Annual Sardine Run: 7 – 17 June 2022

Experience the world’s most dynamic marine spectacle on the South African Wild Coast and the iconic Big Five on a classic safari. This unforgettable journey is limited to 12 guests with a set departure date. But on request basis, this journey can also be planned and booked on a private tailor-made basis.

This intense spectacle, which happens in the southern hemisphere winter months of May, June and July, draws marine species from across the oceans to feast on this massive aggregation of sardines. You will indulge in the fast-paced adrenalin fix of spending long hours at sea and diving amongst some of the ocean’s apex predators as you learn about the connectivity of the oceans and the threats that face this unforgiving yet increasingly vulnerable marine environment.

This is a bucket list adventure for any diver, as it combines the swirling sardine bait balls and agile apex predators of South Africa’s famed annual Sardine Run, ending in a Big Five safari on this extraordinary 10-day itinerary. It is privately guided by experts, along with a group of other divers.

This expedition takes you to the spectacular Wild Coast where you have the opportunity to dive amongst the billions of fish that make up the Sardine Run, the greatest shoal on earth,
followed and harassed by predatory game fish, sharks, whales and giant pods of dolphin.

Guests will spend up to 5-hours a day on the water during the first week, moving in search of the shoals or snorkeling with whales and dolphins.

In addition to once-in-a-lifetime diving opportunities amongst sharks, dolphins, whales and other giants of the deep, the expedition provides the opportunity to learn more about how all marine ecosystems are interconnected and how predator species such as sharks function as indicators of the health of these ecosystems from Oceans Without Borders ( a collaboration between &BEYOND and Africa Foundation) Manager and expedition host Dr Tessa Hempson.

What is special about this trip?

  • It is hosted by marine biologist, Oceans Without Borders Programme Manager and Principal Scientist, Dr. Tessa Hempson and privately guided by a skilled &BEYOND guide Matthew van Wieringen. Additionally you dive with some of the most experienced skippers and dive masters on the Wild Coast, Digger Brown, Daniella Flufer and Walter Bernardis.
  • You dive straight into the world of underwater documentaries as you venture to sea in search of massive shoals of sardine and witness fascinating underwater behaviour from the sharks, killer whales, dolphins, seals, and seabirds that follow them. Enjoy the sight of massive shoals of sardines chased and dispersed by blacktip and copper sharks and whales, while Cape gannets swoop down from the sky to dive to great depths in search of the fleeing sardines.
  • You get to explore the diverse landscapes of &BEYOND Phinda Private Game Reserve described as ‘Seven Worlds of Wonder’. It showcases one of the continent’s finest game viewing experiences, Phinda is home to Africa’s Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino), as well as 436 bird species. The reserve is particularly well known for close-up sightings of the elegant yet elusive cheetah, as well as the rare black rhino.
  • This is an Oceans Without Borders initiative, all proceeds go toward leaving our oceans a better place. On this trip, gain an understanding of how marine systems along the coastline are connected, discover the essential niche occupied by the sea’s apex predators and find out why aggregations such as the Sardine Run are important and what are the threats that they face.

Where do you stay?

Stay: 6 nights at Mbotyi River Lodge, Wild Coast | 1 night at The Oyster Box Hotel, Umhlanga Rocks | 3 nights at Phinda Forest Lodge, Phinda Private Game Reserve

Mbotyi River Lodge:

Mbotyi River Lodge, is a 3 star rated family hotel and holiday resort on the stunning Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Pondoland’s best kept secret
is situated at the mouth of the tidal Mbotyi River nestled between the rolling hills, lush tropical forest and the warm Indian Ocean.

This unique Wild Coast hotel is the perfect place for a peaceful, tranquil holiday or for the more adventurous traveller wanting to experience the many amazing natural treasures like
waterfalls and forests this coast has to offer.

Facilities at Mbotyi River Lodge :

  • Outdoor swimming pool.
  • Children have a jungle gym, special children’s swimming pool.
  • Child minders are available from the Mbotyi community.
  • Spacious grounds with manicured lawns, indigenous garden and sunny wooden decks.
  • A games room with 360 degree views has pool tables, table tennis, darts and much more.
  • Canoes.
  • The Long Bar.
  • All rooms offer tea and coffee making facilities, a ceiling fan (few rooms offer air-conditioning) and a safe for your valuables.

Phinda Forest Lodge:

Nestled inside 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of Africa’s last remaining dry sand forest lies Phinda Forest Lodge, one of the world’s first eco-designed luxury safari lodges.

The glass walls of Phinda Forest Lodge’s 16 air-conditioned suites offer a sweeping view of one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.

A dense canopy provides privacy and floor to ceiling windows invite the
forest in, with the wonderful opportunity to view wildlife roaming outside your glass “bubble”, fluttering birds nesting in the foliage and the gentle rustle of forest sounds.

Choose from a range of exciting Phinda Adventures such as a specialist walking and tracking safaris, a sleep-out under the stars, an infrared Night Eye drive, and other participative conservation experiences such rhino notching or pangolin tagging.

Amenities at Phinda Forest Lodge:

  • Swarovski binoculars: State of the art swarovski companions, complimentary for the duration of your stay
  • Wifi Available: Full wifi coverage in all suites and guests areas throughout the lodge
  • Sparkling lodge pool: Large rim-flow swimming pool overlooking the nearby wetland system
  • Fitness & wellness: Gym-in-a-basket available in your suite as well as in-room massage treatments
  • Wildchild programme: Fun, interactive activities for kids to discover new experiences & cultures

Oyster Box Hotel:

Standing proud on Umhlanga’s beachfront, directly on the beach and overlooking the Indian Ocean, the 86-room Oyster Box, is one of South Africa’s best-loved hotels. Renowned for generous hospitality, attentive service and exceptional cuisine, The Oyster Box offers all the colonial charm and nostalgia of a bygone era, but with all the modern comfort and amenities.

All the suites boast views of the gardens, the lighthouse or the coastline. Ensuite bathrooms, satellite television, CD/DVD players, Wi-Fi and personal bars are included.

Selected suites offer balconies to soak up the views. The villas are equipped with opulent bathrooms, private pools and terraces. The larger suites and villas are ideal for families.

Your Itinerary and Experiences during the Trip:

7 June 2022
  • Tucked between lush forest, rolling hills and the ocean, arrive at your accommodation for the next 6 nights, Mbotyi River Lodge, an ideal place to stay during your marine migration expedition. Rustic yet comfortable accommodation provides beautiful views of the ocean, while a spacious restaurant and a well-stocked bar offer great spots to compare impressions of the day’s dives with your fellow deep sea enthusiasts.
  • Take the evening to settle in, unpack and prepare your gear for the next day’s action. After dinner you will have a dive briefing with your Oceans Without Borders host, and dive masters, who will explain what to expect over the coming days of diving.
  • With years of combined expert knowledge, they not only aim to provide you with the best possible chance of catching up with the migrating shoals, but can also provide rich insight into the significance that this mass movement of fish has to the marine environment.
8-12 June 2022
  • Wake up each morning at around 06h00 and feel the excitement start to build up as you prepare to venture out in search of the greatest shoal on earth. Be ready for long days in and out of the water as you launch between 06h30 and 07h30, depending on the light.
  • You will spend about 5-hours each day out on the water with Walter Bernardis, your diving guide with African Water Sports, either moving in search of the shoals or snorkeling with the accompanying whales and dolphins. Keep a look out for dolphins, humpback whales, southern right whales and the extraordinary Bryde’s whale.
  • Prepare for instant action when the shoals are spotted, as you rapidly kit up and descend to the depth the shoals are travelling at, ready to gaze in awe at millions of glittering sardines, as well as the sharks, gannets and other predatory game fish that follow in their wake.
  • Stay submerged until the shoal either moves off or is dispersed by the hungry predators that harass and follow in its wake. Attacked from above and below, the sardines are skillfully maneuvered to the surface of the water and separated into compact bait balls, easier to feed upon.
  • Depending on the movements of the sardines, you may take part in multiple dives a day, most of them at a depth of 5-15 meters, or you might spend most of your day on the boat. With a strict limit on the number of divers, there is ample space for you and your gear on board the semi-rigid inflatable, ensuring for a comfortable day out at sea.
  • After several hours out on the water, return in the afternoon for a hot shower. Enjoy afternoons spent looking at your underwater footage, updating your log book or simply doing nothing at all.
  • If you are up for further activities, you can hike to cascading waterfalls, go micro lighting or explore the beauty of the Wild Coast on a horseback ride. End the day with a hearty dinner and the camaraderie of sharing photos and stories of the day’s action.
13 June 2022
  • Spend a night at the iconic Oyster Box hotel on the way to Phinda Private Game Reserve.
  • The landmark Oyster Box Hotel lies at the edge of the beach, overlooking the Indian Ocean.
  • Enjoy a leisurely afternoon enjoying the hotel’s many first-class facilities, or venture out into town to explore like a local. If you haven’t quite had enough beach-time, Umhlanga has a wonderfully warm ocean to enjoy a surf or a swim.
  • Unwind with a drink at either the Lighthouse Bar or the Chukka Bar. Treat your taste buds to the freshest oysters and the most delicious prawn curry, accompanied by superb local wines, while enjoying an informative discussion with one of our Oceans Without Borders custodians.
14 June 2022
  • After spending 5-days exploring the colder currents of the South Coast, move up to KwaZulu-Natal to enjoy the balmy waters of Sodwana Bay, along with the attractions of a Big Five safari at &BEYOND Phinda Private Game Reserve.
  • Set in a rare and beautiful sand forest, the glass walls of &BEYOND Phinda Forest Lodge’s suites offer a sweeping view of one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.
  • On the edge of the forest, just before a clearing that overlooks a small waterhole, lies the lodge’s sparkling rim-flow swimming pool, an ideal spot for relaxing. Expansive decks in the spacious guest area, look out onto panoramic views of an open grassy meadow. In the evenings, when warm firelight welcomes you to the traditional African boma, wide-eyed bush babies watch inquisitively from the trees above, as you in indulge in a lantern-lit feast beneath a canvas of stars.
  • Enjoy a captivating afternoon game drive and track a magnificent variety of wildlife, including the Big Five, cheetah and black rhino. The sand forest is home to the shy suni and the rare red duiker, two tiny antelope that are seldom encountered elsewhere.
15 June 2022
  • After a hearty breakfast, head to Sodwana Bay to indulge in an opportunity to compare the balmy waters and abundant coral life of Sodwana Bay, with the massive shoals and fast-paced marine predators of the Sardine Run. This is a gentler kind of diving that allows you to experience unforgettable marine diversity, with over 1 200 species of fish and decorative coral formations.
  • The tropical waters of Sodwana Bay are home to an abundance of marine life, boasting more than 80% of all the world’s marine classes. Swim past lemony yellow butterflyfish, powder blue triggerfish and citron-spotted whale sharks.
  • Enjoy a delicious lunch on the beach catered especially for you by &Beyond.
  • After lunch, you can enjoy some relaxation on the beach or enjoy another memorable dive. A vast array of marine species inhabits the aquamarine waters and kaleidoscopic fish dart in and around healthy coral reefs.
  • Discover an extraordinary selection of fish that trickle down along the west coast of Africa and expect close encounters with ragged-tooth shark, dolphins, turtles and rays.
16-17 June 2022
  • In the morning, enjoy another extraordinary game drive across Phinda’s seven distinct habitats, looking for some of the rarer species such black rhino or pangolin, or some of the 436 bird species on the reserve.
  • A magnificent tapestry of woodland, grassland, wetland, and forest, interspersed with mountain ranges, rivers, marshes and pans, the reserve is home to 1 000 hectares (2 471 acres) of Africa’s remaining rare dry sand forest.
  • There a variety of activities for you to enjoy on the reserve between game drives today, including a nature walk where you can experience a deeper connection with the African bush.
  • Later on this afternoon, get back in the game vehicle for your final captivating safari. Stay out late in the afternoon (continuing after nightfall), with expert rangers and trackers and enter the world of Africa’s nocturnal predators on a thrilling night drive.
  • The next morning you will wave a fond farewell as your unforgettable journey with us comes to an end.

Know your Trip Host:

Dr. Tessa Hempson

Tessa grew up on a farm in the savannas and escarpment forests of South Africa, an environment that instilled in her a passion for ecology from a young age
After a year in Tasmania as a Rotary Scholar, she began her undergraduate studies via correspondence with the University of South Africa (UNISA) while travelling and working in scuba diving.

In 2003 Tessa returned to South Africa to complete her BSc in Botany and Zoology at the University of Cape Town (UCT), followed by a BSc Hons in Zoology, a field course in the Kruger National Park with the Organisation for Tropical Studies (OTS) and an MSc in Conservation Biology from the same university. Her study subjects ranged from the impact of elephants on savanna vegetation and bat community ecology to the effects of dynamite fishing on coral reefs in Tanzania.

How to Book:

You can book above Journey for 2022, or get it customised as per your preferences by contacting Delhi based Boutique Travel Design company and Africa experts – Experiential Travel Journeys Pvt. Ltd.

– Amit Kalsi, Private Travel Designer

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