The Sardine Run in South Africa is one of the world’s most incredible marine events. Annually, from May to July, vast shoals of sardines move from their temperate-water home off South Africa’s southern coast and travel north-east into the sub-tropical waters of South Africa’s Wild Coast. Following the shoals is a unparalleled concentration of marine predators, including sharks, dolphins, whales, gannets and game fish.
When predators meet prey a feeding event of unmatched proportions begins. Thousands of common dolphins charge after the shoals, separating them into densely packed bait balls and driving them to the surface. Watched by the omnipresent Cape gannets, an aerial assault on the sardines then begins when tens of thousands of gannets begin their spectacular plunge diving displays. Below the bait balls are easy pickings not only for dolphins, but also for shivers of bronze-whaler, dusky and blacktip sharks. The final player, is the behemoth Bryde’s whale whose huge mouth can decimate an entire bait ball in a single lunge
What is the Sardine Run?
The annual migration of sardines up the eastern coast of South Africa is an event no one wants to miss. From May through July, shoals of sardines follow cold, nutrient-rich currents that sweep in-shore up the east coast due to changes in weather patterns. Along with these sardines comes a vast array of hungry marine predators such as Cape Gannets, superpods of Common dolphins, Brydes whales, and several shark species (Dusky sharks, Copper sharks, Black tip sharks, Ragged tooth sharks, Bull sharks, and more). Aside from the incredible shoals of sardines, there is also the annual migration of Humpback whales traveling north where they will give birth. They can be seen daily in small family groups. The Sardine Run is unpredictable – making it the most exciting way to spend a day at sea. You just never know what you will witness next. BBC recognizes this event as ‘The greatest shoal on Earth’, and we couldn’t agree more. Whether you are a certified diver or non-diver, this experience is for you. All ocean lovers and conservationists will thoroughly enjoy this spectacular marine event.
Do I need SCUBA certification?
No! In fact, most of the action happens at the surface so 90% of your time will be spent on snorkel. For those who wish to bring a SCUBA kit on board, please contact me for gear rental rates.
Are baitballs guaranteed?
It is vital that all adventurers considering joining us on the sardine run understand the realities of this expedition. Go Dive cannot and will not offer any guarantee of sightings. We are meeting nature entirely on its own terms, we are not chumming, interfering, or manufacturing the sardine run, but watching, waiting, and hoping to witness this spectacular event!
What if I get seasick?
On the sardine run, we are out in the ocean wild! Whilst near to shore, the only launch site that can be easily utilised is our initial beach site at Chintsa. Often, we are a two-hour boat ride away from this site, and thus cannot return back to land for sea sickness. If you are prone to seasickness, it is best to take as many precautions as possible to control it prior to launching.
What happens in the case of bad weather?
Bad weather is an unfortunate reality on the Sardine Run. The wild coast of South Africa got its name for being, well, a little wild (weather-wise)! Thus, it is likely that we will lose a day or two (or three) on each expedition to bad weather. We keep a ‘floating’ reserve day for any bad weather days. If there is more than one bad weather day, then it is up to you to decide what alternative activities you would like to do. Unfortunately, Go Dive is not able to offer refunds on additional bad weather days for this expedition.
What happens in the case of bad weather?
Crawfords Beach Lodge caters for all our meals, and ensures we are well fed and happy at all times. The food is homemade, with buffet style dinners and breakfasts. Meals are a fun social event around a communal table and open fire. On the water, an assortment of high energy snacks and drinks will keep our energy up throughout the day! They can cater for most eating preferences. If you do have special eating or dietary requirements, simply let us know in advance, and we will arrange suitable catering for you.
Can I bring me large DSLR camera and strobes
Yes of course! The sardine run does involve a lot of jumping in and out of our boats, and for this a smaller camera like a ‘GoPro’ is ideal! But when that big stable bait ball arrives, then nothing quite gets the incredible photos like a good underwater DSLR or mirrorless camera!
Can I come for shorter trips?
From our experience with sardine run expeditions, we know that this duration of the expedition will maximize the probability of success. Coming for a shorter period exponentially increases the probability that you will not experience the incredible sights that the sardine run has to offer, due to the difficulty of locating great bait balls and the possibility of bad weather spells. Thus, to ensure that we feel morally comfortable that we can deliver the promised service, we do recommend that guests join us for an entire expedition.
How tough is the Sardine Run?
The Sardine Run is tough, and anybody joining us on an expedition should have a relatively good level of fitness and be used to spending time on the ocean. Spending 8 hours a day on a small boat is challenging for even experienced ‘seadogs’.
Where must I fly into?
Crawford’s Beach Lodge has a shuttle that will pick you up and drop you off at King Phalo airport in East London – South Africa.
What if I need to cancel?
Deposits are non-refundable, however, can be redirected to subsequent years’ expeditions in case of forced cancellation – such as travel bans. In case of additional bad weather days following our one reserve day, additional activities can be organized at on guests account (e.g. golf, snake parks, horse riding), but Go Dive does not offer bad weather refunds.
DATES: The dates for our 7-Day Sardine Run expeditions in 2024 are:
Expedition 1: 12 May – 19 May
Expedition 2: 19 May – 26 May
Expedition 3: 26 May – 2 June
Expedition 4: 2 June – 9 June
Expedition 5: 9 June – 16 June
Expedition 6: 16 June – 23 June
INCLUDES: 5 x Sardine run expeditions, 1 x game drive, expert dive guide, accommodation (shared or single), meals, local travel, freediving kit
EXCLUDES: Photographic equipment, flights, travel insurance, SCUBA kits (hired separately)
Elton Polly – Underwater explorer and naturalist
Elton is a underwater and wildlife photographer based in South Africa notable for. She has swum with many species of shark, photographed them, including the Great white shark, Tiger shark and the massive but tamer whale shark. Her images have won awards in numerous photo competitions. She writes for several magazines, and works as an editor for Beyond Blue magazine. She is a proponent of protecting sharks and ocean environments. Her images have appeared in magazines and newspapers worldwide, such as Time magazine, as well as on magazine covers and Coffee table books featuring wildlife photography. She won South Africa’s 2003 Wildlife Photographer of the Year. She gave a TED talk in 2012 titled My journey into water.
Fiona Ayerst – Underwater Photographer / Environmental Journalist
Fiona Ayerst is a underwater and wildlife photographer based in South Africa notable for. She has swum with many species of shark, photographed them, including the Great white shark, Tiger shark and the massive but tamer whale shark. Her images have won awards in numerous photo competitions. She writes for several magazines, and works as an editor for Beyond Blue magazine. She is a proponent of protecting sharks and ocean environments. Her images have appeared in magazines and newspapers worldwide, such as Time magazine, as well as on magazine covers and Coffee table books featuring wildlife photography. She won South Africa’s 2003 Wildlife Photographer of the Year. She gave a TED talk in 2012 titled My journey into water.
The sardine run is an annual event along the wild coast of South Africa. It begins in late April in the Port Elisabeth area and extends up to the Kwa Zulu Natal region in late July and August. We run our Sardine Run expeditions from Chintsa, a small quaint wild coast town close to East London. Here the massive sardine shoals pass between mid May and early July.
Blue Wilderness is proud to allow the team of Crawfords lodge treat our guests to a warm, comfortable and welcoming lodgings during each Sardine Run expedition. Wake up to spectacular sea views and magnificent surroundings in rooms that offer you everything you expect from a luxurious beach resort. Crawfords range of rooms and suites ensure all our Sardine Run guests can relax and enjoy luxury private rooms during the Sardine Run expedition. Rooms are all fitted with the following amenities to enjoy:
- Sea view and private deck (majority of rooms)
- Air Conditioning or Fan
- Satellite TV
- En-Suite Bathroom
- King or queen-sized beds (split if required)
- In-room safes
- Coffee and tea stations
- Moderate speed internet
The dining experience for Sardine Run guests at Crawford’s is not to be missed. Buffet breakfasts include continental range of cereals, full cooked options, fresh fruits, yogurts and much more. On rare occasions (if we are required to launch very early) the Crawford’s team will prepare breakfast packs for us to enjoy on the water. Lunches for the Sardine Run are eaten whilst at sea. The team prepare healthy and filling snacks and packed lunches for each day expeditions. Every evening is a social occasion where we are treated to buffet meals of local seafoods, meats, cheese platters, a variety of salads and vegetables, and homemade deserts.
Sharing – USD2300 per person (7 nights)
Single – USD2500 per person (7 nights)
I began expeditions on the Sardine Run in the early 2000s and like many am addicted to this annual event. Today my expeditions to the sardine run are run jointly with my favourite operation partners Blue Wilderness Adventures and Godive. Connect with me to chat about joining one of our upcoming expeditions.