecks, kelp forests and soft corals of the Cape Peninsula which the locals had known about for years.

Divers then started wanting to dive with sharks, sharks and more sharks; the bigger and the more dangerous the better!

To cut a long story short, South Africa has become the world’s top shark diving destination, where divers have the choice of diving with Great White Sharks, Blue Sharks, Mako Sharks, and Broad nose Seven-gill Cow Sharks, all close to Cape Town.

Then, further up the coast, off KwaZulu/Natal, the divers have the choice of diving with Bull/Zambezi Sharks, Oceanic Blacktip Sharks, Tiger Sharks, Sand Tiger Sharks, Scalloped Hammerheads, all with reasonable regularity, in season.

Now sharks have become the reason adventure divers, naturalist divers, scuba divers, and snorkelers visit our waters, as most of our sharks can be viewed from the surface, on snorkel, no dive qualification necessary.

So, from the beginning, when South Africa only really had Sodwana Bay and Aliwal Shoal to offer as dive locations, we added a Wildlife Safari so as to make it more attractive a venue to visit. We are now known primarily as a world-class Shark Diving Destination, with wreck, reefs, corals, often considered secondary dives, and to all diving expeditions, we add a Wildlife Safari. You haven’t really visited Africa unless you’ve been on a safari!

The Early Days of Dive The Big 5

As diving in South Africa has evolved, so has Dive the Big 5. Remember, we were there, in the beginning, when Great White Shark cage diving first started, with the White Shark Research Institute, and Marine Dynamics, back in the early 1990’s.

Initially, all of Dive The Big 5’s itineraries revolved around Great White cage diving and then making the experience unique by offering a combination dive, for example:

  • Great White Shark cage diving combined diving Sodwana to experience coral reef diving.
  • Great White Shark cage diving combined with diving the reef and wrecks of Aliwal Shoal.
  • Great White Shark cage diving combined with diving the tropical reef off Mozambique.

These combination dives nearly always ended with a wildlife safari in either the Kruger and/or the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Game Reserve. After all, where else in the world could you combine diving with Great White Sharks on one day, and driving with the “Big 5” Lions, Leopards, Elephant, Rhino & Buffalo, the next? Only in South Africa!

We named all our itineraries exotic names, to give you a great idea about what to expect, such as:

  • A 1-day Great White Encounter
  • A 4-day Great White Encounter
  • A 9-night/10-day Great White Shark/Wildlife Safari.
  • The Big 5 Shark Dive.
  • A Great White Shark/Sand Tiger Shark Combination itinerary.
  • A Great White Shark / Wildlife Safari / Whale Shark Combination itinerary.
  • The Gems of KwaZulu/Natal combination dive & wildlife safari. This does not include Great Whites
  • Bush and Beach
  • The Magical, Pristine, Warm, Accommodation Mozambique Dive.

All of the above were extremely popular and put Dive The Big 5 on the dive/safari combination map.

But very few clients bought any individual package in its entirety. They were either too long, too short, didn’t entail enough of one thing, entailed too much of another thing, the timing was not right, and on and on…

So, we ended up tailoring new itineraries out of different aspects of the past itineraries, creating packages which better suited the client’s individual requirements.

Dive the Big 5 Today

In addition to all the above, and in recognition that sharks are South Africa’s main diving attraction, we have devised a specific 5 day/8-dive itinerary that focuses on one dive site, and that specific dive site has its own independent attraction, mainly sharks, throughout the year, with the exception of Sodwana Bay and Mozambique

These specific 5 days/8-dive itineraries can have a single extra day of diving or as many days as the diver would like, added to the itinerary. The price of the 5 days/8-dive itinerary package is costed separately, as is the cost of each additional day which includes all accommodation, meals, transfers, dives and equipment hire as per the original 5-day/8-dive package.

These 5-day/8-dive packages include:

  • Gansbaai: Diving with Great Whites
  • Protea Banks: Diving with Sand Tiger Sharks/Tiger Sharks/Bull Sharks/Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks/Oceanic Blacktip Sharks, and many more “Uninvited” species
  • Aliwal Shoal: Diving with Sand Tiger Sharks/Tiger Sharks/Oceanic Blacktip Sharks, and many more “uninvited” species such as Dolphin, Rays, and Humpback Whales.
  • Sodwana Bay: Pure Tropical Coral Reef Diving
  • Barra/Tofo in Mozambique with emphasis on the pristine tropical coral reef type and diving with Manta Rays and Whale Sharks being the BIG attraction

So there you have it. The evolution of diving in South Africa over the past 30-odd years!

Dive the Big 5 has had a hand in the South African diving industries expansion and we too have grown over the past 22-odd years.

And we’re still evolving! So what do you say, fancy a dive with the Coelacanth?


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