World-renowned as the ultimate destination for diving with Great White Sharks and “game-viewing” of the Marine Big 5 from land, sea and air, the greater Gansbaai area offers a smorgasbord of adrenalin-pumping adventures in a tranquil environment of natural perennial beauty.
Gansbaai is the natural adventure destination, is home to the highest density of Great White Sharks in the World and from July to December, the temporary home for the Southern Right Whales, who come to our shore to mate, birth and raise their young. These two spectacular marine creatures draw visitors and film crews from all over the world.
Originally, and still, a vibrant fishing village, locals have a strong relationship with the sea and the harbour is still the point of gravity in town for fishing and boating. If you need a craftsman on the first day of the lobster season, forget about it, they are out fishing. In almost every drive-way in Gansbaai, you can see a trailer with a boat parked next to the family car.
In spite of the developing tourism industry, the fishing industry is still the economic heart-beat of Gansbaai. The fleet of fishing boats and the fish canning and fishmeal factory in the harbour employ a substantial number of people from local communities. It is a great point of interest as the fishing trawlers leave harbour to return later with their daily catch to unload into the factory or waiting trucks, providing a vibrant bustling atmosphere. It is little wonder and with gratitude that we sometimes have the smell of fish in the air as the factory fires up to process and package its produce to meet market demands. A number of Abalone farms provide another level of employment and income for the village, which produces and cans this traditional local culinary delight sought after in Asian countries.
The more rural areas of Gansbaai have nurtured and sustainably worked the fynbos and land to produce amazing wines, fynbos picked flower industries and a strong conservation ethic. Rustic wedding venues and accommodation have evolved for the eco-conscious traveler. Hiking trails, trail running routes and mountain bike routes are a major attraction if not a challenge in many cases.
“..this little town is able to offer some of the world’s best boat- and shore-based whale watching and unquestionably the world’s best white-shark diving. The sensational marine tourist attractions should not be the only things to lure you, however. Some of the Cape’s best-conserved fynbos adorns the mountains in the area and numerous walks and trails criss-cross it. The lighthouse at Danger Point is open to tourists, and you can climb the stairs to the revolving light and peer out at the restless waters that cover the remains of the famous Birkenhead wreck. After a week spent wandering the streets of Gansbaai and its surroundings, we can comfortably say that this, truly, is the gem of the Overberg.”
Cameron Ewart-Smith; Getaway Magazine March 2003
Gansbaai was originally called 'Gansgat', a name derived from the wild geese that abounded there. Its origin as a fishing village is probably linked with the wreck of the troopship Birkenhead off Danger Point on 26 Feb. 1852, after which a number of survivors settled there and existed on gardening and on what the sea could offer. Afrikaans-speaking families with English names, descendants from these early settlers, are still living in Gansbaai. The village was laid out on the farm; 'Strandfontein'.
From the earliest days fishing has been the chief source of income, but as a result of the isolation of the village, the poor communications and the perishable nature of fish, the fishermen led a life of poverty and struggle. The growing demand for vitamin A during the Second World War - mainly to supply the army - brought relief to Cans Bay. The tope or grey shark (Ga-leorhinus galeus), which had before been regarded by local fishermen as a nuisance, was turned into a lucrative source of income! This is because the liver of this shark is rich in vitamin A, and a small factory was set up in 1939 to process these livers for oil. As the industry progressed the factory was revolutionized and it brought economical prosperity to Gansbaai! After the war though, when the demand for vitamin A dwindled, shark fishing no longer proved profitable and the fishermen were again faced with hardship. Until then only the livers of the grey shark were considered to be of any value, the carcasses being discarded as waste. In order to save the industry from total collapse an outlet was sought for these carcasses. It was then that the foresight, resourcefulness and initiative of J. R. Barnard, the local school principal, came to the rescue. In April 1950 he convened a meeting of local fishermen and proposed the forming of a co-operative society. The idea was enthusiastically received, the Fisheries Development Corporation was approached for assistance and the capital obtained for the establishment of the first fisheries co-operative in South Africa in 1952. The possibilities of marketing shark flesh were explored, and markets for dried shark flesh were found in various African states, chiefly in the Congo. The sharks' fins - long regarded as a delicacy in the East - are exported to the Far East.
The 'Gansbaai Kooperatiewe Vissery Bpk.' brought prosperity to Gansbaai. The sheltered harbour has been deepened and the bay made wider to give better moorings and a modern fish-meal factory has been established, which came into operation in Jan. 1963 and is supplied by a fleet of nine pilchard trawlers bought at R40 000 each and all named after species of wild geese, like Vleigans, Sneeugans, Berggans, etc. Municipal status was achieved on 1 April 1962.
If you are driving from Cape Town then the route between the Mother City and Mossel Bay is as riddled with great stops (Hermanus, Gansbaai, L'Agulhas, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Still Bay) as the Garden Route.