A Marine Wildlife Festival – The Sardine Run Expedition is a unique wildlife encounter, following the annual Sardine migration along South Africa’s beautifully rugged coastline. Typically, the annual migration of the Sardines from their beginnings in the Southern Cape to being sighted off shore on South Africa’s Wild Coast starts in June each year. As the shoals of Sardines move north wards up the coast the size of the Sardines shoals tend to grow, ultimately forming the ‘greatest shoal on earth’ . This amazing journey attracts a multitude of predators that track and follow the Sardines migration, exploiting this localized and abundant food source. It is hard to describe the excitement of the Dolphins, numerous bird species, Whales, Cape Fur Seals and Sharks as they ‘hunt’ the Sardines. You can actually hear the excited squeals of the thousands of Common and Bottlenose Dolphins as they travel in large breaching waves to pursue their prey, long before you see them. Attracted by the Sardines, game fish such as Shad and Garrick pursue the Sardine Shoals and provide another food source for the Dolphins. Contributing to the noise and surface action are the birds, Cape Gannets, Albatross (yellow nose and black browed), Terns and Petrels, diving into the shoals of Sardines from a great height. Humpback Southern Right and Brydes Whales can also be seen in pursuit of this moving feast.
Below the surface the action continues with the Sharks (Copper, Dusky, Blacktip, Whitetip, Bronze Whalers and Zambei) feasting on the Sardines and other marine life. The Cape Fur seals actually sleep with one eye open, ready to react should they see a large shark in their vicinity.
The Dolphins and Sharks look for opportunities to herd the Sardines into balls, this is the Sardines natural reaction to feeling threatened as they perceive there to be safety in numbers. These ‘bait balls’ vary in size and frequency, with the action on some of the larger ones lasting hours.
After several weeks of migrating northwards, the sardines swim out to sea and are carried along the inner edge of the Agulhas current back to the southern Cape to spawn. It must be mentioned at this point that the Sardine Run is a natural phenomenon; therefore the exact timing cannot be predicted. Typically the best times to see the ‘run’ is June to July.
We spot the shoals of sardines by the telltale signs of Dolphins splashing at the surface or by flocks of birds diving into the water. From Mpame we are also able to use the elevated hills to look for miles to see the activity. We position the boat slightly in front of the action so that by the time you have entered the water the marine activity has drifted to your position in the water. From our experience we would recommend that the majority of your time in the water be spent on snorkel as this will give you the speed and flexibility to enter and exit the water easily and therefore not miss out on the fast moving action. If we do encounter activity that is of sufficient size you will have the opportunity to enter the water on scuba.
As the vast majority of your in water activity can be conducted with ease on snorkel this makes the Sardine Run an accessible and exciting marine expedition for non-divers and divers alike. As long as you are comfortable snorkeling you will not miss out on the action. This makes it a great adventure for the whole family.
We use 8m RIBs that are nibble but robust enough to tackle the typical surf launches we have as a consequence of the structure of our coastlines. The boats are fitted with storage for cameras. We recommend that only camera equipment that has a waterproof housing or water resistant cover be used on the boat due to the open nature of the boat.
The Agulhas House Sardine run will be run from a small fishing lodge (Bulls Inn) in the Eastern Cape at Mpame. This hidden gem in the heart of the Eastern Cape is about 10km south of the nearest town (Hole in The Wall) providing us unrivalled access to the local marine action, a short stroll from the lodge to the sea shore means easy access to the boat to start your day’s adventure. As we are based away from the main hubs for the Sardine Run (Port St John’s) we have a significantly increased chance of being the only boat in the area following the Sardines.
Bulls Inn has a bar area with a large fire where you can unwind after your day at sea, with its deck looking straight down the bay to the ocean. All rooms are en-suite with family room options available. This lodge is rural and therefore cell phone signal is intermittent. However, the rustic nature of the lodge and its location add to the feeling of connection to nature and the sea, making it an ideal place to experience the Sardine run from – far from the madding crowds. You can’t help but sit back and feel relaxed.
SARDINE RUN 2017 – 8 Days
Dates: Flexible start dates from 10th June 2017 till 15th July 2017
Cost: R 29,450
DAY TO DAY ITINERARY
Day 1 – Transfer or meet at Bulls Inn Mpame on a full board basis. Newly renovated en-suite double / twin and triple rooms are available. We suggest flying to Umtata Airport (2 hour transfer time) unless you want to dive Aliwal as well (8 hour transfer time)
Day 2 to 7 – After a light breakfast we launch the boat and spend the day at sea looking for the sardine run “action”. Typically we will be at sea from around 8.30 am till 3 pm daily depending on the sea conditions and the activity seen. With a surf launch, long boat rides and the amount of time spent at sea we suggest that the clients ensure their fitness to participate ( an average level of fitness is sufficient). Packed lunches and hot and cold drinks will be served on board. When the sardines are spotted, depending on whether they are fast moving or not, we will decide to either snorkel or scuba dive. We will spend much more time on snorkel than scuba. We do have some nice dive sites as well for the quiet days. A full dinner will be served in the evenings with the menu changing daily.
Day 8 -After breakfast you will be ready to carry on your South African adventure or head home. Tours can be added to Aliwal Shoal , Protea Banks , Cape Town and South Africa’s amazing Big 5 game parks.