Think whales, think Hermanus. Think wine, think Stellenbosch. Think sharks – first stop Gansbaai on the Overberg Coast… but there’s lots more to catch in this fin-filled destination.
Also known as Shark Alley
Despite its real name translating as ‘Goose Bay’ after the colony of Egyptian geese that once nested here, Gansbaai is nicknamed Shark Alley for its well-endowed waters. And you get what the number one attraction is as soon as you hit the main street. Lined with notices ‘Shark Capital of the World’, ‘Shark Cage Diving’, ‘Sharks Teeth for Sale’, it’s a short and well-worn hop down to the slipway where the cage-diving boats launch – best times to go, February to September. Buy your shark souvenirs here and, in the unlikely event that you didn’t know, Brad Pitt famously cut his shark-diving teeth here some years back.
Sink your teeth into Gansbaai
You may not actually want to be eating shark (said to be unwise on account of high levels of accumulated mercury as a result of the amount of small fish they eat) you can bet your back teeth, there is every type of fish a shark will eat on the menus of most restaurants here. There are net-bedecked harbour view restaurants like The Boathouse Restaurant and Bar, the popular Great White House – a local favourite – and the reasonably priced The Fish Lady fish and chip shop, to name a few. But if fish is not your fancy, the cute coffee shop Fynbos Shoppe has a more feminine vibe and Pieta’s in the main road has a peaceful tea garden. And if all you want is a drink, soak up a nostalgically nautical moment at Oppidek Pub where if you sit around long enough you’ll get a trawl of tall tales, legendary catches and local gossip.
Catch of the day
Fishermen and -women will be deep in their element here. Fish Fever is a landmark shop in the main road selling everything from hooks, lines and sinkers, to rods, reels and wetsuits – and down by the harbour the bait at Gansbaai Vismark is still wriggling it’s so fresh from the sea.
Gansbaai’s feathered friends
Others with a penchant for fish are penguins, and at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary in Geelbeek Street, where ‘every bird counts’ you can find out just how precious they are. Apart from human activity – commercial fishing, oil spills and habitat loss – ironically one of the biggest threats to penguins is sharks. There’s a pond at the sanctuary where you can witness the penguins living out their recovery days in peace.
In the same complex is the International Marine Volunteers base where lots of keen young folk get to do some hands on conservation and protect our shores – and visitors can learn a lot about the dangers of littering.
Souvenirs and sightseeing
For bric-a-brac and junk junkies less interested in sea-stuff than home appliances, a must on the outskirts of the industrial zone is the full to bursting Baai-Gones, where you can pick up anything from books to bikes, furniture to fridges.
Aside from the obvious marine adventures at Gansbaai, there are also heritage, coastline, fynbos and sport adventures in and around the town. For more information and accommodation check 028 384 1439, www.gansbaaiinfo.co.za
WORDS Nancy Richards