The history of the Great White House



Owner Susan Visagie says: “The shark ‘industry’ started off as a very rough, ‘cowboy-like’ informal enterprise, where fisherman took tourists out on a basic fishing vessel… so we have decided to add value and class to this ‘diamond in the rough’ trade by building an up-market tourist information centre with a top restaurant, great accommodation, 5-star bathroom facilities and a central booking office.”

Early Beginnings

Early Beginnings

The Great White House was built in 2003.

Wilfred Chivell and Susan Visagie took ownership of the building in 2005 as an operations center for Marine Dynamics Great White Shark Cage diving and Dyer Island Cruises.

In 2008 the Whale Room was built on as extra room was needed to accommodate the many tourist coming to view the whales in Gansbaai.

Although the Great White House Restaurant was an existing establishment, Susan Visagie took ownership of the restaurant in 2009; a lot of internal building changes were made. The current bar area was originally the gift shop and vice versa.

The restaurant and adventure tours thrived during the 2010 Soccer World Cup; after this another revamp was initiated.

In 2012 a new kitchen and all new containers were added to the back of the building to accommodate the Marine Volunteer program and storage for websuits and gear; 2012 was also the year that ‘Suzi’ the whale skeleton was mounted to the restaurant ceiling.

A bigger bar area and new wash area outside was added in 2013; in the same year new land was purchased for the Marine Centre.

The story of 'Suzi' the Southern Right Whale skeleton

The story of 'Suzi' the Southern Right Whale skeleton

The Great White House was a hive of activity when a Southern Right Whale became Kleinbaai’s newest resident.
The 14 metre skeleton was suspended from the ceiling of the famous building in Kleinbaai, near Gansbaai, Western Cape, in a feat of engineering that staggered onlookers. The Great White House has named her ‘Suzi’.

The operation required an army of people, several alterations to the building, and copious amounts of midnight oil. After steel roof inforcements were in place, the installation was made in two stages; the spine, ribcage, and flippers were brought to the premises on a boat trailer, and carefully raised over several hours on a Thursday night. The skull and jawbones followed the next evening, taking 16 people to carry them into the building.

By the early hours of Saturday morning one of the first Southern Rights spotted here in 2012 was proudly on display, dominating the already impressive surroundings of its new home. The exhibition is the culmination of around seven years’ meticulous preparation and planning. As well as providing visual impact it serves to promote awareness.

This whale’s death, in 2005, was likely the result of a collision with a ship. Reconstruction of the injured skeleton has been made in contrasting colour to highlight the care that must be taken to ensure the protection of these cherished yearly visitors to our shores.
Thanks to the efforts of Wilfred Chivell, Susan Visagie, and Piet Pretorius, and a support cast as big as the whale itself, this permanent exhibition is now as much a reminder of our responsibility to the marine environment as it is a truly breathtaking spectacle and achievement.


Contact us for more information
The great white house