Dive Sites in Kwazulu Natal
The inventor of scuba diving in the 1940’s, Jacques Cousteau, after years of exploring the planet’s best reefs, listed Aliwal Shoal as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. And indeed it is … An MPA (Marine Protected Area), Aliwal Shoal has spectacular biodiversity of marine life. Situated 4km offshore of Umkomaas (30km south of Durban on the South African Kwazulu Natal coastline), the reef boasts an array of pelagic and reef fish, dolphins, whales, potato bass, whale sharks, mantas, devil rays, eagle rays, stingrays, turtles (hawksbill, green, loggerhead), moray eels, guitarfish, ragged-tooth sharks, white-tip reef sharks, huge schools of snapper, batfish, pipefish, pineapplefish, frogfish, nudibranchs, soft corals, anemones, feather stars … the list is endless. You will never get bored diving this reef, 3km long and half a km wide, it’s a fascinating, colourful trail of walls, swimthroughs, potholes, amphitheatres and even a cathedral! We are very privileged to have such an AWESOME dive location only a half hour drive (40km south) from Durban.
Every June/July we are fortunate to experience the largest animal migration on the planet – the “sardine run”. Gazillions of sardines make their annual migration from the cold Cape waters up to the warm KZN coastline, followed by every conceivable marine predator (dolphins, whales, sharks, gamefish) and hungry sea birds – most notably the Cape Gannet which dives down 20m to gobble up sardines.Two fantastic wrecks lie off the reef, namely the “Produce” and the “Nebo”. The Produce sits at 30m, sunk in 1974, and hosts a dramatic array of colourful fish and corals. This wreck is home to a family of brindle bass, a giant (500kg!) grouper. The Nebo sits at 24m, sunk in 1884, and inhabited by huge schools of baitfish, eels, guitarfish, rays and catfish.
CLICK on an image below for photos and a diving-related Aliwal Shoal weather forecast:
At Aliwal Shoal we also do baited shark dives, a km or two off the reef. These are not for the faint hearted – we dive with scores of blacktip, dusky, bull and tiger sharks – in their natural environment (no cage). This is a thrilling, and deeply educational experience. Our culture has created a multitude of false myths about sharks. Discover the truth about these apex predators, in a SAFE and exciting dive experience. The water temperature ranges from 19–26 degrees. Depth is from 8m to 30m. The current is often strong, following the direction of the reef. Visibility is unpredictable, ranging from 5m to 30m, averaging about 15m.
The southern sites follow a reef off the Durban Bluff called Blood Reef (named after the long-abandoned whaling station). Blood Reef has Durban’s best marine variety, and ranges in depth from 10m to 23m. Colourful soft corals, sponges and purple seaweeds abound. The reef has many swimthroughs, caves and potholes. Marine life includes turtles, eels, frogfish, paperfish, pineapplefish, catfish, nudibranch, crayfish, lionfish, and many passing pelagics. The sandy areas off the reef have many pipefish and rays. Just a bit further south is Coopers wreck, Durban’s best wreck dive, absolutely crammed with marine life.
Out towards the continental shelf, the large reef is called "No. 1", mostly at around 30m, with beautiful ledges. Here we see the larger pelagic fish such as kingfish and sharks, and also daga salmon, ragged tooth sharks and the usual reef fish. No. 1 has the Hawthorne wreck (22m) boasting pinky grunter, harlequin goldies, diamond rays and moray eels.
CLICK on an image below for photos, a Durban beachfront live webcam, and a diving-related Durban weather forecast:
A nice feature of Durban diving is the ability to dive from the shore. Vetch’s reef (5m) and the wreck of the Odd (7m) are both easily swum to from the shoreline. Boat launches are from the beach next to the harbour entrance. The sea temperature ranges from 18 to 26 degrees, and visibility anything from 3m to 30m.
Sodwana bay, 350km north of Durban, is famed for being the most southerly coral reef in the world. The corals are indeed spectacular, with striking colours, shapes and textures. A marine protected area, Sodwana has 5 well known dive sites: Quarter Mile, Two Mile, Five Mile, Seven Mile and Nine Mile. The waters are calm, warm (20-28 degrees) and excellent for both beginner and experienced divers. Visibility is usually fantastic (10-50m), and currents are mild.
Sodwana is a fun town to visit. It has a couple of decent restaurants and bars, yet is sufficiently off the beaten track to make for an authentic rustic holiday. Accommodation options range from tented camps to small chalets to upmarket rental houses. The town is a few km inland from the sea, as the coastal area is protected, and one needs to pay an entrance fee to gain access to the park.
The marine life is mostly tropical, with some overlap from colder water species. Sodwana Bay is home to 1200 recorded species of fish, 95 species of coral, with a large number endemic to the area. Also impressive are the sponges and invertebrates. This is a truly magical dive destination.
With Sodwana’s conditions as they are, it is an awesome location for learning to dive (easy, safe diving), for underwater photography (such beautiful colours and visibility), and for marine ecology courses (such as ‘Fish-ID’ on the Advanced Open Water course).