Durban and North Coast DivingEnquire Now
Easy shore dives to deep wrecks
+27 31 332 0905 www.calypsoushaka.co.za
Durban and the north coast have shore and boat dives to suit all levels of experience but the dive conditions are somewhat unpredictable so the area doesn’t see as much traffic as the nearby Aliwal Shoal. Nonetheless, when conditions are good, the area offers fun, easily accessible diving and the abundant fish life includes some rare fish such as pineapple fish, weedy scorpion fish and ornate sleeper rays.
There are also some great wrecks. The most interesting is Coopers Light Wreck, an advanced dive on a large iron steamship that lies in 32 metres of water off Treasure Beach. In addition to abundant fish life, Coopers is home to moray eels, coral-banded shrimp and the rare harlequin goldie, which is endemic to KwaZulu-Natal.
There are also some fabulous artificial reefs created by the Oceanic Research Group, including the Fontao, a Mozambican prawn trawler sunk off Umhlanga in 1991. The wreck, which was rapidly colonised and attracts large shoals of fish, has an average depth of 18 metres, so is shallow enough for novice divers to enjoy. There are also a few opportunities for qualified divers to penetrate the ship. T-Barge, a decommissioned floating crane sunk in 1990 off Virginia Airport, is encrusted with corals and swarming with baitfish. Elusive moray eels, paperfish, cleaner shrimp and hermit crabs hide in the wreckage.
Popular reefs include Outer Anchorage (dubbed Number One Reef by fishermen, who considered it to be the “number one” reef to fish on) with its great drop-offs, potholes, schools of pelagic fish and occasional sightings of blacktip and copper sharks. Top sites on Outer Anchorage include the Amphitheatre, which consists of caves and overhangs in which you’ll often find ragged-tooth sharks, and Artillery Reef, so named because of the amount of ammunition – including canon shells – that you can still see on the seabed.
Blood Reef, is a pretty, shallow reef only 500 metres off the Bluff. At an average depth of 16 metres, it consists of a series of ledges and caves encrusted with colourful thistle corals and features several different sites that are popular shore or boat dives suitable for novices. It’s also a haven for macro-photographers and divers seeking out nudibranchs, pineapple fish, frog fish, paper fish and crayfish.
Other shore entries include Vetch’s Pier and nearby Limestone, while Griqualand, a coastal steamer that sunk off Warner Beach in 1970, sits at 51 metres and is a magnet for technical divers.
Diving is usually best between May and July, or after a strong westerly wind, which brings in clean water. During the rainy summer months, the water is dirty as a result of sediment brought down by the rivers.
Stretching some 110km from Umhlanga to the Amatikulu River, the North Coast is as diverse as it is spectacular. The old North Coast Road is the best way to access the region. It follows the edge of the Indian Ocean, crossing the lagoons and estuaries of the Umhlanga, Umdloti, Mvoti and Tugela Rivers. It then weaves through fields of sugar cane and patches of indigenous forest.
Over the years, the North Coast has changed from a few sleepy little towns of local farmers’ beach cottages to a hugely popular tourism centre. It draws hundreds of thousands of annual visitors and offers something for just about everyone.
The towns range from Zinkwazi, as relaxed and serene as anywhere on the entire South African coast, to the bustling Umhlanga with its big-town feel. In-between is Ballito, a holiday destination par excellence where tourists are welcomed and entertained. A host of other towns each have their own attractions.
As you’d expect, it is the beaches that are the biggest drawcard to the area and around which most of the action is centred.
Ballito in particular is a surfing mecca and hosts regular surfing competitions.
Other beaches all along the coast offer surfing, swimming and angling. Scuba diving, deep-sea fishing and boat trips can also be organised at most popular tourism towns, as can microlight flights.
Don’t for a second think that the North Coast is simply a beach and party destination. Nature is ever-present and many of the towns are surrounded by beautiful coastal bush or are close to nature reserves. Birdwatching is excellent and diverse, while blue duiker can even be spotted from the Umhlanga promenade.
Fascinating history also pops up when you delve a little deeper. King Shaka, that South African Napoleon, once ruled from a kraal in the area of KwaDukuza. A visitor’s centre, memorial and museum all celebrate and explain his life and reign. Another great Zulu man, this time a man of peace, grew up down the road in Groutville. Albert John Luthuli would later play a major part in the struggle against apartheid and would become the first African to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
The North Coast has always been the trendier part of KwaZulu-Natal’s long and spectacular coastline. It’s more developed, the hotels are bigger and it just feels like there is more on the go. There is an incredible amount to do, things to see and places to stay.
Look out for
Mount Moreland – every year an estimated three million barn swallows spend the South African summer at a wetland on Mount Moreland, not far from the coastal town of Umdloti. From around October to April, this huge concentration of tiny birds can be viewed coming in to roost en masse. Take a few drinks or a picnic and your deckchairs and have a sundowner while this immense flock fills the sky.
King Shaka Heritage Route – King Shaka forged the Zulu nation and ultimately shaped the future of South Africa. On this route you can find out a bit more about this fascinating character. You can visit spots such as Observation Rock, from where he watched his impis train. You can also see the pool where he bathed, the site of his burial, and the tree under which he is reputed to have been assassinated.
The Gateway Shopping Centre - on the other side of the scale is Gateway, a huge shopping centre in Umhlanga that caters for absolutely everyone. Rainy days can be spent watching movies, rock-climbing, bowling, driving go-karts and much, much more. There are obviously also plenty of shops and restaurants.
The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board – offers interesting insights into these denizens of the deep. Educational tours are held, as are regular shark dissections.
Birding – the North Coast is home to an estimated 460 bird species, including rarities such as finfoot, green twinspot, bat hawk and black coucal. It’s not necessary to visit nature reserves to spot them either, although you will have better luck at places like the Zinkwazi lagoon or the Harold Johnson Nature Reserve.
Adventure – scuba diving (or learning to scuba dive) is great for family bonding. The North Coast has a number of operators who offer this. Other chances for adventure include excellent mountain biking, quadbiking, paintball and horse riding.
Microlight flights – and helicopter flips give wonderful perspectives of this long and beautiful coastline. You’ll see how urban spread has affected the cane and bush, as well as just how much remains intact. Whales and dolphins are often spotted on such flights.
Dining decadence- be it high tea or a curry buffet at the sensational Oysterbox, a prawn feast at the Amatikulu Prawn Shack, or the Ballito Prawn and Jazz Festival.