Imagine jumping in the water with massive bait balls of sardines, mesmerizingly flowing into different shapes as though one, in astonishing synchronicity. They are trying to evade hundreds of dolphins, birds, sharks, seals, and whales who have arrived to feed on them. For six days you will be witness to the greatest marine migration on earth. And you get to snorkel amidst this feeding frenzy, for maybe the most thrilling big fish snorkeling opportunity in the world. A bucket list adventure for sure!
And if that does not fill your wildlife quota, you also get three days on a land safari in Kruger National Park, to see elephants, leopards, lions, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, hyena, and many other animals. The park is one of the largest wildlife preserves in Africa, with a diverse and beautiful landscape of rivers, forests, grasslands, and mountains.
This trip is being run by our partner and friend Ben and his team. Based in the U.K., they run amazing snorkel excursions, and have a great appreciation for the underwater world. One of their guides is based out of South Africa, when not leading other trips around the world.
Every year for a short period, there is a huge movement of sardines along the southeastern coastline of Africa, drawn by the current flows and food. This in turn draws massive numbers of dolphins, sharks, diving birds, tuna, and whales who hunt the sardines.
Your adventure will be based out of Coffee Bay, South Africa. For six days you will venture out on a large zodiac inflatable boat looking for the big bait balls of sardines, aided by an microlight airplane that spots the sea life from the air. As different opportunities arise you will jump off the boat and snorkel to see this astounding feeding frenzy.
One of the most remarkable experiences is watching sea birds like gannets and cormorants dive from great heights into the water, and then swim after sardines to a surprising depth. They are right in the midst of the action.
And while you are searching for bait balls you will likely see huge pods of dolphins and whales cruising by. Humpback whales are moving through the area on their way north to birth their calves, although they do not feed on the sardines. Bryde's Whales are also in the area, and they do feed on the sardines.
The sardine run boat company has been running these trips for over 20 years, and is the only licensed company out of Coffee Bay, so you will not be sharing the water with a bunch of other boats. You even have the opportunity to be a passenger on the microlight airplane, if you choose not to go out on the boat for a day, to see what it all looks like from the air.
Watch this Nature on PBS video to get a sense for what this great sardine run is like. What an experience it must be to witness.
On this trip you will also spend three days exploring Kruger National Park by open 4x4 vehicles. One of the largest and oldest animal reserves in Africa, Kruger is nearly 7,500 square miles, with a very diverse landscape.
You will be looking for the "Big Five", Elephants, Leopards, Lions, Buffalo and Rhinoceros. You also have good chances of seeing zebra, giraffe, hyena, and hippos, along with many other animals. Not to mention the chance to behold the beautiful grasslands, mountains, and rivers of this outstanding park.
You fly in to the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, and transfer as a group to the Belvedere Estate Hotel to spend a night. Belvedere Estate is a beautiful boutique lodge, in an Italian style, located near the airport, on two and a half acres of beautiful gardens with cobble paving and water fountains. It is an ideal place to find comfort between transfers, close to Johannesburg.
The next day you travel as a group, and fly to Mthatha, which is fairly
close to Coffee Bay, and check into the Ocean View Hotel (more hotel
details below). For the next six days you will head out on the zodiac
boat to snorkel the Sardine Run, having lunch on the boat, and returning
for dinner and relaxation each evening to the Ocean View Hotel.
For the next stage of your trip you will group transfer back to Mthatha, then fly to Johannesburg, and check in again at the Belvedere Estate Hotel. Next you will transfer to Nkambeni Tented Camp, your home base for the next three days, from which you will take driven 4x4 safari tours looking for wildlife.
To finish up, you will once again transfer back to the Belvedere for an evening before a group transfer to the Johannesburg airport for your final departure home.
You will be based out of the Ocean View Hotel on Coffee Bay for seven nights during the Sardine Run snorkeling adventure portion of the trip. Located on a small beach with magnificent views of the Indian Ocean, a short drive from the boat launch site, you could not ask for a better spot!
All rooms have en-suite bathrooms, verandas, and sea views. Each room has a small
refrigerator and tea and coffee making facilities,
televisions with international satellite channels, a safe, and a ceiling
fan. There is a central pool to relax by in your down time, and there is
a bar for evening socializing. Meals are served at the restaurant,
buffet style, and offer a variety of
options, including soups, salads, mains, and desserts. The offering
changes daily. Drinks, snacks and lunch are provided on the boat.
In Kruger National Park you will be staying for three nights at the Nkambeni Safari Camp. Your accommodation is a comfortable and well-appointed luxury timber and canvas tented room with en-suite bathroom and air conditioning.
The resort was constructed to the highest standards of low impact eco-friendly principles. It started as a community project to help create jobs for locals through tourism. But it soon grew into a full resort.
A fully licensed bar and restaurant area serve freshly prepared meals, with the option of eating in the boma, alongside an open fire, with amazing views of the night sky. There is a large pool with a view of a nearby watering hole where many animals can be spotted.
This is a very small group trip, of only 9 people (plus a guide from Ben's team). And it is a physically demanding trip, so you should have a good level of fitness. The short daily drive to launch the large zodiac inflatable boat is over a very bumpy road. You will be helping to push the boat out into the river before jumping on. The ride in the boat can be rough at times depending on the weather and ocean conditions. Since the boat needs to move from the river across a sand bar into the ocean, that sometimes means the boat will be motoring through breaking waves, which can be exciting. You will be wearing a life vest, and hanging on.
You will be spending up to nine hours a day on the boat, looking for sea life, and will be getting on and off the boat many times a day. There is no ladder for the boat, but guides will help you get back on. Water temperatures are cool, so a 5mm to 7mm wetsuit is suggested. And the only restroom is the ocean. You don't need to be a young athlete, just have a good fitness level, for your enjoyment and safety. If you are prone to seasickness, prevention is a good idea.
Although the boat company has many years of experience keeping people
safe, there are some risks being so close to large and active sea life. It is best to use the contact form below and talk with Ben's team about all the details to make sure it is a good trip for you.
The other thing to note is that this truly is a safari, and sea life sightings cannot be guaranteed. You will be going during the only time of year to see the sardines in that part of the coastline. And the boat company uses an ultra-light airplane to spot where the bait balls are from the sky. The area is just full of dolphins and whales, who are also looking for the bait balls, which in itself is an amazing experience to see from the boat, and is virtually guaranteed. And you will have six full days on the water, giving many opportunities for seeing feeding frenzies in the water. But seeing the bait balls cannot be guaranteed. Amazing wildlife sightings on the land safari part of this trip are guaranteed though.
We talked to our friend Bernita who just went on this trip in 2019. She is one of Ben's guides, and lives in South Africa when not leading trips around the world. She said it was one of the most amazing experiences of her life (and she has been nearly everywhere underwater). Here is some of what she has written up about it.
"The joy of seeing a bait ball surrounded by dolphins with birds dive bombing into it, and whales breaching with their calves, made all the physical effort well worth it.
The experience was wonderful and thrilling, but there were long periods of quiet time on the water. During these periods, there were often dolphins or distant whales to watch, but the real action is staggered and not guaranteed.
Would I go again?... without question. Top bucket list item ticked off, and now that I have a taste for it, I would go every year if I could."
This is a small group trip and we expect it to fill quickly. Your spot is reserved with your deposit. Contact Ben below for deposit instructions.
July 1-14, 2020 - Trip full but you can be on a waitlist.
US $5980 per person (Twin/Double Share)
US $300 Single supplement
Individual travelers - Ben will happily find someone of the same sex for you to share a room with. If he cannot find you someone, no single supplement surcharge will apply.
Ben and his U.K. based team are the organizers and leaders of this trip (more about them below). Galen & Nicole from Tropicalsnorkeling.com are promoting this trip, but all sign ups, trip organization and payments are made to and managed by Ben's team. TropicalSnorkeling.com does receive a referral fee in exchange for promoting the trip, at no extra cost to attendees.
How to Sign Up or Learn More?
Use the contact form below to contact Ben and his team to request more information about them and express your interest in signing up. They will get back to you shortly with full details.
Ben (pictured with Nicole) is our friend and snorkeling trips partner. He and his team are based in the U.K. and have around twenty years of experience guiding in Asia and beyond. He has been running his own business since 2010 that used to be primarily diving. He started offering snorkeling specific trips because he was aware that snorkelers often get the short end of the stick when thrown in with divers. He and his team love the freedom and low stress of snorkeling, and are very aware of the different needs of snorkelers versus divers, in terms of the reef depth, and calm surface conditions needed.
experience going on one of his snorkeling trips we found it very well
organized, and the underwater experiences were exceptional. Snorkeling
groups really get the benefit of all of Ben and his guides' years of
experience in the water, and with different resorts and liveaboards.
of his trips are small groups of 12-18 guests, or with a similar ratio
of snorkelers to guides. And for where they visit, and how packed they
are with experiences, they are affordable.
His company is licensed and insured. They have never cancelled a trip, and all funds are held in a trust until the trip is completed giving you 100% financial security if they or any of their suppliers go out of business before the trip happens.