This Island Country Is The Place To Go To Be Safely Face To Face With A Great White Shark

There are few animals more universally feared than the great white shark. Whether you're an experienced diver or brand new to the world beneath the ocean, an encounter with an apex predator is a bucket list item you won't soon forget. About 2.5 two and half hours south of Queenstown, New Zealand, the Shark Experience tour operators in Bluff will be more than happy to whisk you away from the comforts of shore towards the open ocean for a chance to spot one of these majestic creatures up close.

The waters off the southern coast are thought to be home to at least 220 great whites, says New Zealand Tourism. Many sharks stay all year round, as there's a seal colony nearby for plenty of hunting opportunities. You're most likely to see them during the summer and autumn down under, from December through June. These great whites share their home with several other marine species, including shortfin mako sharks, blue sharks, sevengill sharks, whales, porpoises, and sea lions, to name a few.

What to expect on the tour

When you book a Shark Cage Diving Tour, the day starts bright and early with check-in at 6:45 a.m. The tour will depart from the port at 7 in the morning while you sip on tea and tuck into a Southland cheese roll, a staple in this part of New Zealand. If you're a new diver, you'll take the introduction to underwater breathing course, which will teach you how to breathe with diving equipment and clear a mask. You'll spend the next 45 minutes sailing across the Foveaux Strait, taking in the gorgeous natural surroundings.

As the captain drives south towards the Titi Islands near the seal colony, the diving staff will bait nearby sharks with fish. When a curious shark comes nearby, you'll have the chance to climb down the ladder, get inside the cage, and soak up the experience. The cage fits up to five people, and it's bolted to the boat, so you won't have to travel far to see these giants up close. If you brought your own equipment or rented an underwater camera for the day ($40-$50), feel free to snap a few photos. A light lunch will be provided on board, or you're welcome to bring your own. After a full day at sea, the boat will head to shore to get you back by 5:00 p.m. or so, depending on how much shark activity there is nearby.

What to know before you go

While there's no guarantee that you'll spot great whites (they are wild animals, after all), Shark Experience has been in operation for 12 years, and the crew knows all the best places to go. Early in the season, you're most likely to see younger male sharks that are about 10 to 11 feet long. Later in the season, you'll see males between 11 and 18 feet long. Females — known affectionately by the team as "Big Gals" — can get up to 21 feet long. The visibility depends on the weather that day, but you can expect to see 32 to 65 feet into the sea from the underwater viewing platform.

If you're an experienced diver with an active diving certificate, a ticket costs $344. For everyone else, tickets cost $375, which includes a safety and training course on the day of the tour. Your ticket includes all the equipment you'll need, including a 7-millimeter wetsuit, hood, mask, weight belt, booties, and gloves. To see even more wildlife up close, like coastal birds, penguins, fish, and dolphins, upgrade to the sightseeing tour for an extra $187. No matter which tour you book, pack swimwear, a warm change of clothes, a hat, sunglasses, and a camera. It couldn't hurt to bring a bit of bravery, too.