Scuba Diving in South Africa
Scuba Diving in South Africa
With its vibrant reefs, abundant tropical fish, deep wrecks, sharks, kelp forests and diverse marine life, South Africa has some of the most varied diving in the world.
The best and warmest sites are in sub-tropical KwaZulu-Natal on the north east coast of the country. Sodwana Bay is South Africa’s diving Mecca, but there are a number of alternatives on this coastline. On a good day, diving its pristine tropical reefs must be right up there with the Red Sea or the Barrier Reef.
The brightly coloured sponges, corals and vast shoals of colourful fish, particularly on the reefs further out to sea, are mind-blowing. Ragged tooth sharks are seasonal visitors, dolphins are regularly sighted and you will occasionally encounter whale sharks, manta rays and even sea horses.
The reefs of Aliwal Shoal, south of Durban, are also superb. They offer wrecks, arches, caves and other dramatic features and, of course, the chance to get up close and personal with bull, tiger, black-tip and ragged tooth sharks. The Shoal, and nearby Protea Banks, are often rated by international dive publications as two of the top sites to dive with these apex predators.
The Eastern Cape is the transition zone between the warm water that runs down the east coast and the nutrient rich cold water of the Cape, and this makes for particularly diverse marine life. Port Elizabeth offers reliable diving all year round, with both pretty corals and regular shark sightings. It is also one of the best places to base yourself for the Sardine Run - the annual migration of sardines and their trailing band of predators.
The sardine run usually starts on the Transkei Wild Coast in late June and July, and runs up the southern coastline of KwaZulu-Natal. Chokka diving, in turn, involves the predation of the chokka (squid) egg beds and takes place late from October to November each year along the coastline between Port Elisabeth and Cape St Francis. It may be the less publicised of the two, but is an equally special event and worth looking out for.
When the weather plays along, diving on the Garden Route can be extremely rewarding, and if you’re prepared for the cold, the sites off the Cape Peninsula are spectacular – and often possible as shore entries.
There are some 500 wrecks within an hour's drive of Cape Town, many of which are accessible to novice divers, while the tiny critters of the kelp forests are a macro-photographer’s dream.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that variable dive conditions, relatively low water temperatures and, in many areas, surf launches and big swell deter many ‘fair weather’ divers from taking the plunge. But if you really find the open water too intimidating, there are always the sheltered, fresh water inland sites of Bass Lake and Miracle waters. Truth be told, however, these sites are mostly used for training and to keep skills in practice.
Finally, as a novelty, diving is also possible in two magnificent aquariums - the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town and the uShaka Marine World in Durban - where you can swim with the fishes, ragged tooth sharks and turtles in safe, warm, confined conditions.