Sadie Whitelocks' legs turn to jelly when a great white grips the side of her cage and she stares into its grey eyes.

Razor sharp teeth surged towards me and I was thrown to the side of the cage. My worst shark diving nightmares were coming true as a 4m great white lurched through the blue to the spot where I was kneeling.

Battling fairly strong ocean currents, I struggled to keep my limbs from flailing around as the shark gripped on to the side of the cage with its large pearly whites. With little time to think, I backed away and let my jelly-like body congeal.

The shark's grey eyes — both terrified and terrifying — flashed before me before it thrashed its head around, broke free and swam off into the deep blue beyond.

I was on a research boat off Guadalupe Island off the coast of Mexico with 17 other people to dive with great white sharks. The six-day trip, run by New Jersey-based Elite Divers, intended to show one of the world's most feared creatures in a different light.


Coincidentally, we were in the exact spot an infamous YouTube video had been filmed just weeks before. The clip — watched more than 19 million times — shows a shark getting inside a submersible cage and flipping around with bloody gashes on its body after breaking the bars.

After freeing itself and swimming off, a shell-shocked diver emerges from the frothy waters, his heartbeat almost audible to viewers. Watching the video before my trip, I started to worry about what I was letting myself in for.

I'd always been afraid of the ocean. However, in a bid to conquer my fear, at age 29, I'd decided to learn how to dive, get my PADI and meet one of the ultimate "scary" sea creatures — great whites.

This would take me from a training pool in Soho, London, 9213km across the world to one of the best spots in the world to meet the great white — Guadalupe Island. The 244sq km spit of rock lies within a national park, and the prime season for spotting great whites runs from September to November.

Sadie Whitelocks had a close encounter with a great white while diving of Guadalupe Island in Mexico. Photo / Sadie Whitelocks
Sadie Whitelocks had a close encounter with a great white while diving of Guadalupe Island in Mexico. Photo / Sadie Whitelocks

The dive group met up at the beginning of November in San Diego, boarded a minivan and drove for two hours down the Mexican coast to the port city of Ensenada. From there we hopped on an 18m boat. The overnight crossing to Guadalupe Island was tumultuous but as the sun rose, the sea levelled out and we dropped anchor.

Guadalupe Island has a desolate beauty. Cliffs of jagged, rust-coloured rock tower high above the deep blue waters. The haunting sounds of seals echo across the cavernous landscape and waves pound the rocky beaches. There were only three other boats anchored on the east coast of the island.

I remember the thrill on spotting my first shark from the top deck. My excitement turned to fear when I realised I was up for my first dive.

"I've never seen anything like it. It was a freak accident," the dive master said, when quizzed about THAT video. Dennis Santos, who runs Elite Divers, also told me he had never heard of a shark getting inside a cage.


Feeling reassured, I popped my diving gear on. After less than a minute of being in the water, we saw our first shark.

I thought I would be scared, but I was in awe. Renee Cicchino, an experienced dive instructor from New Jersey, said she was surprised how placid the great whites were. We were told the great whites had been "unusually aggressive" this year but during our trip we didn't see any true aggression.

The day the shark hurtled towards me was the result of baiting; after missing a huge chunk of tuna it accidentally dove into the cage.

Tony, a Hollywood stuntman, was the only one to get bitten on the trip ... by a pesky tuna.

"It took the camera right out my hand," he chimed.

I returned home with all fingers and toes and a new sense of respect for one of the world's most misunderstood creatures.

"There's still so little we know about them," Santos, said as we left the sharks to continue their 1600-plus kilometre migration.

Air New Zealand flies to Mexico with partner airlines via the US.