Home Go Diving! South Africa: From Sharks to Rhinos

South Africa: From Sharks to Rhinos


Harry Truitt’s Wild African Adventure as told by Selene Muldowney

We want to thank Harry Truitt, owner of Lighthouse Diving Centers, for sharing his adventure with us. We also want to thank Thanda Safari for their media contributions. 

Situated just a few miles south of the small fishing village of Gansbaai we found ourselves immersed in the cool waters of Shark Alley. The narrow rocky inlet was far from a traditional harbor and while its mouth looked distinctly treacherous we were assured it was safe. This narrow channel of water that runs between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock is home to some 50,000 Cape fur seals and consequently a favored snack for the Great White Sharks looking for their next meal. Arguably the most feared animal in the ocean, Great Whites have gained notoriety as silent predators weighing in at over 6000 pounds and reaching up to 22 feet in length. These prehistoric creatures can rip apart prey using powerful jaws armed with hundreds of serrated teeth.

A few minutes before our baptismal dip into the 60-degree water, we had located the diving cage, left in the water attached to the dive boat. My diving partner and I climbed into the cage, now strapped to the boat’s side, the large tuna head prominently featured as our bait attractant at the end of the line. 

Each year fewer than ten people die from shark attacks – more people die from lightning strikes. With this memorable statistic in mind I soon realized the shear awe of coming face to face with the ocean’s apex predator overwhelmed any fear I may have encountered. Within a few moments a snout would appear, soon several others joined as they swam past, their movement silent and beautiful. Suddenly one large one lunges straight up from the depths and tried to grab the tuna head hanging off the line. 

“No worries,” shouts a crew member, “They are just curious.” I was distracted, looking at the Great White’s row of teeth. 

The moments passed and soon we found ourselves back in the boat. Other divers took their turns and after a while we all had our face-face encounters with these creatures of the deep. I can only wonder if these trips encourage folks to learn more about shark conservation. Sadly, the Great White is not easily protected and while this species is rare to see they have the reputation of a cobra. 

Our adventure began 36 hours before, landing in Capetown, South Africa’s largest city.  As we stepped off the plane the moist winter air greeted us. We arranged this fam (familiarization) trip a few months prior with Blue Ocean Travel, eager to sample what a South African trip would offer us. Our guide, Sonja Dickson Newlands, owner of Africa Tours, was incredibly helpful and very pleasant. They greeted us with heavily accented English. 

We quickly joined the group and learned a storm was besieging the area leaving the city with downed trees and silty water. This storm was considered one of the worst in 30 years. As our group circumnavigated the streets of Cape Town, the scattered debris, downed trees and missing roofs in the roadway, was a reminder of nature’s power. 

Not long after our face-to-face encounter with the Great White we opt for a more cultural experience. South Africa is well known for producing some of the world’s finest wines which called for a visit to Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in South Africa and a provincial heritage site in the suburb of Constantia in Cape Town. They are particularly noted for their production of high-quality red wines including shiraz and merlot. Along with imbibing the fine wine we also sampled some of the region’s cuisine. 

The food is unbelievable. 

Our stay consisted of sleeping in bed and breakfast locations rather than large traditional hotels. This allowed us to experience the country on a more personal level, with personality and charm. Of course, after enjoying an incredible meal it would only seem appropriate to continue the adventure with another dive – we are scuba divers after all. 

Once again, we found ourselves in a unique position; my travel companion and I were admiring the pristine beach in Umkomaasthat lay before us when suddenly the quiet reflection was jolted by a loud tractor launching our rigid hull inflatable boat toward the raging surf. 

“Are you ready for action?” 

Our feet were nestled tightly in the footholds while our hands gripped the straps. The thought ‘what kind of action’ briefly escaped my mind when abruptly any semblance of thought was instantly filled with a mixture of sheer awe and exhilaration as the boat launched against the breakers. 

… the kind of action that makes your heart race. 

After a 20-minute thrilling boat ride we faced calm waters and the prospect of finding sand tigers and blacktips. Earlier in the day, we had finished a quick breakfast in Durban before heading toward Umkomaas, a small coastal town on the subtropical south coast of KwaZulu-Natal. This lead to sandy beaches and staring face-to-face a blacktip reef shark. We initially spotted the remoras, or suckerfish, which is indicative of the presence of the sharks. The sharks were docile, almost like puppies with sharp teeth. They gently glided around us, circling, investigating, exploring us. The chum balls were placed one below at 60 feet and one above us just 30 feet from the surface. The sharks were obviously aware of this process – undoubtedly, they have seen it many times. 

We slowly climbed back onto the boat taking in this new experience. As we watched the aluminum balls being pulled from the water the familiar triangular fins began slicing through the surface. Shortly, the fins multiplied, a frenzy of activity began, slashing tails hitting the side of the boat, the hull vibrating. The sharks expected their reward. The water was boiling with thrashing sharks and to think we were just in that spot!

The highlight of our trip was a visit to Thanda Safari located in KwaZulu-Natal. This 5-star private game reserve has been deemed one of the leading destinations in South Africa. We climbed into a completely decked out uncovered Land Rover Defender. The seats were theatre style and the guide quickly assured us we would be safe. Sitting in an uncovered all-purpose terrain vehicle in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wild animals – seems safe enough. 

We drove a bit of a distance taking in the natural surroundings, my camera poised for action. All my senses were quickly overwhelmed from the sounds, smells, and sights of this incredible scenery that unfolded before us. The guides assure us this is the place to encounter the Big Five: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo. Of course, we also set out to find Africa’s Little Five: elephant shrew, rhino beetle, leopard tortoise, ant lion, and buffalo weaver. For a moment I felt like I was in Jurassic park. 

Within a few moments we encountered the King of the Jungle and his Lioness. Our guide pulled up within 10-15 feet from them. I wonder who was observing who … the King attempted to lure his Lioness into some frisky feline action but sadly she rebuffed his advances. On the trip, we discovered a Cheetah and her two cubs, a lion pack with a freshly killed wildebeest, and rhinos. 

“Last week a number of dead rhinos were discovered – their horns removed by poachers. The wardens cut off the rhinos’ horns to prevent their needless deaths.”

These words circled within my thoughts as we drove through the reserve. The guides expertly explained the circle of life in the African bush, told us anecdotal stories, and educated us. Thanda Safari takes great measures to protect the animals on the reserve as part of their mission to serve as responsible custodians of the environment. 

I close my eyes for a brief moment, the airplane seat moderately comfortable, the hum of the engine envelopes me, my thoughts wandering as I reminisce about this incredible adventure, memories forged in my soul. This was amazing. 

Harry Truitt and Lighthouse Diving Centers is planning for another adventure to South Africa. You are invited! Please contact them www.lighthousediving.com

We would like to thank Thanda Safari and Thanda Island for their contributions to the article. When booking your next trip to the South African coast considering a stay either at Thanda Safari Lodge or one of the luxurious villas on Thanda Island. Thanda Safari Lodge and Villa iZulu is more than a luxury lodge or a dream safari destination, it is an authentically South African wildlife experience, matched with sincere commitment to the Zulu culture and passionate conservation of the environment. They are known for meaningful safari experiences and exclusive close-up encounters with Africa’s magnificent Big Five. Thanda Island, an exclusive island paradise, leased by Thanda Tanzania Limited, is deeply committed to the conservation of the region’s sea turtles, dugongs, dolphins and whale sharks, as well as the preservation and rehabilitation of the Shungimbili coral reef. Please visit their website for more information: www.thanda.com

We would like to thank Sonja Newlands from Africa Tour for referential information regarding the trip. To book a trip with her travel agency please contact her www.africatour.co.za