Bid to boost Nelson Mandela Bay leisure tourism offering

New shark cage-diving operation and travel planning agency to highlight marine and terrestrial attractions

Viewing humpback whales will be part of the new marine tourism offering
Viewing humpback whales will be part of the new marine tourism offering
Image: Lloyd Edwards / Raggy Charters

With two of its latest tourism products, Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism is aiming to boost its leisure offering while positioning the city as a top adventure marine and terrestrial destination for visitors.

Soon, the city will be home to an adrenaline-pumping, shark cage-diving operation off Algoa Bay showcasing to visitors the unique marine species of its waters.

Meanwhile, also recently launched is Awehness – a travel planning agency – in a bid to consolidate accessibility of the Bay’s tourism spots from one platform.

Awehness is designed to plan trips around Nelson Mandela Bay and takes tourists to some of the city’s best hangouts, from restaurants to beer tasting at Richmond Hill Brewing Co, craft shops and historical sites around the city centre.

The company, based in the Baakens Valley, offers unique experiences in the city and opportunities to work with artists and crafters on specialised products using leather, glass, jewellery or print-making.

Visitors can also enjoy halfday Awehness E-Bike Tours to Crossways, the Baakens Valley, Beachfront 24km route, Addo Zuurberg Pass and Intle Lodge.

Whale-watching operator Lloyd Edwards believes the shark cage-diving operation will be a tourism drawcard for the metro.

“What’s happening is that we’re trying to secure all those guests who fly into Nelson Mandela Bay, hire a car and drive to the Western Cape to go shark cage-diving,” Edwards said.

“We’re trying to hold those visitors in the Bay to spend money here, boosting the economy and also creating jobs for locals.”

Stressing that there was no threat to ocean users, operators said the diving operation was not close to the tourism beaches nor would it attract sharks closer to the beaches – it was at Bird Island 60km away, where sharks occur naturally.

The eight-hour boat trips are jam-packed.

At 7am the boat sails to the first stop, just off the coast of Cape Recife, where visitors can observe the seasonal humpback whale migration and the sardine run before proceeding to Bird Island.

On the island, the crew deploys the cage, which is attached to the side of the boat into the water at shoulder height.

“Your shoulders and head will basically be above water and it is just a matter of waiting for a shark to come and when it does, you’ll simply hold your breath and stick your head underneath the water and eventually come up for air.

“It’s a metal cage and is big enough for three people and the lid above your head – where you get in – is locked, so there is no chance of sharks being able to bite you because of the bars,” Edwards said.

“The safety guidelines given to guests before take-off tell people not to stick out their hands because it is not advisable.”

These are some of the sharks tourists will be able to see when they experience Port Elizabeth's latest tourism offering, shark cage-diving
These are some of the sharks tourists will be able to see when they experience Port Elizabeth's latest tourism offering, shark cage-diving
Image: Supplied

After shark cage-diving, visitors can observe a colony of fur seals as well as Cape gannets, of which there are about 270,000.

“Thereafter, we’ll talk about the history of the 22 shipwrecks that have happened close by over the years.

“From there we go to Woody Cape, which is part of the Addo Elephant National Park, and observe bottlenose dolphins surf along the waves with the backdrop of the Alexandria dune fields, the largest in Africa,” Edwards said.

“Bird Island is the longest trip of any of the cage-diving operations in South Africa.

“The idea is to give guests a full marine experience and not just shark cage-diving, but also take the adventurers on a tour of the Addo Elephant National Park.

The Addo reserve is the only national park in the world that has the Big 7.

“You have the big five land animals and then the permitted whale watching and shark cage-diving.

“Our trip is not just shark cage-diving but going out to sea and seeing the humpback whale migration which runs the same time as the shark from May to November.”

Guests will dock back at the Port Elizabeth harbour at about 4pm.

Though approved a year ago, the project was delayed as the department of environmental affairs was yet to issue a permit.

“They approved the permit but we’re waiting on the department to give us the physical permit,” he said.

The project opened for applications in 2017 and three operators applied, with Edwards, of Raggy Charters, winning the bid.

“We’re taking a very scientific approach.

“We will have scientists on board monitoring the sharks and monitoring our operation so that we are transparent with that.”

The plan is to do one shark cage-diving trip every three days because of the Bay’s weather constraints.

The Bay is known as the bottlenose dolphin capital of the world, a status Edwards says will not be affected by the white sharks.

“The sharks are already here so we are not attracting more sharks to the Bay, just attracting them to the site they will be at,” Edwards said.

Nelson Mandela Bay metro economic development executive director Anele Qaba said the project would boost the Bay’s image as the top adventure marine and terrestrial destination in the world.

“As a well-known adventure destination, we are proud to say we are the only city that boasts the Big 7 (elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion, leopard, southern right whale and great white shark) within its municipal boundaries, making it a key selling point to get visitors to experience the destination, especially from an adventure point of view.

“The ocean safaris offered in the bay, coupled with the close proximity of the nature reserves, is a world-class experience that is a key driver for international tourists to the area,” Qaba said.

This article is in partnership with Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism.

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