Sardine Run with Aliwal Shoal Scuba

Dubbed by many as “The Greatest Shoal on Earth”, South Africa’s Sardine Run is one of the world’s most incredible natural phenomenons.
Our trips are focused on divers and non-divers alike, giving everyone the opportunity to experience the wonder of the Sardine Run firsthand. For photographers in particular, the Sardine Run is an unmissable event.

Takes place during the warm dry season

The Sardine Run happens yearly between the months of May and July, as billions of sardines spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank. These sardines, more specifically known as the South African Sardinops sagax (pilchard), can only tolerate temperatures of 21 °C or lower. At the same time as their spawning, a corridor of cold water opens up along South Africa’s east coast, allowing the sardines to migrate or ‘run’ far further north than their temperature tolerance would normally allow.

The combination of mountains and sea creates a temperate zone of its own which is ideally suited to winter vacations, exactly at the time when the Sardine Run takes place. Rainfall occurs mainly in the Summer months.

Our Port St. Johns Sardine Run Trips

Diving & Snorkeling the Sardine Run

Surface Viewing & Photographing

The sardines cannot stray outside this cold water corridor, and as such provide easy pickings for pursuing predators.  Both temperate and tropical marine species gather to take advantage of this sudden bounty of food, and it is these animals that make the Run so exciting.  They include birds, fish and marine mammals, with the Run’s top indicator species being the Cape gannet and the common dolphin.

Action on the Surface

These two species are always the first to find the isolated sardine bait-balls, and are the ones that we follow when trying to pinpoint the action for our divers.  Once a bait-ball is found, divers can enter the water either on snorkel or on scuba to watch as the sardines are attached from above and below by gannets, dolphins, sharks and whales.  For non-divers, the chaotic feeding frenzy is equally impressive when viewed from the surface.

Sharks at the Bait-Balls

Common shark species seen on the Run include the bronze whaler, the dusky and the oceanic blacktip.  Enormous Bryde’s whales are often witnessed feeding on the bait-balls, and in previous years we have also seen bottlenose dolphins, orcas, Cape fur seals and a plethora of gamefish.  Best of all, the Run coincides with the annual migration of the humpback whale, so visitors can expect to see their incredible acrobatic displays as well.

Read all our reviews on Trip Advisor

"One of my best diving experiences and I probably had my best dive in terms of seeing marine life. In one of the dives I was able to see over 20 ragged-tooth sharks, 5 dolphins, turtles, a rounded ribbontail ray....
And we even had the luck of a lifetime, while leaving our first dive, of finding a floating dead whale that attracted all sharks you can find in the region... Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, Black Tip.... and Great Whites! Amazing!!"

Gustavo Paranhos, Rio de Janeiro

"It's with great thanks to you and your amazing staff for making our dive experience so memorable. The amount of fish and sharks we came across truly wow!!! I highly recommend you experience such friendly and such professional service!! Thank you and we will be back hopefully very soon !!!!!"

Enzo T, Scottburgh, South Africa

Sardine Run Prices

Daily Rate 8am - 4pm
ZAR2,999 per person
  • 1 full day out on the boat
  • Accommodation on request
  • Cylinder and weight belt hire
  • Light lunch on the boat
  • Unlimited refreshments
Back-Packer Daily Rate
ZAR200 per person sharing
  • Add R75 for single person
  • 1 Night accommodation
  • Private room for 2 persons
  • Shared Bathroom
  • Shared Toilet
Bed & Breakfast + Dinner 4*
ZAR26,550 per person sharing
  • Add R3,120 for single person
  • 6 full days out on the boat
  • 7 Nights accommodation
  • Cylinder and weight belt hire
  • Light lunch on the boat
  • Unlimited refreshments

Some interesting Sardine Run facts

Most dolphins seen on one trip
Avg Km length of a Sardine Shoal
Avg meter diameter of Bait Ball

Probability of seeing the Sardine Run

15th to 31st of May
1st to of 30th June
1st to 15th of July

Port St. Johns

Port St. Johns is a popular holiday destination, specifically because of its compelling beauty and its comfortable sub-tropical climate. It is situated on the Wild Coast with a powerful river, the Umzimvubu, passing through red stone cliffs into the ocean. The famed twin mountains, Thesiger and Sullivan, are positioned on either side of the river mouth, serving as the “Gates of Port St Johns”.

Visitors and locals do far more than lie on the 3 golden beaches here. This is prime hiking country, full of forests and trails, with over 250 known species of birds. Sardine runs, fishing, canoe trips, horse trails, dolphin/ whale watching, golf and simply relaxing are a must do in Port St Johns.

Even though the atmosphere here is that of untouched Africa, the Wild Coast that Port St. Johns is  part of, is a malaria free zone. The best time of year to visit Port St Johns is April to July, which is characterized by good weather, deep blue skies, mild sunny days and no wind or rain.

Our Package Accommodation

Our 7 Nights accommodation packages include breakfast at either a 3* lodge/guest house (Outspan Inn or Sunlof guest house) or at the 4* N`taba River Lodge. Please note that depending on the date of your booking, we can not always guarantee which 3* accommodation you will be booked into, because availability is sometimes limited. We therefore have a large range of 3* establishments on our portfolio, which we will finalize with you before you make your booking.

Port ST. Johns Sardine Run FAQ

Why Port St Johns?

Many operators offer Sardine Run packages at many other dive sites in South Africa, and often the reason why people are mistaken that the Sardine Run doesn’t happen very often. While the Sardine Run does often pass through many other areas, it consistently passes through Port St more regularly. Johns.

How deep underwater will we go?

When we see a bait-ball, most people quickly put on a mask and snorkel and jump in and there’s no need to go in deep at all. The depth of our scuba dives varies from around 8-meters to 20-meters. Most of our dives are drift dives allowing you to concentrate on watching the action.

Do I need my own diving gear?

We have plenty of good condition and well serviced diving gear available for rent, so no need to bring your own. You are welcome to let us know what gear you will be needing so that we can arrange everything for you beforehand.

What wet-suit thickness is recommended?

The water here is normally between 18°C to 21°C, so most divers prefer a 5mm instead of a 7mm wet-suit. If you feel the cold more than most, then gloves and a hoodie is a good idea.

What do we need to bring along?

There are a lot of outdoor activities to do in Port St. Johns, so bring good quality, practical clothing with. While it’s true that the days are hot and the nights are cool (Average in winter is 13°C – 24°C), it is always colder early mornings and while out at sea, so bring trousers, windbreaker, fleece, etc. The day on the other hand gets warm so you will need shorts, t-shirts, etc. Shoes. sneakers, sandals, towels, suntan lotion, sunglasses and hats are also a good idea.

What pills and medication is needed?

This is a Malaria free zone, so all you need to bring is the usual such as aspirin, band-aids etc. A long time is spent on water so it is highly recommend you get some sea sick tablets (Stugeron) from the pharmacy with some anti-spasmodic pills (Buscopan) and take one of each in the morning one hour before your trip. The combination of the two works wonders.

What do I need to plan with regards to food & water?

Tap water here is clean,
and drinkable. Between the breakfast served at the lodges and the light lunch and refreshments on the boat,
most people only need to arrange their dinners and drinks. This can either be had at the lodge where you are staying or at one of the many bars and restaurants in Port St Johns.