Tag Archives: Cape Town

“Like diving in a fish tank.”

Actually, it was diving in a fish tank.

Look, a shark.
Look, a shark.

Yesterday morning, we went diving in a shark tank, for the second time. Really. It probably says something that we both found the concept of strapping on some compressed air and fins and jumping into tank occupied by three female ragged-tooth sharks to be less stressful than our impending return to the “real world.”

We are a bit sad to be letting this cat out of the bag (this was one of the few activities that was still available for booking during the infamously crowded Christmas-to-New Years week in Cape Town), but if you are certified diver visiting Cape Town, you really should look into the diving at the Two Oceans Aquarium. It is substantially cheaper than the caged shark dives down on the coast and with substantially less time spent in transit, both in buses and on boats, and you aren’t in a cage. Though it is also true that they are not feeding the sharks while you are in the tank.

The sharks at the aquarium are fed once a week, on Sundays. So the sharks are really full in the beginning of the week and less full as the week goes on. The sharks are also surrounded by some of their favorite prey, yellowtails, so if they do get hungry they will go for a yellowtail fish way before they think about going after one of the divers. And yes, sometimes the sharks do get hungry or bored or annoyed and take a nip out of one of the yellowtails, they have even killed and eaten a few. The ones with small wounds from the nips are called “survivors” and yes, they keep swimming around in the tank. During our second dive, one of the sharks reversed swimming direction and got annoyed at one of the yellowtails in its path and took a quick bite — clearly just a warning. The sharks spend 2-3 years in the tank before being re-released to the wild.

The sharks swim at a pretty constant altitude, so we had to be careful to stay very low to the ground while swimming. But it’s still harder to to keep your eyes on your sixes while swimming and at one point, the dive master turned to me, pointed urgently and mimed for me to get on my knees. I let out my breath and promptly rested on my knees just in time to look up and watch a shark pass six inches from the top of my head.

As one of our safari guides would have put it, it was “gettin jiggy time” at the aquarium, so also during our second dive, we were spawned on by a female yellowtail — which really messed with the visibility for a bit — its kind of like swimming through caviar.

Reasons Erin loves this dive:

  1. No boat involved. (I get seasick.)
  2. We got to pet the sea turtle.
  3. It’s at a short depth, so you aren’t going to accidentally kill yourself (at least not with inert gas — you do have to be careful during descent and ascent not to hit a shark on the head).
  4. It was the first dive where even as I was descending I said through my regulator, “holy freaking s***” — there is just so much cool stuff in such a small space — there’s a shark, there’s a ray, there’s a turtle…
  5. It is a great value. If you plan to visit the aquarium one day and dive on a different day, then you actually save money buying the aquarium membership which drops the price of the dive from 700 Rand to 500 Rand (less than $50). You obviously also save money with the membership if you do the dive twice. However, the dive price does include aquarium entry the day of the dive and participating in the dive allows you to skip the entry line, so if you plan to dive only once and visit the aquarium on the same day, then you are better off without the membership. At less than $50, (or even at $70) this is one of the cheapest dives you can get anywhere — refresher dives in swimming pools in the US often cost nearly twice this.
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Seeking the Lion’s Head, Cape Town, South Africa OMG

So as we were planning our trip, a tweet from @gingerale, whom I follow, popped up.
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The tweet linked to a photo posted by @EarthPix
An amazing shot at the top of Lion's head
An amazing shot at the top of Lion’s head
It was an amazing photo, and inspiring to me, as I was thinking about our upcoming travel. Since I knew we had South Africa on our list, I decided I needed to learn about this hike and plan a visit. In fact I replied to the tweet saying, I needed to do visit, and added it to my travel checklist.
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Well it only 160 days later and mission accomplished. I am nothing if I am not good at completing todo items 😉
standing on the edge
Standing on the same rock from the original photo
 Oddly enough, finding the original photo so I could link back to my inspiration was a bit hard as @EarthPixs has since removed the photo. Luckily, nothing is ever really gone on the internet and a few google searches turned up the photo. However, I still don’t know who exactly to credit for the photo, so I will still just refer to the no longer working @EarthPixs post.
Anyways, it is an amazing hike. It’s actually more what I would call rock scrambling. There is a nice standard trail for about 3/4’s of the hike, then it splits to the easy route or the chains and ladders route. Both routes are reasonably difficult and will require climbing with your hands and feet. The chains and ladders is more popular, but was very crowded so we only use it on the way up, opting for the less popular ‘recommended’ route on the way down. Some of the ladders are just metal hand holds bolted into rock. Others are legit ladders secured into the rock face. There are still many places you will be ‘scrambling’ up with hands and feet together over slightly challenging terrain. Besides a few overcrowded moments where we were are forced to stand with a crown by a cliff face, this is my favorite kind of hike, a mix of walking / climbing.
a partial pano from the top
a partial pano from the top
The spiral climb is amazing because you get to see the view from all sides of the mountain. It still has nothing on the 360 degree panorama you are treated to if you reach the peak. I was really happy to have to chance to experience this ‘todo’ item. It took us 3h40min because of crowds and a picnic lunch in the shade of a cave on the way down. Going our normal speed without crowds it would likely still take 2h30min.

Finally the beach you see below our feet is Camp’s Bay Beach, which was so beautiful that we had to make it our next stop. Down the mountain and straight for the sand. The view of Lion’s head, which we had just summitted, from just outside out beach umbrella was impressive.

If you ever have a chance visiting Cape Town for Lion’s Head hike, I highly recommended it. Just might want to visit during a less crowded time than Christmas and New Years, as everything is packed even the trails.