Sardine Run ocean safari


Sardine Run ocean safari

Offshore Africa is the only locally based sardine run ocean safari specialist operator along the entire Wild Coast .  Our combined experience spans in excess of 30 years. The annual sardine run ocean safari is our passion and the absolute highlight of each year for us.  We never know what each day, let alone each hour will bring on these days and this, coupled with the most incredible marine sightings, makes the sardine run ocean experience the single best event on the marine calendar.

Offshore Africa is the only operator that is able to offer a “home base knowledge” package for the Sardine Run Ocean safari as we are based in Port St John’s all year round and are ideally located to offer you a superb, fun filled trip, coupled with highly experienced sardine run specialist teams of skippers and dive guides.
We offer a boat based adventure for everyone, whether a diver or non diver.  All nature lovers, bird watchers, photography enthusiasts, dolphin and whale enthusiasts, snorkellers and scuba divers will thoroughly enjoy this incredible event of nature, which has been likened to the land based “Wildebeest migration of the Serengeti” and the marine equivalent of this has since been called “The Greatest shoal on earth”.Please take a look at our Sardine Run Ocean safari trip info and join us for an experience of a lifetime in the most beautiful and scenic place of Port St John’s, Wild Coast, Transkei, the gateway to the sardine run.





  • We are the only locally based operator based in Port St John’s year round
  • We have an incredible passion for what we do.  It is not just a business to us, we love what we do.  With our combined experience spanning in excess of 30 years in the industry, we prefer to be out at sea with our clients, from a skippering and diving aspect
  • We have full and exclusive aerial support with our gyro copter and pilot
  • We are official permit holders of the Pondoland M.P.A. (marine protected area) dive operator permit, which allows our boats and divers access to scuba dive during the sardine run and on our reef systems
  • We limit our boat numbers to 8 clients, for comfort on board each day
  • We do a river type launch and not a beach push-in launch each day, which allows our clients to get comfortable with safety & boat procedures prior to entering the surf zone





15th June – 25th July 2018


The sardine run can continue into the month of August, therefore our dates can and will be extended depending on action at the time.

Due to our package options being so varied and flexible, kindly enquire with us as to date availability to suit your travel plans.


We are in a position to offer any length package but our most popular package is 6 nights 5 days.

As we are based here all year round, we are able to start and finish depending on action.





Port St John’s River Lodge 3***- ( FULL Dinner, Bed & Breakfast basis)


10N 9D 9N 8D 8N 7D 7N 6D 6N 5D 5N 4D 4N 3D
R 50 945.00 pp sharing R 45 586.00 pp sharing R 43 512.00 pp sharing R 37 683.00 pp sharing R 31 854.00 pp sharing R 26 026.00 pp sharing R 20 197.00 pp sharing
R 53 702.00 single R 48 066.00 single R 45 717.00 single R 39 613.00 single R 33 508.00 single R 27 404.00 single R 21 299.00 single






Rates include:-

  • *** night dinner, bed & breakfast accommodation
  • *** ocean days (weather permitting)
  • Full and exclusive aerial spotting support with our gyro copter & pilot
  • Professional images of all your launch days PLUS additional sardine run ocean safari footage
  • Comprehensive packed boat refreshments (lunch)
  • Cylinder / air
  • Weights / weight belt
  • Diver permit
  • Suitably qualified sardine run skipper & dive guide



Rates exclude:-

  • Gyro copter flights – R1500.00 for a 30 minute flight.  To be booked on the day and subject to availability and space
  • Drinks / items of a personal nature
  • Additional chargeable land based activities i.e. guided hiking etc.
  • Dive gear rental – must please be pre-arranged
  • Transfers – can be organized ex Durban, Umtata or East London airports
  • Dive / travel insurance
  • Air fares / taxes
  • Passports / visas



We are happy to organize any tailor made package & dates for you ranging from 13N 12D sardine run to 3N 2D sardine run.


Our accommodation @ Port St John’s River Lodge, which is regarded by many travellers as a “home away from home” feel is owner run and managed.  Port St John’s River Lodge has a pub and restaurant on site and is situated alongside the mighty Umzimvubu River with spectacular views of Mt. Sullivan & Mt. Thesiger.  The lodge is situated across the river from our operating base. Rooms available are double, twin and single.  There is also a drying room for wetsuits, which makes those cold mornings much more comfortable.


We are also happy to quote on 4 star accommodation as well as budget and self catering options.


Please feel free to take a look at  any of the other establishments listed on our site and we can prepare a tailor made quote for you together with our recommendations.








If you wish to choose your own accommodation, we make use of a variety of great accommodation establishments in town, which will cater to most needs.

Please feel free, however, to ask us for suggestions / recommendations and we will be more than happy to advise you.

Please note that accommodation fills up rapidly during the sardine run period and accommodation choice will be severely limited for late bookings.  Kindly check our list of options below.



If you are selecting your own accommodation and require a more budget orientated option, kindly contact us for further suggestions and recommendations as there are various back packer establishments in town




The Sardine run is an ocean related experience. Bearing in mind that the ocean realm is susceptible to weather conditions on a day to day basis and that we are dealing with nature, for those wishing to scuba dive or snorkel with the action, we highly recommend a 6 night package stay

This allows for bad weather scenarios and variable degrees of marine activity.




The sardine run is one of the hardest products in the dive industry to market and to work with. The main reason being is that every outing is dependent on what nature offers us on that particular day. BUT…it is not just about sardines and baitballs…  It has been and is still rated to be the marine equivalent of the famous Wildebeest migration that takes place on the Masai Mara and Serengeti plains of central Africa and is just as thrilling and spectacular to witness whether above surface or underwater. Just the amount of oceanic predators and birdlife make this an enthralling experience and offers phenomenal photographic opportunities both above and below the water.


Every year the run is different, with good years and bad years.


Something that few people realize or read about regarding the Sardine run is the fact that aside from sardine ((Sardinops Sagax) , there are at least another  5 or 6 species of baitfish doing their own mini or not so mini migrations at the same time. (Anchovies, sugar mackerel, redeye herring, East coast herring, Sauri & a few more) Each of these species attracts predators in all shapes and sizes and is preyed upon at every given opportunity.

Some of the above species have a tendency to “ball” as a defensive strategy, as sardine does, while others just scatter and create chaos.

A few things are guaranteed on every outing: – huge pods of dolphin sometimes numbering in their thousands, numerous species of sharks (if visibility allows) are seen individually or in large packs on most “jump-ins”.

A huge variety of oceanic birdlife including the well-known Cape Gannet, which arrives in their thousands, 5 species of Albatross, Petrels, Cormorants, Terns and of course, through it all, we have the annual Humpback whale migration offering loads of breaching and surface displays due to the topography of our coastline.

The attraction of it all is the fact that one just never knows what one will come across or experience on any given day.


The “Baitball” phenomena


We must admit that the “baitball” phenomenon has been over sold in the industry! One must also remember that most documentaries of the sardine run were made over a period of a few years and the film crews would do as we do today…go out, search, sit, and wait…day after day and finally taking advantage on whatever Mother Nature gives us.

Unfortunately a lot of people have an impression of getting on a boat and heading out to sea for a couple of kilometres, kitting up and jumping in immediately with a bait ball….back by lunchtime…..everyday!  If only…..!!!!!

There are occasions and sometimes over a few consecutive days where one does get this lucky opportunity and can experience everything one could ever dream of about the sardine run in one day. (Even the “Sardine run” we knew growing up on this coastline played out in the same unpredictable way)

The general concept is to spend as much time out at sea as possible, which will in turn increase one’s chances of experiencing something special. It can be hard on the body as we sit out in most conditions and the diving can be very fast paced and energy sapping on some days.

The other side of it is the fact that operators could travel a couple of hundred kilometers in a day to find action, stay with it and wait for the right opportunity to get in with it. (Visibility can be temperamental if action is too close to shore etc)

Being our winter period, weather and sea conditions are constantly fluctuating and changing, which in turn the sardine and other baitfish species as well as the predators react to.

Things have also changed over the last 5-6 years and not just with the sardine run as we grew up knowing it. Worldwide the environment is changing and increasing pressure is being placed on nature and her resources. Climate change, habitat destruction, over fishing or over harvesting of natural resources to an ever increasing population…all have played a role in the so called sardine run of today Despite the above, it still has a lot to offer and is still rated to be one of the top ocean experiences to be at the top of an ocean enthusiast bucket list.




A tough one! Basically we can encounter two types of action, each offering their own dive or photographic opportunities:




As mentioned previously, each of the prevalent baitfish species found travelling at the same time as Sardinops Sagax have their own defensive strategy to evade, repel and confuse predators.

Fast paced action is action on the move and generally indicates that the predators are feeding on bait such as Sauri and halfbeak, which have a tendency to move fast, scatter and just generally create chaos. Under these circumstances the only way to take advantage of this is to intercept, jump in, and watch the action pass by, jump back on the boat and do it all over again. It doesn’t often give one enough time to don Scuba and take advantage of it. There are times where this form of action can go on for days and can be very tiring. Nevertheless, each time one jumps in one has the opportunity to see or photograph something special.




This is what everyone looks for and hopes for. This scenario occurs when the common dolphin start feeding on baitfish that have a tendency to ball as a strategic defense.

(These species can include Redeye herring, anchovy, and sugar mackerel.)

Once the dolphins have captured a ball and brought it to the surface, this then allows enough time to get SCUBA equipment on to dive with the action.

A stationary baitball can last anything from a few minutes up to a few hours regardless of the baitfish species being fed on. These “balls” can pop up on any day and at any time.


There are days when nothing at all is really happening…


These kinds of days are humpback whale days and we try our best to keep clients entertained with whatever nature will offer us on this day. Should things be unusually quiet for some reason, there are a number of reef systems that can be explored on scuba, most offering shark sightings, and particularly ragged tooth shark. We also have a broken up but interesting wreck that ran aground in the 2nd world war, which lies in shallow water. All scuba diving depends on the visibility on that particular day.


When is the best time to come?


It is difficult to tell anyone when the best time is to come, but anytime between our anticipated dates will have something to offer. A lot of operators punt the last week of June and the first 2 weeks of July…Whichever way one looks at it, no operator is able to offer any guarantees of good vs. quiet action days. The general consensus is anytime from the 10 June – 20 July. (There are years where it can and has gone on into August)

The best advice that we can offer you is to experience the sardine run with an open mind. It is still one of the most amazing marine experiences one could ever partake in and offers endless photographic opportunities both topside and underwater. The bait ball is the cherry on top so to speak.

Out of all the operators offering the run annually over a time period spanning the past 15 years, very few people have walked away empty handed and without lasting memories. We look at it like going to a casino…put hard earned cash on the blackjack table and take a gamble!!!

One thing you will find is that we at Offshore Africa go the extra mile to make sure our clients get the best possible experiences on any given day.


One last mention on cameras


The sardine run ocean experience is not just about what happens underwater, it is also about the amazing events that happen on the surface too…so don’t be shy to bring your surface camera out on the boat with you. Our boats do have dry boxes for your camera or alternatively you can get yourself a small dry bag to keep it safe and close by.





Recreational scuba divers are to have a recommended minimum certification level of advanced diver and be able to sustain the level of fitness required on the sardine run. An Open Water diver qualification linked to sufficient experience in the ocean realm will be accepted upon discussion with us.  It must be understood that the sardine run is a high risk and fast action event, resulting in this trip being rated as “strenuous” and it is often done in limited visibility diving.  It is aimed at the adventure seeker.


Sharks are often encountered under water and intense and fast moving action is the order of the day when sardines meet their predators.



Daily outings last for approximately 6 – 8 hours depending on sea conditions and the amount of activity about. With the action being fast and furious in conjunction with variable sea conditions, long boat rides and the whole day out at sea , outings can prove strenuous, therefore it is recommended that clients be relatively fit.


Departure time is usually between 07h30 and 08h00 and return time depends on the action on the day.  We are usually the last boats in each day, giving our clients a full day out at sea, capitalizing on whatever Nature has to offer.


Each morning at around 07h30, our boats will head out from the Umzimvubu River, Port St John’s  and after a typical and highly exciting African surf launch, crew will start looking for all types of action, from whales, dolphins and ocean bird action to the little silver sardine type action. Our skippers will be in touch with our “eye in the sky” gyrocopter pilot for an update on sightings.  Sardine activity is usually sighted from large flocks of cape gannet sightings or by the more trusted large pods of common dolphin activity.  Our communication with our pilot and other networks is vast and we are also in communication with Natal Sharks Board members that conduct regular flights further afield. Our local knowledge of “hiding” places also comes into play here and all avenues are explored to find action for you.


Once action is located, our experienced crew will determine whether this action is fast moving, necessitating snorkel viewing, or more static, whereby we can go straight onto scuba equipment for those wishing to use scuba gear.  First hand action will be experienced by snorkellers, divers and boat based passengers, which ensures an exciting day out for everyone where no one is left out of all the excitement that nature brings with her.





      • We use 7.2m & 8m Feral RIB’s powered by 2 x 85hp Yamaha outboards.
      • Each vessel is licensed to carry 12 passengers including skipper and guide; however, for the sardine run ocean experience trips only, we limit our carrying capacity to a maximum of 8 people to maximize space and comfort.
      • Our boats are certified by SAMSA and carry all required safety equipment including oxygen, trauma kits and communication devices.




Highly experienced sardine run skippers and dive guides are on board all of our vessels to ensure your safety and make your trip as informative as possible whilst on the sardine run.



      • Sun protection i.e. hat, sunglasses& sun block
      • Waterproof jacket
      • Waterproof bag for anything you wish to bring onto the boat (space is limited so please choose something relatively small. If you are in a group, sharing a larger bag would be advisable)
      • Camera, video equipment, binoculars (in a waterproof bag)


Important to note:

      • Due to our typical African surf launch & beaching of boat techniques, along with the possibility of uncomfortable and choppy sea conditions at times, we do not advise that those with limited mobility or frailty take part in boat activities of this nature.
      • The sardine run ocean experience is safe to enjoy, as a passenger, by most, however there is certain effort required by everyone on board.
      • As a snorkeller or diver, action can be incredibly fast paced and at times, chaotic as predator chases prey, meaning that a certain level of fitness is required to thoroughly enjoy each and every encounter and in water activity must be undertaken by those reasonably comfortable in the water.




The best weather and sea conditions on the Wild coast happen to be during the winter periods   A little rain and overcast conditions can be expected on some days, though normally good weather prevails.

Sea conditions can range from glassy smooth to white capped seas…exciting and sometimes strenuous.

Our team ensures your safety first at all times and all decisions are based on this.

AIR temperature ranges between 14 – 25 ºC (58 – 76 ºF) and it is often colder at night.

WATER temperature ranges between 15 – 22º*C (59 – 71 ºF)

VISIBILITY ranges between 2 – 30m and as a safety precaution, in water activities are only conducted with conditions offering us visibility of 5m plus.


Notes for scuba divers

Divers will be asked to produce their certification cards as well as logbooks on arrival at Port St Johns and prior to any ocean activities taking place.

CHECK OUT DIVES will be done on the first day and prior to any sightings taking place.  This is for your own safety and comfort, to enable you to tweak equipment, familiarize yourself with local conditions ahead of all the action, and where there is little or no time to tweak gear.

Divers are encouraged to bring their own Wetsuit, mask and snorkel, fins, BCD and regulators, however we do have a range of equipment for rental @ R 65.00 per item, per day OR R 325.00 for a full day equipment rental.  Equipment rental MUST BE pre-booked.

Cylinders + weight belts to be supplied on arrival.  We make use of 10 & 12ltr steel cylinders.  We have an easy conversion from DIN to A-clamp with our cylinders.



Our rental gear consists of:-


Fins – Mares Avante Tre – closed heel fins, maximum fin size is 11-12 (46-47) and the smallest being 3½ – 4½ (36-37)

Masks – black silicone

Wetsuits – our wetsuits are 5mm thickness full suits with a rear zip

BCD & Regulator – Aqualung Wave / Calypso DIN


With water temperatures ranging between 14 – 22 degrees C, wetsuit thickness of 5 – 7 mm with hood, booties and gloves are recommended for this time of year.

Trip staff will be on hand to carry equipment, fill cylinders etc.

It is advisable to bring your own SMB (surface marker buoy) to keep inside your BCD pocket, if you are bringing your own equipment.

Rinsing facilities will be available on site. 






      • Please bear in mind that all international flights arrive and depart through three airports in South Africa viz –  Cape Town International airport, King Shaka international in Durban and O R Tambo International airport in Johannesburg.  From there a domestic flight to Durban, Umtata, Margate or East London is required
      • Charter flights can be arranged directly to the small Port St Johns air strip if you would prefer to fly rather than be driven or self drive.
      • King Shaka international airport in Durban (K.S.I.A.) is approximately 6 hours drive from Port St John’s. Car rental facilities are available at the airport.
      • Umtata airport, as a domestic connection via SA Air link (UTT code) is approximately a 1.5 hour drive from Port St John’s and is highly recommended due to the proximity and short travel time to Port St John’s.  There is one flight in and one flight out per day and the air craft is a smaller one. Flights are operated by S.A.Airlink. (refer to optional add on’s below).  There are also car rental facilities at the airport.
      • East London airport, as a domestic connection, is approximately 4 hours drive to Port St John’s. There is a car rental facility at the airport.
      • Margate airport now offers a small domestic airline “CEMAIR”.  Margate is approximately 4 hours drive to Port St John’s.  Car rental facilities are available from this small airport.




  • Transfers from Umtata airport, which is only 1.5 hours  drive from Port St John’s  (UTT airline code for SA Airlink domestic airline from Johannesburg) @ R 1190.00 – 7 seater vehicle one way only.  Rate is per vehicle.
  • Transfers from Umtata airport, which is only 1.5 hours drive from Port St John’s  (UTT airline code for SA Airlink domestic airline from Johannesburg) @ R 1450.00 – 15 seater vehicle one way only.  Rate is per vehicle.
  • R 150.00 one way rate for trailer




Travel & Diver insurance is highly recommended for all guests and should be organized in their country of origin.



  • Credit card or bank transfer
  • Online payment via PayGate link
  • A 20% non refundable deposit is required to secure a booking
  • The balance of payment is due no later than 6 weeks prior to the trip start date
  • If the final payment is not received timeously, Offshore Africa reserves the right to cancel the reservation without notice




  • 120 days or more  –  25% payable
  • 60 – 120 days  –  50% payable
  • 30 – 60 days  –  75% payable
  • 30 days or less  –  100% payable



Please let us know which dates you would like to join us for the sardine run ocean safari so that we may ensure availability.




We look forward to diving & sharing our passion of the sardine run ocean safari with you.


Rob & Debbie