The Sardine Run off South Africa is the marine equivalent of the massive wildebeest migration that takes place annually in Africa.

It should be on everyone's lifelist as it's the opportunity to get into the water with more fish, dolphins, sharks and even whales than any other place on the planet.

Its a scene right out of Planet Earth or Nat Geo as sardine shoals that can be miles long and look like a gray, impenetrable wall underwater that is disrupted as schools of sharks and pods of dolphins blast through it and come out on the far side with mouth's full of sardines. It's wild and woolly diving!

Africa and the Sardine Run

Destination Review: Africa Diving and the Sardine Run

First Thoughts

Africa of course is not a singular destination but a continent where a lifetimes worth of exploration is to be found. Our focus is diving the Sardine Run off Durban, South Africa, known as the greatest shoal on Earth. However, while in the area, there are other killer things to do as well. Check them out below. My thought is always to combine a diving safari with a traditional African land safari. That is seriously kick ass.

Why We Think the Sardine Run and South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and Namibia Rock or Don’t

That’s a monster of a list South Africas incredible game reserves, wine country and Capetown’s cool vibe; mountain climbing and the greatest land migration in the world in Tanzania and Kenya, Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Namibia’s dunes and desert parks. There’s a wildness here only surpassed by Antarctica. You could spend months

Things that Rock

  • biggest, big marine animal show on earth that’s the Sardine Run
  • combine with classic land safari and/or climb of Kilimanjaro for must do in-your-life experience
  • do you really need more than that?

Things that Don’t

  • can be hit or miss the sardine run doesn’t run every year
  • for more advanced divers only

The Diving

The sardine run off Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa may be the largest animal migration on the planetd rivaling the great wildebeest migration – and a swirling mass of high voltage diving. Thousands of sharks, dolphins, whales, sailfish and other predators congregate to feed on enormous shoals of sardines that can reach over 4 miles in length and mile wide containing millions of fish. We get psyched just thinking about it. It is one of the greatest natural phenomenas on planet Earth. And on a good day, this can be the most wickedly bad ass diving on the planet.

An estimated 18,000 dolphins serve as sardine wranglers, pushing the sardines into bait balls that are 50 feet in diameter or larger. Once the bait ball is compressed, bronze whalers, dusky sharks spinner sharks, Zambezi sharks, blacktip sharks, king mackerel, sailfish and a mass of birds make slashing passes through the sardines, emerging on the backside with a mouthful of fish. This wild action lasts for 10 minutes and then once the baitball is consumed, the predators are off to catch up with the massive sardine shoal again.

We base ourselves out of the Port St. John area, right on the South African coast north of Durban. Each AM is an early morning launch from the beach in our RIB (Zodiac) and we head out to look for the passing sardine shoals. We find the sardines by looking for large flocks of seabirds hovering over the water and also use an ultra light aircraft for spotting to ensure the best chance of finding the shoals. We’re out on the water typically from about 7:30am until 2:00pm and the action is dictated by whatever we find. Often, it’s a series of shorter dives, in the water for 10 minutes or less, as the shoals swim past with hordes of predators in tow. Then back out, catch up and back in for another amazing spectacle. In the afternoons, there are walks, scenic drives, ultra light flights or just chill out. Evenings, we gather around the lodge with a glass of South African wine and enjoy the African nights. That’s our kinda adventure.

Our Favorite Things to Do Out of the Water’

We believe in Surf and Turf checking out the best of underwater AND on land. It just so happens that most of the worlds best SCUBA diving destinations have other amazing things going for them in addition to kick ass diving. The adventure comes in abundance here. Don’t even think about missing it.

  • Dive Dive Dive- Scuba Diving in South Africa is our favorite thing to do!
  • Mt. Meru –A gem of a mountain which is often ignored by trekkers who only seem intent on climbing Kili. Mount Meru is the second highest mountain in Tanzania at 4,565 meters. A great warm up trek for the big one – Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Climb Mt Kenya- Take the technical Shipton’s route up Mt. Kenya (5.5-5.8), the second highest mountain in Africa. Must be an experienced rock climber. Can also be done as a trek by a different route but not to the tippy top!
  • Take a Walking Safari. The picture that you don’t see of riding the safaris is the 10 or more other vehicles crowded around yours. Get out and walk it.
  • Ballooning during the Great Migration. The Serengeti National Park is the only one who currently offers balloon safaris. During the Great Migration this will be an amazing highlight of your trip to Africa.
  • Okavango Delta by Canoe. Ok, this is in Botswana but hey it’s a must do. Camp on the delta and go by canoe. Talk about being WITH nature. Check out Oddballs Camp.
  • South Africa Wine Region. With 13 regions to choose from and a signposted wine route.
  • Dive with Great Whites. The western cape offers the opportunity to cage dive with the MacDaddy shark of them all! The great white diving is probably better at Isla Guadalupe in Mexico because the visibility is better there but why not do both?
  • Surfing. Ok, now that you’ve dived with Great Whites….it will give you something to think about while you’re lying on your board! Hit Supertubes off of Port Elizabeth, considered some of the best right hand breaks in the world.
  • Whale watch in Hermanus. Join in the Whale festival at the end of Sept. This marks the yearly arrival of the southern right whales to Walker’s Bay.

South Africa and Sardine Run Seasonality

Seasons in Africa are opposite to the northern hemisphere.

Summers can get quite hot especially around Durban and KwaZulu-Natal where summer rains make it humid and muggy. The winters are generally mild with maybe a dusting of snow on higher elevations.

You can go to South Africa any time but depending on what activities you are planning there are better times then others. For example:

  • Sardine Run – June/July (mostly June)
  • Safari – dry season (June-Sept)
  • Rafting – rainy season (Dec.-Feb)
  • Flowers – Spring (August – Sept)
  • Whale Watching- June-December)
  • Climbing Mt. Kili – (June-October and January-Mid-March)

Note: Most South Africans will plan their vacations during mid-December to the end of January so hotels book up quickly during that time.

Overall

This is really kind of one of those bucket list things. Africa can be a pretty magical place. Combine that with one of the greatest natural events on the planet and that has kick ass written all over it. If you didn’t notice, we’re kind of stoked about it.

Sharkman and Mantagirl give Africa Diving and The Sardine Run

Two Fins UP

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WHY WE THINK THIS PLACE ROCKS! aka, WHY DO WE GO HERE?

The sardine run off Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa may be the largest animal migration on the planet rivaling the great wildebeest migration – and a swirling mass of high voltage diving. Thousands of sharks, dolphins, whales, sailfish and other predators congregate to feed on enormous shoals of sardines that can reach over 4 miles in length and mile wide containing millions of fish. We get psyched just thinking about it. It is one of the greatest natural phenomenas on planet Earth. And on a good day, this can be the most wickedly bad ass diving on the planet.

An estimated 18,000 dolphins serve as sardine wranglers, pushing the sardines into bait balls that are 50 feet in diameter or larger. Once the bait ball is compressed, bronze whalers, dusky sharks spinner sharks, Zambezi sharks, blacktip sharks, king mackerel, sailfish and a mass of birds make slashing passes through the sardines, emerging on the backside with a mouthful of fish. This wild action lasts for 10 minutes and then once the baitball is consumed, the predators are off to catch up with the massive sardine shoal again.

WHAT’ THE ADVENTURE?

We base ourselves out of the Port St. John area, right on the South African coast north of Durban. Each AM is an early morning launch from the beach in our RIB (Zodiac) and we head out to look for the passing sardine shoals. We find the sardines by looking for large flocks of seabirds hovering over the water and also use an ultra light aircraft for spotting to ensure the best chance of finding the shoals. We’re out on the water typically from about 7:30am until 2:00pm and the action is dictated by whatever we find. Often, it’s a series of shorter dives, in the water for 10 minutes or less, as the shoals swim past with hordes of predators in tow. Then back out, catch up and back in for another amazing spectacle. In the afternoons, there are walks, scenic drives, ultra light flights or just chill out. Evenings, we gather around the lodge with a glass of South African wine and enjoy the African nights.

This diving adventure can be combined with a number of African land safaris. If you’re going this far, you’d be crazy to miss a safari.

DETAILS YOU WANT TO KNOW.

We have not been here yet. If you are interested in being part of our scouting trip, email us and we will put you on the list to receive information and updates on the trip.

INCLUDED: Included: 7 nights accommodations, all meals, 6 days of diving, airport transfers from Durban, use of underwater digital camera and video, services of expedition leaders including any specialty courses taught, slide shows, land activities.
NOT INCLUDED: Air transportation, travel insurance, dive insurance, alcoholic beverages, items of a personal nature, departure tax where applicable, excess baggage fees, SCUBA or snorkel equipment, dive staff gratuities.
ARRIVAL AIRPORT: Durban, South Africa (DUR)

Durban, South Africa – Sardine Run

Getting there in as little as two easy steps (from LAX or NYC)

You can get to South Africa from the US easy in two steps or you can take a gazillion steps and make it hard. I don’t know……I think I choose EASY! Again, if you’re close to the west coast, fly west…it’s SO much easier on the jetlag. Here are a couple of options.

Your final destination airport is Durban (DUR), South Africa via Johannesburg (JNB)

From New York:

  1. Fly from JFK- 15 hrs to Johannesburg (JNB)
  2. Fly 1:10 to Durban (DUR)

Or from Miami:

  1. MIA- I would catch a flight to JFK then pick up the above routing. Otherwise you go through Washington DC, and London to Johannesburg

How about the west coast?

  1. Fly from LAX- through Dubai (DBX) on Emirates 15 hrs
  2. Fly Dubai direct, non stop to Durban 8 hrs

Or from Seattle:

  1. Fly SEA to London Heathrow 9:25 hrs
  2. Fly Heathrow Johannesburg 11:00 hrs
  3. Fly Johannesburg to Durban 1:10 hrs

Or catch a flight to LAX and pick up that itinerary.

Resorts/Yachts/Dive Ops

For us this means the Sardine Run out of Durban. From May through July millions of sardines travel up the east coast of South Africa along the KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape, a virtual dinner plate for over 25,000 sharks, dolphin, whales, game fish and birds who feast in veritable bait balls. Sardines are spotted by plane or ultralight and then Zodiac style boats rush to the location and divers throw themselves into the frenzy (or just outside!). The bait ball often lasts no more than 10 minutes. From there you climb back in the boat and wait for another spotting. Considered to be the greatest shoal on Earth the sardine run may rival the great wildebeest migration for collective biomass.