By Amy Cooper
Looking great whites in the eye isn’t for the faint-hearted. But adrenaline junkies from around the world are heading to Port Lincoln, off the east coast of the Eyre Peninsula, to share in this one-in-a-lifetime experience. Here local operator Calypso Star Charters tells what it’s like to meet great whites face-to-face.
It’s an exceptional opportunity
Cage diving with sharks in open waters is possible in just a handful of locations around the world, and South Australia is the only Australian destination offering this thrilling adventure. “This is a real bucket list experience,” says Andrew Wright, co-owner of Port Lincoln’s Calypso Star Charters. “But here, it’s well within reach.”
Photo: Calypso Star Charters
You’ll meet the emperor of the seas
The great white shark is one of the planet’s mightiest apex predators and top of the ocean’s food chain. An adult can grow to an immense six metres in length and weigh more than 2000 kilograms. An encounter with one of these intimidating giants from the security of your cage is unforgettable. “It’s just such a wow moment,” Wright says. “People are blown away by the magnificence of these creatures, the sheer beauty of them.”
You’re in the best place for it
The waters around the Neptune Islands, in the lower reaches of the Spencer Gulf, are known worldwide for their high visibility. “Here, at about 20 miles [32 kilometres] off the mainland coast, the underwater visibility is often around 15 metres or even better,” Wright says. “It’s very deep here, so it takes a significant swell to diminish that clarity.”
Photo: Calypso Star Charters
You’ll be immersed in the sharks’ natural habitat
The nutrient-rich waters of the Spencer Gulf nourish about 45,000 long-nosed fur seals, making this spot a popular buffet for sharks. They pass through so often in search of a tasty meal that Wright’s team averages an 85 per cent sighting success. “You’ve got better odds of seeing a shark here than betting on a Melbourne Cup winner,” he says.
There’s plenty more to see
The great whites belong to a rich and diverse marine population that also includes mako, bronze whaler, blue and hammerhead sharks, dolphins, a wealth of fish species including tuna and yellowtail kingfish, seabirds such as sea eagles, gannets, gulls and terns, seals and – in migration season – even whales.
It’s also a fishing trip…
Port Lincoln is home to one of South Australia’s largest fishing fleets, thanks to the plentiful southern bluefin tuna. “If you’re keen, you can try to catch a tuna on the way, then chuck it on ice so you can have a nice feed of sashimi on the way home,” Wright says.
... and a great day at sea
The two-hour trip from Port Lincoln out to the Neptune islands takes in all the pre-dawn bustle of a busy fishing port, spectacular coastal scenery of lower Spencer Gulf and the islands of Thorny Passage as well as an unobstructed ocean sunrise. “That’s memorable in itself,” Wright says. “It’s one of life’s simple, perfect pleasures.” A modern vessel such as Wright’s 20-metre MV Calypso Star II makes a pleasant home for your day trip; she’s kitted out with high-tech comforts including spacious decks, air-conditioning, hot showers, a licensed bar and comfy viewing saloon where you can watch a live feed from subterranean cameras on the cage below – so you don’t miss a minute of shark action.
You’ll see sharks differently
Wright returns most visitors to shore with a dramatically changed view of the great white. After witnessing their majesty and perhaps encountering the crew’s favourite regulars such as Bentley, a shark with a bent dorsal fin, and 737, whose pectoral fin resembles an aircraft wing tip, Wright’s guests discover a new appreciation for the species. “We share as much of our knowledge as we can,” he says. “Many of these sharks are tagged and monitored by researchers so we can learn more about them. I find that after seeing them, our visitors feel they understand great whites better and want to protect them.”
It’s environmentally friendly
Port Lincoln’s three cage dive operators, Calypso Star Charters, Adventure Bay Charters and Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions are all advanced eco certified and aid in the research conducted by government and conservation authorities. Tour activity is tightly controlled to avoid disturbing the marine population’s delicate balance. By observing the sharks, you’re part of the valuable ongoing work to improve knowledge about the species and promote their protection.
Photo: Adventure Bay Charters
The sheer thrill
That eight-person cage is strong and the operators’ safety credentials are impeccable, but nothing can completely shake the instinctive trepidation at being in the presence of this legendary beast. “When you have an animal of that size and calibre close to you, it’s humbling; it really puts you in your place,” Wright says. “We think we’re at the top of the food chain – but not out there.”
Photo: Adam Bruzzone, Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions
Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are located at Adelaide Airport.