When I started to think about visiting Port Lincoln, I had a big choice to make. Shark cage diving is the biggest attraction in this rural city, but it’s not something I have ever considered doing. I’ve been swimming with sharks before, the harmless variety, but doing it again with great white sharks here in South Australia just had not crossed my mind. After my reminder of mortality, I’m trying to grab every opportunity and not put things off until “one day”, so I decided to at least research shark cage diving in Port Lincoln.
Port Lincoln is the only location in Australia where it is possible to go shark cage diving, and one of only a handful of locations worldwide, including South Africa and Mexico. It really is a once in a lifetime experience, and definitely something to go on the bucket list for all adrenaline junkies.
I had seen it on National Geographic, so I had this idea in my mind as to what shark cage diving was! I also grew up not too far from Port Lincoln (at least in Australian terms) and was well aware of the reputation of the great white shark. For diving, in the past the sharks have been attracted to the boats by throwing berley (or chum) into the water. This berley was simply offal, so a generally unpleasant, bloody, concoction that sharks love. We all know now that feeding any wild animal can change their behaviour, so I have always been put off by this practice. The last thing I wanted to support was something that could encourage these huge sharks to associate boats and swimmers with food!
I had a second concern about shark cage diving. I was visiting Port Lincoln in the middle of winter. At this time of year the Southern Ocean is about 15 degrees Celsius – that’s at least 15 degrees too cold for my liking. I like to swim in water that is of a similar temperature to my bath water, and even during summer I sometimes struggle with the water being too cold. The thought of gettting into the water was way more terrifying than the sharks!
So I was full of doubts and concerns – until I found Adventure Bay Charters. They don’t use berley to attract the sharks, instead they use vibrations that the sharks can pick up with their six sense using their lateral line. And the vibrations of choice are created by loud rock music, played through underwater speakers. According to Adventure Bay Charters, the sharks’ favourite music is by AC/DC, although a few years ago KISS came to Port Lincoln and went out to play live to the sharks to try to change their minds!
That solved the berley issue, but what really sold me was that Adventure Bay Charters have on board a world first – an underwater sub that gets submerged at the back of the boat allowing shark viewing while staying dry! I now had the opportunity to see these incredible creatures without getting into that freezing cold water. The sub is also perfect if you have children with you who want to see the sharks but are not confident enough to go in the water (although tours are not recommended for children under 5).
Shark Cage Diving with Adventure Bay Charters
On the morning of the White Shark Tour we had to be at the Adventure Bay Charters Office by 6am. Luckily we stayed just metres away so it was a quick walk, but they can arrange pickup from various locations in Port Lincoln if it is required.
Check in was simple. We paid the national park fees – which can only be paid on arrival – and spent a few minutes reading through the terms and conditions and liability waiver before signing on the bottom line. Tea and coffee were available, and a quick breakfast of toasted sandwiches was provided. I had been asked if I had any dietary requirements or allergies when I booked, so was pleased to see I was specifically catered for as a vegetarian.
While we were eating, Matt, the owner of Adventure Bay Charters addressed us. He was to be our captain for the day, and he welcomed us with an acknowledgment of country, and told us a little of the Aboriginal dreaming of the Barngarla people, the traditional owners of this part of Australia.
We made our way to the Shark Warrior, which is only metres away, moored at the wharf on the other side of the road to the office. Now Matt introduced us to all the staff on board for the day, and went through a safety briefing, and at just after 6:30am we were pulling out of the marina. At this time of year it was still very dark, with sunrise not occurring until around 7:30am.
It was about 3 hours to get from the Port Lincoln Marina to the Neptune Islands where the great white sharks can be found. While scientists are not exactly sure why they like to congregate here year round, they believe it’s because the island are home to a large colony of sea lions, an ideal food source for the sharks.
Neptune Islands are those two tiny dots right in the middle (you will probably need to zoom in!). Port Lincoln is hidden under that label Google has put on the top. Click to enlarge the map to see it all better.
About 90 minutes into the trip we took a small detour to see the isolated but beautiful Memory Cove. This area is home to some of the very rare White Bellied Sea Eagles, the second largest bird of prey in Australia. There are only around 240 pairs of these birds left, so it was a great privilege to spot one sitting in the trees above the beach.
It is possible to access Memory Bay by 4WD through the Lincoln National Park, but it is restricted to no more than 15 vehicles per day. There are campgrounds available for self contained camping right behind the beach. To arrange access and pay the fees, visit the Port Lincoln Tourist Information Centre back in town.
From that point on we were out in the open ocean, and the seas were a bit rocky with 3metre swells. This is about average for this area, somedays are much smoother, others much more rough. Be aware that this is no walk in the park, and if you are susceptible to seasickness, you will definitely need to take precautions. Out of fourteen passengers on our tour, eight were unwell. Luckily I do not get any kind of motion sickness, so the most difficult part for me was trying to use the toilet as the boat was tossed from side to side.
Once we arrived at the North Neptune Islands we anchored in a bay on the leeward side, so were in much more protected waters. We still rocked back and forth quite steadily, but it was much more comfortable than being out in the open. It was still amusing to watch everyone trying to struggle into their wetsuits on the moving deck. A morning snack of garlic bread and warm vegetable soup was served, with the soup remaining available for the rest of the morning to warm people us as they came out of the water.
Very quickly the crew got the cages and sub into position. Adventure Bay Charters are the only shark cage diving operator in the world to offer a second cage for bottom diving. This means that anyone with scuba certification can take turns in descending to 18m below the surface and hopefully they will see the sharks from down there. The second cage also meant that more people could be shark-viewing at any one time. Three people (and one staff) could be in the bottom cage, six in the surface cage and six people in the sub.
Initially no one was too keen to get into the surface cage. Some people were still recovering from the trip out, others were hoping that sharks would appear before they got wet, as it was a cool 12 degrees out on the water. We all checked out the sub though, taking turns to watch the dozens of fish swim around the boat. Eventually people started to go in the surface cage, encouraged by those who were returning from the bottom cage and were already wet and therefore had no qualms about jumping in the surface cage.
This was how we passed the morning. No sharks appeared, but that’s nature for you! They just don’t seem to turn up on cue. Inside the boat “Finding Nemo” was playing on one tv to entertain us all. A second tv showed footage of what was happening in the bottom cage as the staff member who was below wore a camera on their head.
Lunch was served, chicken with salad and rolls for the majority, with a vegetable pattie made for me and the one other vegetarian on board.
The afternoon shaped up to be much the same as the morning. Afternoon tea of cake was served, with tea and coffee being available all day. It all changed at about 2:30 when the shout of “Shark!” rang out. Finally a great white shark was swimming around the boat. To start with he attacked one of the “rattles” that were being used to help attract him which was an impressive sight from the boat. Then he make a couple of passes of the surface cage, before descending and looping around the bottom cage. He was only around for a few minutes, and I was extremely lucky to get a photo – no one else on the boat did.
When the call of “shark!” was heard, I made my way straight to the sub. I had just descended the ladder when the shark went past. I only had my phone and took a quick snap. It’s by no means a great photo, and I sat there expectantly waiting for the shark to reappear so I could get a better shot. But that was it, he didn’t come back past the sub again. From my photo though it was determined that this was a 3m male who has been seen in the area a few times recently.
Luckily the people in the bottom cage got some good video footage. Part of the tour package is that all photos and video of the day is shared with the participants. Two cameras are supplied on board and everyone is encouraged to take as many photos as they like. In fact, the more the better! The below is a short video of the shark as it went past the bottom cage. (Permission received from Amy to share the footage)
At 3:30pm the last dives were completed and the crew packed up the cages and we were soon underway back to Port Lincoln. The first hour was again through open ocean, but it didn’t seem to be as rough this time around – or maybe I had just become more accustomed to the rocking! Once we were back in more protected waters dinner of sausages in bread was served, including a vegetarian option for me. It was also possible to buy beer, wine and softdrinks on board if you were up for a drink after all that diving.
We arrived back into Port Lincoln again after dark, at around 7pm. After thirteen hours, we were happy to walk just the few meters to our accommodation.
Was the White Shark Tour Worth It?
These tours are not exactly cheap, and there is always the chance of not seeing a shark at all, so what did I think about the value for money? I had a great day, really enjoying being out on the water. I loved that when we booked we were able to book as an “observer” only and if I changed my mind (which I had planned to do if the sharks stuck around for a while) I could upgrade to a swimmer there and then.
I do not feel like I missed out by not getting in the water, because I got just as good a view of the shark as almost everyone else. The timing was such that people were swapping in the surface cage and no-one was in there as the shark went past. I think I would have been much more disappointed had I paid the extra to dive and then still missed out. Unfortunately, when dealing with wildlife, that is always a risk. I would love to go back and do the tour again – but next time I will go in summer so I would be more likely to get in the water.
Book Your Own Shark Cage Diving
I highly suggest booking your shark cage diving in advance for two reasons. Firstly, you do not want it to sell out and you miss out. With a maximum of only 27 people on each tour, it is often full. The second reason is the complete opposite. The tour does not run if less than 9 people are booked. So by booking early you help guarantee the tour will go ahead as planned.
If shark cage diving is not for you, Adventure Bay Charters also offer a half day tour to swim with sea lions that may be more your style
Where to Stay in Port Lincoln
Since I have mentioned it’s proximity to Adventure Bay Charters, here’s the details for the place we stayed at. It’s also nearby to the other company who runs shark diving tours so would suit for them too.
If you are visiting Port Lincoln just to go Shark Cage Diving or you are looking for budget accommodation, we stayed at The Shark Apartments. They are a small group of three apartments right on the marina. The rooms are basic, but relatively new and very comfortable. They have a small kitchenette with microwave, fridge and stovetop to allow you to prepare meals. There’s a big screen tv and a clean and tidy bathroom. The heating was great, and the wifi worked perfectly. We were warned in advance that because the apartments were in an industrial area, there may be some early morning noise as the fishing trawlers left. There was a little noise, but mostly it was vehicles rather than any banging or yelling, and it didn’t bother us. I have no trouble recommending them.
Click here to see prices and availability for The Shark Apartments 1
Click here to see prices and availability for The Shark Apartments 2
Click here to see prices and availability for The Shark Apartments 3
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Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred. She has lived in the state for almost her whole life, just one short stint away as a teenager with her family. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.