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If "fear" is your middle name, then we have a few awesome underwater adventures to whet your appetite. Some of the world's scariest creatures lurk below ocean and river surfaces and there are a number of tour companies and attractions that let you get close enough that your predatory friend will be able to literally rub up against you. These activities are not for the faint-hearted. You'll generally need to venture to the southern hemisphere to experience the joy (or conversely, sheer terror) of swimming with sharks, crocs, and stingrays but there are also a few options in the U.S. Feel a rush of adrenalin or actually be relaxed and invigorated surrounded by huge scaly carnivores and slimy barbed Dasyatidae, but it will certainly be an unforgettable submarine encounter with some of the world's most intriguing and feared animals.
There's diving with sharks and then there's diving with Great White sharks. The latter is a rare and unique experience that can also be a costly exercise. In the U.S., there are a few companies that operate cage-dive trips off the coast of San Francisco in an area known as the Farallon Islands. Great White Adventures (tel. 888/814-8256; www.greatwhiteadventures.com) offers a one-day cage dive priced at $775 per person which includes the boat trip, all diving equipment (the cage, wetsuits diving air, weights, and weight belts), a continental breakfast, lunch, snacks, beverages, beer, and wine. You do not need to be scuba certified to participate in the cage dives. The air supply is via a hookah from the deck of the boat so you do not wear a tank on your back in the cage. Divemasters give a thorough training session before diving begins to cover the procedure and to acclimatize the diver to the cage experience. If you're only going along for the ride to watch someone else, you can be a topside observer for $375 per person. You'll stay dry but likely get to see the feeding activity, plus a wide selection of marine animals including whales and porpoises plus get all your meals and beverages provided.
Diving with Great Whites off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa is a much cheaper option, but of course, that is only the case if you happen to be going to South Africa anyway. For 1140 ZAR (South African Rand, around $US112) per person, you can experience some of the best shark diving through Apex Shark Diving (tel. +27/82-364-2738; www.apexsharkdiving.com). Their afternoon dives around Seal island last three-and-a-half hours and the high season for great white shark activity in this area is mid April through mid September. You will likely have an opportunity to see the sharks breach the water whilst they hunt for seals,Â and get excellent close-up views of them when they are attracted to the boat using decoys rather than bait. The low season is November to March and sightings are about 50%. The trip cost includes transportation, all equipment, snack and beverages.
Prices are even lower through Great White Shark Diving (tel. +27/28-312-4293; www.greatwhitesharkdiving.co.za). Their special Great White package is priced at 795 ZAR per person (under $80) and it includes a shark cage diving trip to the waters around Dyer Island, off the coast of the town of Kleinbaai (a two hour drive from Cape Town), one night's free accommodation in a dormitory room at Hermanus Backpackers (www.hermanusbackpackers.co.za) located about 25 miles from the boat take off point (or 90 ZAR discount on a private room at the backpackers), breakfast, a Great White Shark talk, all Equipment, and lunch on board. A shuttle bus from the accommodation to the boat is available for 100 ZAR per person round-trip, plus they can arrange Cape Town and airport transfers to Hermanus. These waters are considered the best in the world for Great White encounters as it is possible to see them throughout the year. Peak season is June through September and low season runs between December and March. It is recommended to book far in advance, especially during the high season during the South African winter. Several other operators also run tours out of Kleinbaai including The White Shark Diving Company (www.sharkcagediving.co.za), White Shark Projects (www.whitesharkprojects.co.za) and Great White Shark Tours (www.sharkcagediving.net).
My own personal marine phobia is the stingray. I'm okay with sharks, in fact having dived with them a few times, I can safely say, that I am over my initial fear. But stingrays are another matter entirely. I know they are technically not dangerous (Steve Irwin aside), yet the thought of taking part in a water adventure that includes rays, has me a little wary. The Cayman Islands is well-known for its stingray communities and Sting Ray City is Grand Cayman's most popular attraction for snorkelers (and even those who don't swim). Here you can touch and hand feed stingrays on a shallow sandbar that is only in three feet of water. What makes the thought slightly more appealing is that these Atlantic Southern stingrays are generally much smaller than the rays I have come across in southern hemisphere waters. They are considered "tame" which really translates to the fact that they are used to human interaction, and in particular, being fed by people. Stingray City Trips (www.stingraycitytrips.com) offers half-day snorkeling trips that include stops at the Stingray City Sandbar where you can wade or snorkel with the rays, and stops at Barrier Reef and Coral Gardens for snorkeling amongst a wide variety of coral formations and beautiful tropical fish. The three-hour trip includes transportation to and from the cruise ship terminal or your hotel along Seven Mile Beach, the Stingray City boat trip, snorkeling equipment (if required), snorkel vest /floatation devices, and bottles water. Children of all ages are welcome. Tours depart twice daily for $40 per adult and $27.50 for children aged four to 11. Kids under three are free.
A recent addition to the international scary animal interaction arena is Crocosaurus Cove (tel. +61/8-8981-7522; www.crocosauruscove.com) which opened earlier this year. Located in the heart of croc country, in the city of Darwin in Australia's far north, the Cove offers the chance for willing participants to be lowered into a tank full of huge crocodiles in a glass "Cage of Death" wearing nothing more than a swimsuit and a smile. The Northern Territory is home to the largest wild population of saltwater crocodiles within Australia and also accounts for almost two thirds of crocodile attacks on humans (usually only a few per year), but don't let that stop you. This facility lets you get up close and personal without the danger.
Crocosaurus Cove is home to eight full grown adult crocs and 200 smaller juveniles. The average size of a male saltwater crocodile is 15 feet, but some individuals have been recorded at up to 21 feet in length. Croc Cove also boasts a large aquarium with native marine animals including turtles, stingrays and barramundi. All you need to bring for the cage is your bathing suit and a towel, and a snorkel if you'd like one. Goggles will be provided. You need to arrive 15 minutes prior to your booking so that the croc handlers can go through the safety procedures. Your head is above water as you stand in the glass cage and you dive under when you like so this is not a scuba diving activity. Croc Cove is open daily and costs A$28 for adults and A$16 for children under 15. The Cage of Death experience is A$120 for one swimmer or A$160 for two swimmers. Swimmers must be over 15. Bookings for the Cage of Death are essential.