Category Archives: Port Lincoln

— Port Lincoln —

The truth about shark diving


  • Shark diving Port Lincoln appears in as many nightmares as it does bucket lists.  Alissa Jenkins finds out that diving with great whites is confronting… but not for the reasons you’d expect.

    “I tried to gouge his eyes out, which made him loosen his jaws, but as I attempted to push myself away my hand disappeared back into his mouth. Before he could bite my hand off I pulled it back, ripping it across the teeth – I received 97 stitches in that hand, with only one tendon left.”

    This is the story of Rodney Fox – the South Australian spearfishing champion who was attacked by a shark in 1963, just a couple of peninsulas east of where we are now. Thanks to a thriving tuna industry and nearby seal colonies on the Neptune Islands, this area – just off Port Lincoln – is what Fox calls “the best restaurant in Australia for great whites”.

    Unfortunately, he tells me this half an hour before I’m to dive into the water.

    “As well as my hand, every rib in the left side of my chest got broken, my lung had been punctured and I ended up with over 500 stitches,” he adds.

    Oh good, that’s comforting…

    After the attack

    Now a grey-haired grandfather, December 2013 marks 50 years since Fox’s ordeal, which changed his life far beyond a patchwork of bodily scars. Even more miraculous than surviving the attack itself, Fox shook off the trauma, quit his job as a life insurance salesman, and dedicated his life to trying to understand sharks through research and filmmaking, later becoming a leading advocate to protect great whites from extinction.

    “There was a saying that the best shark is a dead shark, but I didn’t really feel that way,” Fox says, twiddling his thumbs. “I mean, I wasn’t real happy with the shark that bit me, but I’d seen the ocean and how beautiful it was. I thought there’s got to be more to it than just fear, hate and killing.”

    A wave of excited shouting sweeps inside from the stern. It’s out there that a steel cage is suspended from the boat, bobbing below the ocean surface, which the borderline insane climb into to come face-to-face with great whites. Inspired by a visit to the zoo shortly after his attack, Fox initially built the contraption so he could examine his attacker in relative safety.

    Soon researchers and filmmakers began travelling from around the globe to experience his shark cage, including the Hollywood crew behind a little film named Jaws. Then in 1976 after growing requests from the public, Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions became the first Australian operator to take game travellers into the shark’s domain. Since then it has become a popular bucket-list experience, luring in a motley bunch from 20-something thrill-seekers and suburban mums, to celebrities like Karl Pilkington (à la An Idiot Abroad). For some ungodly reason, I’ve agreed to join them.

    Shivering in anticipation

    Now at the stern, shivering in a wetsuit, I’m the last guest to take the plunge. Almost as disconcerting as the silvery fins slicing through the water is the lack of fear in anyone else onboard. After all, these are prehistoric predators with killing abilities so finely attuned they’ve hardly changed over the last million years. I’m a rapid heartbeat away from adding to the burley that’s already luring the sharks closer.

    Teetering onto the platform, quietly waging deals with the gods, Fox’s voice rings through my skull – “I remember looking down through the water, red from my blood, and seeing this big head coming towards me with those big teeth.”

    Cripes, this is not what I signed up for… Alas, I bite down on the regulator (linked to an oxygen tank on board), climb onto the cage’s ladder and like a jelly-legged newborn donkey, shake my way down.

    Icy water and bubbles rush around my head, which soon clear to reveal a cobalt-coloured underworld. All is silent bar the thudding heartbeat in my ears. I inch my way around the inner rail of the cage (large enough to fit four), and settle beside a window. As I try to steady my breath, shiny schools of jack mackerel and silver trevally flitter above, nibbling at the bundles of bait floating next to the cage.

    Meeting Scarface

    Then out of the corner of my mask emerges the makings of nightmares. Over four metres long and almost as wide, he silently glides in, jaws agape, with those black deadpan eyes. I’m paralysed with fear. A regular in these parts, he’s known to crew as Scarface. No more than a metre away, he drifts past, bypassing the cage straight to the bait where he takes a chomp before slowly returning to the depths of the sea floor. I barely register as a blip on his radar.

    Somehow, Fox’s claims that great whites “aren’t the menacing man-eaters that people think they are”, seems to have some validity. The flood of terror is replaced by perplexity and for the next half-an-hour I forget any paranoia and take it in – their world. It’s a bizarrely peaceful world, too. Beams of sunlight break through the water illuminating the lustrous scales of passing fish, which Scarface isn’t interested in either. He moves slowly, serenely, disappearing for minutes at a time, only re-emerging to inspect fresh bait.

    I notice a tag in his side too, a device used to track his whereabouts as part of the Rodney Fox Research Foundation. Cage diving is only one arm of Fox’s legacy, now headed by his son, Andrew. The foundation, dedicated to studying migration patterns and breeding habits, is what earned the Foxes permission to regularly throw bait into the water to attract sharks – a privilege granted to only two operators in the country.

    Meanwhile two bite-sized fish are swimming either side of Scarface’s nose – presumably the two most nervous fish in Australia. Later Fox explains, “it’s a symbiotic relationship they share”, where the small fish clean the shark in return for protection from larger fish. They follow Scarface around like schoolyard sidekicks, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Indeed he seems rather relaxed about the whole thing. Decidedly unlike the crazed depictions seen all too often on TV.

    Not much is known about great white sharks, even today. While the world’s other great predators like lions and bears have, for the most part, been understood through extensive research, sharks remain a mystery. What we do know, however, is that they’re not on a murderous rampage as Jaws might’ve suggested (what a great white lie that was). As Fox puts it, they’re just badly misunderstood creatures, doing their job of cleaning up the sick and the slow.

    “They’re a necessary part of any ocean ecosystem, applying pressure where it’s needed to keep the balance,” he says. “And they have a right to survive rather than be killed off out of fear.”

    To that end, more research is required – something Fox is well underway with. At the same time, however, public perception of these majestic creatures needs a major overhaul. Maybe we could all do with a 30-minute face-to-face with Scarface.

    The details

    Getting there
    Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions depart from Port Lincoln’s marina, a 650-kilometre drive west of Adelaide. But we suggest a 30-minute flight straight across Yorke Peninsula – Regional Express and QantasLink regularly service Port Lincoln airport.

    Need to know
    • In summer, guests can choose between two- and three-night expeditions, while in winter there are four- and eight-night expeditions. Prices start from $995 per person.
    • No diving experience is required beforehand as the oxygen tank remains on board and you’re no more than three metres down (the cage is suspended just below the water surface). Qualified SCUBA divers, however, can go beyond surface diving and experience the ocean floor option. That is, where the cage is lowered down onto the ocean floor for a more intimate and up-close experience.
    • All gear can be hired, including wetsuit, mask and weightbelt. The main thing you need to pack is anti-seasickness tablets.
    • Rodney Fox’s autobiography Sharks, The Sea and Me is out December 2013.

    08 8363 1788;

    Australian Traveller issue 54

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    — Port Lincoln —

    100 Greatest Holidays of Australia: #98 go on a Great White Shark expedition, SA


    Score: 7.82

    This is that bucket list item that you haven’t had the nerve to tick off yet, but is an absolute once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “If you want to be amazed and terrified at the same time, then this is not to be missed”, agrees Suzanne Medway AM. Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions in Port Lincoln were the first Australian operators to offer cage diving with sharks in 1976, so you know you’re in good hands when you’re staring into those beady eyes from the bottom of the ocean floor. (Our palms are sweating as we write this.) From $995 per person, no diving experience is necessary. Also see:the great white truth about diving with sharks

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    — Port Lincoln —

    35: Cage dive with sharks at Port Lincoln (SA)


    So this one’s not for everyone. But for the adventurous or the merely curious (and very brave), being immersed into their world may just bring a new understanding of great white sharks and their place in the grand scheme of nature. While we’ve been taught to view these magnificent beasts as blood-hungry predators – which, well, they kind of are – they remain sorely misunderstood and feared in a way that goes far beyond the threat they actually pose. Kids and non-adrenalin junkies can watch from the safety of the boat.

    Port Lincoln is the place to go for cage diving in Australia – the large colonies of New Zealand fur seals draw the sharks to the waters around the Neptune Islands.

    Try these

    Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions – After surviving an horrific shark attack in the 60s, Rodney Fox went on to become an advocate and protector of great whites, setting up the Fox Shark Research Foundation as well as his expedition company, which offers overnight expeditions between two and five days long.

    Calypso Star Charters – These one-day tours stream live footage from the six-person shark cage to the saloon on-deck, so no one misses out on the underwater action.

    Adventure Bay Charters – This operator uses audio vibrations to attract the sharks to the boat (apparently AC/DC is a favourite!) on full-day tours.


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    — Port Lincoln —

    Affordable Summer Holidays: Port Lincoln


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    — Port Lincoln —

    Hop aboard the Coffin Bay Explorer


    Experience No.047 in Australian Traveller’s 100 Greatest Australian Gourmet Experiences

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    — Port Lincoln —

    Tanonga Ridge Site Luxury Eco Lodge


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    — Port Lincoln —

    100 Best Towns In Australia #45 Port Lincoln, SA


    On the tip of SA’s Eyre Peninsula, Port Lincoln’s livelihood is the tuna industry. But make no mistake, the 14,000-strong town deals in more than just that particular fishy gold: sharks are on the menu too.

    Popular with visitors for its once-in-a-lifetime status, tourists here actually pay to go underwater and see this apex predator up close. Luckily they feed their sharks well, since snorkelling with playful sea lions might otherwise mean you’re on today’s menu.

    “Galloped onto the tourist map on the back of Melbourne cup winner Makybe Diva, and thank God for the victory. Wild, bountiful, geographically diverse, isolated, and yet well populated and full of culture.” – MyPOWER Team

    Apart from all things maritime, Port Lincoln is blessed with an otherworldly feel, from daily rainbows over pristine Lincoln and Coffin Bay National Parks to deserted beaches and undulating sand dunes – a stunning panoramic view from Winters Hill Lookout on a sunny day. The town itself has two hubs: the Marina and town centre. Wandering along the seafront promenade dotted with eclectic little shops, you’re bound to run into a statue of possibly the most famous export after tuna: race horse Makybe Diva. Its owner, tuna fisherman Tony Santic, also runs the Port Lincoln Hotel, one of the many restaurants offering outstanding seafood in town.

    Where? // 640km (45min flight) southwest of Adelaide.

    Did you know? // Port Lincoln almost became the South Australian capital, but was overlooked in favour of Adelaide, largely due to KI’s problems with access to fresh water.


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    — Port Lincoln —

    Diving With Great White Sharks

    WRITTEN BY ADMIN • JUNE 27, 2007




    There can be few practices as health-endangeringly dubious as dropping into the ocean and offering yourself up as bait for a Great White Shark. Whilst Jaws may have been a somewhat vilifying representation, let’s not beat around the bush here; Great Whites find humanity’s claim to the top spot on the food chain entirely risible. Those teeth are clearly not designed for ruminating on large amounts of grass, and if we’re offered up on a plate they’re not going to turn the feed down because we don’t come with a nice rocket salad.


    Consequently, for buttock-tightening fear it’s almost impossible to top climbing into a dive cage as one of these hungry, ancient rulers of the sea prowls, waiting to pounce.


    Unless you’re the carefree type who considers surfing around the seal colony at Philip Island, Victoria (the shark equivalent of McDonalds) a good idea, the only place you’ll get to see the daddy of sharks up close in this country is off the South Australian coast.

    Four to eight-day expeditions are led by Rodney Fox and his son Andrew, and few people have more experience with the toothy apex predators than Mr Fox senior. For a start, half of him is still inside one.


    In December 1963, Rodney got into one of those fights he was never going to win. A Great White attacked him, leaving him with a punctured diaphragm, ripped lung and a fully exposed abdomen and spleen. His veins were minutes away from collapsing and all the ribs on his left side were broken. Under the circumstances it seems a mite churlish to say he was lucky, but he survived – and came out with some excellent war wounds which will kill any pub boasting competition stone dead.


    Since then, Fox has devoted his life to the creature that nearly took it, and not in a Hollywood-style “I must have my vengeance” manner, either. With the sort of immodesty that perhaps comes with surviving what he has, Fox boasts that he invented the very first shark diving cage, and has led more than 100 documentary filming sorties, running his nature-heavy tours from Adelaide. These take in the birdlife, sea lions and dolphins of the Neptune Islands, as well as the headlining act of the cage dives.


    At a minimum $2995 per person, these expeditions are undeniably expensive. In fact, if all you want to do is tick shark-diving off your list, it’d be considerably cheaper to catch a return flight to Cape Town in South Africa and do a day trip. However, the Australian version is really a unique experience, allowing you to live aboard the good ship Falie on almost untouched waters, with restaurant-quality food and hotel-quality service.


    Whether it’s good for the sharks (or ourselves) to encourage them to attack the cages by putting fresh meat in there is a sticky topic for debate. What’s certain is the intense difficulty of mulling over that particular ethical dilemma whilst one of nature’s most efficient killing machines pounds the bars inches from your face.


    Rodney Fox Shark Experience Details
    (08) 8224 0042
    From $2995


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    — Port Lincoln —

    100 Things To Do You’ve Never Heard Of #009 Go swimming with . . . TUNA?!


    You can swim in the pens of Tuna being farmed off Port Linoln in South Australia.

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