As a NAUI Diving Instructor (retired) I have logged over a 1000 dives along the magnificent coast line of South Africa. People often come to South Africa specifically to go scuba diving because of the diverse conditions and variety of life that the coastal regions of the country offer.
The coastline is extremely long and there are spots all along where you can readily dive and have a wonderful experience. Many of the coastal areas are considered to be some of the best diving sites in the world. In fact, both Aliwal Shoal and Sodwana in Northern Natal have been chosen as one of the top ten must-do dive sites in the world . The coral growth and sponges in this areas are prolific and colorfully gorgeous and the reef is well known for shark diving as Ragged Tooth sharks use this as a breeding ground and the annual ‘Sardine Run’ is a must see between the months of May and July.
A divable wreck that has drawn some interest in South Africa is The Produce. This was a Norwegian tanker that was in commission during the 1960’s and 70’s. In 1974 the ship sank off of the coast near Aliwal Shoal in the area of the Northeast Pinnacles. There weren’t any lives lost, but the ship sank to the bottom in thirty meters of water.
The site has been classified for intermediate to experienced divers because of the currents that surround it. There are a lot of big fish about for you to enjoy viewing including a variety of sharks, plus a large number of smaller tropical fish whose wonderfully bright colours stand out in sharp contrast to the turquoise waters. Ragged tooth sharks, can be predominantly found in the area from June to November. Tiger sharks and Hammerheads can be seen from December to January.
Another wreck in the area is The Nebo. This ship sank in 1884 carrying a large load of railroad materials. Although over the years the hull has been broken and some of the stern has been lost, it is still fairly well intact for having been in the water as long as it has. The ship is still a large draw for many divers in the region. One of the reasons that people enjoy diving here apart from the interesting wreck is that there are a lot of really big grouper in the area.
The Northern Pinnacles is an interesting dive site in a region known as Protea Banks. This site is most well known for its display of a rare pink coral and the numbers of rare reef fish that can be found. Also, divers can visit two caves known as ‘Hole in the Wall’ and ‘Hole in the Floor’. These caves make for interesting penetration dives and they are also a focal point of the ragged tooth sharks during the mating season. It is recommended that people who want to dive at the Northern Pinnacles do so in the colder months (June to November) in order to get the best experience.
Since the waters can reach a chilly 19C from July to October, it is recommended that you try to dive in the warmer months of February and March when the water is around 24C.
Sodwana Bay National Park is a narrow strip of forested sand dunes located along the KwaZulu Natal coast. Proclaimed a national park in the 1950s it is a paradise for anglers and divers.
Sodwana is situated in the Maputaland Marine Reserve and the only scuba diving area along the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park (now renamed to Isimangaliso) coastline. Classified as one of the top dive sites in the world this 50 km reef complex boasts around 95 species of hard and soft coral, sponges, other invertebrates and around 1200 fish species.
It attracts 35 000 scuba divers every year. Vast 700m deep valleys, submarine canyons, are strewn over a distance of 2km. It was in one of these that on 27 November 2000 that the coelacanth was rediscovered.
If you are a novice who is looking for a good dive, or an intermediate diver who wants to see something different, there is a small reef at Sodwana Bay that is known as Anton’s Reef. The area is very shallow and there is a visibility of about fifteen metres, which have combined to showcase the region’s wonderful variety of coral types and marine life.
Divers will be able to enjoy the large schools of tropical fish and the exciting underwater topography which is formed by many of the overhang regions.
A diving site located in Sodawana Bay that attracts some of the more serious divers is Nine Mile Reef. This area is a little harder to get to than some of the other reefs in the area, so it is not frequented by as many divers, leaving it in nearly pristine condition since it hasn’t been bothered by too many people.
The underwater topography in the area is stunning, with large drop off regions, large coral tree growth and gorgeous pinnacles. Another bonus is the fact that there is a large diversity of tropical marine life (perhaps even the largest collection of specimens in the region), and there are also large schools of fish that will pass by as you dive, making it a truly spectacular underwater experience.
Diving conditions: Visibility: 10-50m, best Sept-March; Depth range: 8-80m; Marine life: Indian Ocean species and cold water species. Humpback whales. Ragged tooth sharks(nesting and hatching reefs); whale sharks; tiger sharks; manta rays, moray eels; Dive qualifications: minimum is Open Water. Technical dive locations available too. The water temperature ranges from around 21C in the winter months and up to 27C in summer
Reefs: 1/4 Mile, 2 Mile (ALL LESS THAN 18M) Stringer, Antons, Zambi Alley, Caves & Overhangs, Coral Gardens, 4 Bouy, Pinnacles, Waynes World, 2Bouy, Cat, Smarties, Chain, 5 Mile(Hotspot32m, Gotham 44m, Lettuce 30m, Ribbon, Pothole), 7 Mile (Northern wall, 3xAmpitheatres, Mushroom Rock), 9 Mile aka Green Tree. In addition there are secret reefs restricted to locals or good divers.
Also, do not worry if you are a novice scuba diver as there are plenty of diving schools that will help give you instruction so that you can safely dive off of the South African coast. This gives you the comfort of training before you get fully immersed in the water.
Types of Marine Life in South Africa
There is a great diversity of marine life that can be seen up and down the coastal region of South Africa. Here are just some of those types of life you might encounter in your diving location: great white sharks, ragged tooth sharks, humpback whales, turtles, mantas, eels, Zambezi sharks, coral, sponges, hammerhead sharks, rays, grouper, tuna, southern right whales, sardines, whale sharks, tiger sharks, and a wide range of tropical and reef fish as well as schools of pelagic fish.
South Africa Diving Fact Sheet:
Average Air Temperature: 25C – 29C
Average Water Temperature: 19C – 24C
Recommended Exposure Protection: Anywhere from a 3mm – 7mm suit depending on where you are diving and what time of year you plan on doing the dive.
Average Visibility: Anywhere from 5 to 50 metres.
Coldest Times: July to October
Hottest Times: February to March
Best Times to Dive: Since the waters can reach a chilly 19C during the month span from July to October, it is recommended that you try to dive in the warmer months of February and March when the water is around 24C.
Worst Times to Dive: There really isn’t a bad time to dive as there is always something to see. As I have dived all over the South African coast line I am happy to share any information that would like when planning your Scuba Diving adventure and can also assist with planning dive trips if you prefer. For the start or end of your adventure Moonflower self catering cottages can offer you a perfect base in Johannesburg at reasonable rates.