Port Elizabeth DivingEnquire Now
Easy shore dives to deep reefs
+27 41 581 1144 www.prodive.co.za
Port Elizabeth has two very different diving locations, Algoa Bay and the Wild Side (to the west of Cape Recife), so it’s a reliable, year-round destination.
The bay is the transition zone between the nutrient rich cold water of the Cape and the warm waters brought down by the Agulhas current that flows down the east coast and this makes for diverse marine life.
Port Elizabeth is also the jumping off point for two of the most exciting seasonal dive adventures in South Africa, the Sardine Run, which usually takes place along the Wild Coast and KwaZulu-Natal south coast in late June and July, and Chokka diving, a less-publicised predation of the chokka (squid) egg beds, which takes place around Port Elizabeth and Cape St Francis during late October/November.
The best-known site is Riy Banks, outside Algoa Bay and a 20-kilometre boat ride from Hobie Beach. An extensive, vibrant reef system with pinnacles rising from the ocean bed, spectacular drop-offs and beautiful walls, the remote site is a bit unpredictable in terms of conditions so is an advanced dive, but it usually enjoys good visibility and offers good sightings of rays, ragged-tooth sharks, bronze whalers, shysharks, as well as big schools of game fish such as yellowtail.
Only 10 minutes from the beach, Bell Buoy is a shallow, colourful and extensive reef. A popular dive for novices, it consists of pinnacles and gullies covered with soft corals, feature stars, sea fans, anemones and sea squirts. And, as its alternate name, Roman Rocks, suggests, it supports a large number of red roman fish. An unusual feature is the Square Hole, which is precisely that, a big square hole in the reef, where sightings of ragged-tooth sharks are almost guaranteed.
Another site on which you’ll often see sharks, Phillips Reef, offers spectacular diving but is often overlooked in favour of the more popular sites. The reef lies just off Hobie Beach and has beautiful walls and numerous gullies in which ragged-tooth, pyjama and leopard sharks hang out. The reef is covered with colourful sea fans, sponges and soft corals and boasts a good variety of reef fish, while the patient, eagle-eyed diver will find all sorts of little creatures, particularly crustaceans and nudibranchs.
The Haerlem wreck, a navy frigate scuttled in 1987 to form an artificial reef, is a good wreck for novice divers. Over the years it has been colonised by soft corals and is home to a wide variety of fish, nudibranchs and shysharks.
Top spots on the Wild Side include Gasmic Reef - a spectacular advanced site, which features a narrow gorge teeming with fish life and dramatic walls covered in hard and soft corals. Horse fish are often spotted at this site and the boat ride out offers spectacular views of the bay and the chance of whale and dolphin sightings.
With the most recorded sunshine hours in South Africa, the name Sunshine Coast is no idle boast or empty promise. Situated between Port Elizabeth and East London, the quaintness of the Sunshine Coast is a welcome escape from big-city bustle.
The area includes the inland towns of Alexandria, Salem and Bathhurst, with kilometres of beaches accessed via Cannon Rocks, Boknes, Bushmans River Mouth, Kenton-on-sea, Kasouga, Port Alfred and the Great Fish River area. The mixed derivations of these names suggest the rich cultural heritage of the area – the primary meeting point of San, Xhosa, Boer and British. The British influence is clear in the architecture of Bathhurst, Salem and Grahamstown.
Driving on the N2 or its tributaries the R67 or R72, the rolling green hills Lord Charles Somerset likened to English parklands were not exactly what the settlers expected. The unique dark golden-green shade of the Albany Thicket biome is due to the dense growth of hardy drought-resistant plants such as aloe, euphorbia and spekboom. Rain falls in winter and summer, and while not frequent, it is at times unpredictable, so the vegetation is built to withstand fickle skies.
Although unattractively scrubby to some, the Thicket contains 20% of the 316 threatened plant species found in the Eastern Cape, making it an important centre of endemism.
One is tempted to describe this beautiful and unusual landscape as “untouched”, but the area has long been farmed, with cattle, sheep, ostriches, pineapples and chicory among its historically successful concerns. Many farms have since been converted back into game reserves, such as the world-class, malaria-free Kariega and Shamwari Reserves. Game fences line the long, quiet, tarred roads and drivers are often startled at the sight of elephants, giraffes or other game grazing along the fences.
Drivers should also look out for smaller wildlife - porcupines, small antelope, hares, snakes, owls and tortoises - crossing the roads at dawn, dusk and at night.
The beaches and dunes of this coastline are magnificent. The Alexandria dunefield - famously the largest active dunefield in the world - and the exquisite Alexandria State Forest have been absorbed by the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.
While Kenton-on-sea and Port Alfred are the main seaside attractions, the family-oriented Cannon Rocks, Boknes and Kasouga are popular places to buy holiday homes and have a few lovely self-catering and guest cottages.
The Dias Cross at Kwaaihoek is a replica of the padrão erected there by Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias on his 1488 cruise past the South African coast. At the Cross there is a deck for dolphin sightings and whale-spotting in late spring and early summer. In season, southern right whales are sighted all along the Sunshine Coast.
Despite its fairly good roads and obvious attractions, this area is still, miraculously, relatively unspoilt and undeveloped. With the exception of the graceful Port Alfred Marina, attempts to beat its bush and rivers into commercial shape have been abandoned and it remains gentle, peaceful, simple, pristine and soul-enriching.
Situated on the Indian Ocean, one needn’t expect the “bath water” temperatures of KwaZulu-Natal - Sunshine Coast swims are invigoratingly cool and sometimes chilly, but seldom as achingly cold as the Western Cape.
The area doesn’t have the same flashy allure as other popular seaside destinations, but if you think of the coast as a place to relax and unwind, rather than paint the town red, there is no better place to visit.
Look out for
Addo Elephant National Park, 30 minutes from PE, features the “Big Seven” (the Big Five, plus southern right whales and great white sharks).
Explore Alexandria’s dunefields on the two-day Alexandria Hiking Trail or the seven-kilometre Dassie Day Trail, named for a rare tree dassie in the area.
Bathurst - founded in 1820, this “English country village in Africa”, 10 minutes from Port Alfred, is home to the Pig & Whistle, the oldest pub in South Africa, and the 16,7-metre-high Big Pineapple.
With unspoiled beaches, the tiny villages of Cannon Rocks, Boknes, Kleinemonde are a fisherman’s and bird-watcher’s paradise. Cannon Rocks is named for its two cannons and anchor. The Dias Cross at Kwaaihoek is an uplifting thee-kilometre walk from Boknes across incredible sandy beaches, or a six-kilometre walk at low tide from Bushmans River.
Bushmans River – the second-longest navigable river in South Africa, with 22 kilometres of navigable water, is a favourite with canoeists, sailors, water-skiers and fishermen.
Kasouga – maintains its rustic beginnings with dirt roads and no streetlights, hotels and shops, wonderful birdlife and an exquisite lagoon.
Port Alfred – enjoy the elegance of the Royal Alfred Marina. Famous for its annual powerboat race, Port Alfred offers provides great shopping, dining, and beauty retreats.
The Sunshine Coast, and nearby holiday meccas such as Great Fish River, St Francis Bay, Cape St Francis, Jeffreys Bay, Tsitsikamma and the Wild Coast, offers excellent surfing, adventure and water sports, fishing, nature reserves and world-class hikes, mountain biking, canoeing, beach horse-rides, bird watching, 4x4 trails, game-viewing, golf, and as well as rich local arts and culture.