If you know anything about diving in South Africa, you probably know that you can expect to see a wide variety of sharks. From the Great Whites, Makos and Blue sharks in the Western Cape to the Tigers, Ragged tooth (Sand Tigers/ Grey Nurse) and Bull Sharks in Kwazulu-Natal. You have probably also heard of Aliwal Shoal, a reef structure approximately 5km off the Kwazulu-Natal Coast, usually dived from the towns, Umkomaas and Scottburgh.
People travel from all over the world to dive on Aliwal Shoal. When they get there, they discover the region has so much more to offer. Yes, there are the wild game safaris, incredible local craft breweries and a host of other tourist activities. But let’s focus on the diving.
The fossilized sand bank of Aliwal Shoal is home to a wealth of diverse sea life. Apart from the sharks, whales, dolphins and rays, you are likely to encounter hundreds of different species of sub-tropical creatures.
This rocky reef structure presents you with exciting pinnacles, drop-offs and caverns, which during the right time of year, are usually filled with docile Spotted Ragged Tooth Sharks. Dozens of interesting dive sites like Raggie’s Cave, Cathedral, Shark Alley and Manta Point are some of the most frequented by divers.
Of course, with a reef structure that has pinnacles as shallow as 6 or 7 meters, ships were bound meet their demise. Two incredible wreck dives in the area are “The Nebo” and “The Produce”. The wrecks themselves are both interesting and unique, but one of the most incredible sightings divers look forward to seeing, are the enormous Brindle Bass, also known as the Giant Grouper. Growing up to 2.7 meters, they are definitely a giant fish that can be a little nerve-racking to bump into.
To the south of Aliwal Shoal there are even more dive sites that offer not only an abundance of typical sea life but the opportunity to see some of the rarest marine animals.
In November 2019 a team of divers recorded a Coelacanth on a deep wall. The Coelacanth, “Dinosaur Fish”, was once thought to be extinct. However, there have been numerous sightings of the fish on the South African coast, mainly in Sodwana Bay north of Aliwal Shoal, which makes this particular find very interesting.
The elusive and elegant Thresher Shark has been seen on a number of occasions, most notably at a site called Allen’s Cave. This dive site with a maximum depth of 36 meters features some incredible rock formations with gullies, ledges and swim-throughs. During the Ragged Tooth Shark season, there are often sharks resting inside the swim-through.
Umzimai Wall is a site dived less frequently which means that divers are spoiled with inquisitive and curious marine animals. It’s the huge wall and fascinating reef structure that really is the star of the show. Although you can spend a great deal of time at 25m on this reef, the wall descends down to 40 meters. As with many of the deep reefs in this area, you will see long spiraling whip corals that will dwarf many a diver.
Other notable dive sites south of Aliwal Shoal include Landers; Half Acre; Butchers and Fern Reef, all with unique and interesting attractions.
If you’re into some deep wrecks, there certainly are a number in the area that will no doubt impress. The Griqualand is one such wreck that lies in 52 meters of water north of the Aliwal Shoal reef system. At almost 500 tons, this steamer, which sank in 1970, requires more than one dive to truly appreciate all it has to offer. Divers can swim along its mast, that is still intact, and lays across the sand while witnessing a large school of Daga Salmon darting around the wreck. Look out for the enormous Brindle Bass that could be hiding in the shadows of one the holds. And of course, keep an eye out for the sharks that often visit while you’re doing your decompression.
If the weather isn’t great for diving or if you just need to dry out your gills, there are a multitude of activities to keep you busy. Divers visiting South Africa will enjoy seeing the marine big five, but don’t forgot about the big five land animals. A trip to South Africa will not be complete without a visit to some of the best wildlife viewing the world has to offer. Many parts of the country have world-class lodges and camps nestled in the bush affording visitors an unforgettable wildlife experience.
The adventurous could go on hiking or mountain-biking trails, ziplining, bridge swinging or even river rafting. Those that prefer a slower pace can enjoy a round of golf at one of the many golf courses in the area.
Whether you are an entry level diver or an advanced technical rebreather diver, there is something for everyone and enough to see to keep you busy for weeks. South Africa is an incredibly diverse nation with so many attractions whether on land or underwater, that you are spoiled for choice. The hard part is deciding where you want to visit first.
Images: Kristof Goovaerts
Article by PJ Prinsloo – www.pjptech.co.za
Jeff chats to… Esther Jacobs from Fire Island Conservation in Mozambique (Watch Video)
In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Esther Jacobs from Fire Island Conservation – Mozambique.
Once ravaged by poachers, Ilha do Fogo is now the centre of conservation on the north-east coast of Mozambique. Soon, it will be opened up as an exclusive, luxury retreat, focused on scuba diving and eco-tourism. You can read our story on this HERE.
Find out more at www.fireislandconservation.com
Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.
Diving Mauritius in 2022
Mauritius, a dive destination in the heart of the Indian Ocean
Britain is, hopefully, winning the battle against COVID, and Mauritius is waiting with open arms to welcome divers from the UK to enjoy our magnificent Indian Ocean reefs. After the dramatic crash landing of the 300 metre bulk carrier ship Wakashio the island is fully restored to its pristine glory.
From the moment you arrive, you are among friends. English, French and Creole speaking, Mauritius has the best of many cultures. British, since from 1815 until 1965 Mauritius was administered by Britain, who took over from the French so the French flair and culture has remained, and the gentle influence of the dominant Hindu religion creates a harmony that makes it a wonderful, serene place to live. I wake up every morning to the scent of frangipanni outside my window, and walk down to the beach with my dogs, where we swim in the palm fringed lagoon. The air is clean and fragrant, with a whiff of cinnamon, a breath of curry and a hint of expensive sunblock.
You check in, and its time to explore. There is a wonderful site called https://bryandiscoversworld.com/blogs/ that will show you around Mauritius, so you can plan after diving activities.
Then its time to go to the dive centre, which is 800 metres from my house. We meet at 8.30, so I have plenty of time for breakfast. The dive centre is clean, well equipped and hospitable, with a coffee shop on the premises that serves food as well. Most diving centres in Mauritius are similar.
We are greeted at the front desk by a knowledgeable young woman who asks us to complete a qualification and health questionnaire. Mauritius diving centres like to be sure they provide the most appropriate service. If you travel alone and need a buddy, they will provide one. If you are nervous after a long break, they will gently assist you through a lagoon refresher session. If you want strong currents and drifts they will make sure these are part of the planning for your visit. Best of all, Mauritians love to dive, and it shows in their passion to show you their fabulous undersea world.
Diving in the North is year-round, with excellent visibility, plentiful variety and easy boat access. Many of the macro reefs are within five minutes from shore. But the best diving and most pristine reefs are to be found on the Norther off-shore islands. We dive with sharks in circling washing machine waters in cathedral- like hollowed out caves.
We dive on Djabeda, a coral encrusted wreck that was deliberately sunk and lies at 30 metres. Or the Silverstar, and advanced dive at 40 metres, where batfish shoals hang out.
We dive the spectacular drop offs on Coin de Mire Island, where sea fans and butterfly fishes abound. Rays and turtles, huge shoals of fusiliers, blue banded snappers and glow fish blend with white and yellow goatfish on many of the reefs.
We dive a reef 3 minutes from the dive centre where morays are plentiful, and there are at least 11 species on one of the reefs, some un-described. Look out for the beautiful lionfish and scorpionfish, there are some species here that are very rare indeed.
The West coast has an abundance of rays dolphins and whales, but care has to be take if you want to book diving there. The bulk of the Mauritius rivers drain into the ocean on the West coast and visibility can be poor to very poor.
The East and South coasts also offer excellent diving, but again, care has to be taken with booking dive packages as tide, wind and weather can be a prohibiting factor.
Most dive boats are comfortable, and all are registered and licensed with the Mauritian Tourism Authority, so there are few cowboys, and every dive centre must show its credentials on its walls.
This is the best time to book diving in Mauritius, where a wealthy First World environment meets Third World pricing for dives. The Mauritian diving industry is way behind the curve and has not yet registered that paying £150 for a 10-dive standard package is way lower than the norm for first class boat diving. Accommodation prices vary from £20 a night for a registered basic studio apartment, to £ 100 plus a night for 4- and 5-star resorts, all within easy distance of the dive centres. Its worth noting that apartments are booked by the room and can in some cases sleep up to 3 people.
You need a vaccination card, and a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before boarding. Flights are around 11 hours, and subsidized by the Mauritian government so shop around.
Words: Jill Holloway
Copyright Ocean Spirit Ltd
Images by Chris Sleap and Gunter Haag