If you order a soda in South Africa, it’s quite possible that the shop assistant will ask you where you’re from, how long you’ve been in Africa, how you’re getting on and, most likely, how you like the place. South Africans have worked hard to build their identity as the “rainbow nation”, and are genuinely earnest in their desire that visitors should have a good time. So, don't be surprised to be speaking with the locals after just a few minutes as if you’ve been friends with them for years!
Divers visiting South Africa are well served Just about 70 PADI Dive Centers and Resorts service divers visiting South Africa and are located at all the major dive areas.
With approximately 3000 kilometres/1865 miles of coastline – and the country’s position between two distinctly different oceans - there's a huge variety of diving on offer. From whale sharks to nudibranchs, gentle shore dives to pumping surf boat entries, gentle drift dives to adrenaline-pumping underwater time with sardine baitballs and Great Whites, South Africa has some of the most diverse - and best - diving around.
Positioned between 22 and 35 degrees of latitude South of the Equator, South Africa also has excellent year-round weather and a wealth of tradition, culture, scenic and wildlife experiences available topside. This ancient country is young-at-heart and it really does offer something for everyone. As an added bonus, you may be pleasantly surprised at the favorable exchange rates with many major currencies - meaning a visit to this truly exotic destination can be surprisingly affordable.
Plan your trip with a PADI Dive Shop or Resort in South Africa.
Tourism Areas and Diving
The extent of South Africa’s coastline (and multiple inland dive opportunities) means it is impossible to cover all of the available diving. But, here is a tantalizing overview:
- Cape Town - This southern area boasts dives with Cape Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillis pusillis), Broadnose sevengill sharks (Notorynchus cepedianus), numerous coldwater pelagic species, wrecks and reefs. Plus, of course, divers have the chance to dive off the southernmost tip of the African continent (as well as some world-class wineries as topside diversions!).
- Gansbaai - east of Cape Town, this area is world-famous for its shark whisperers and cage diving encounters with Great White Sharks.
- Mossel Bay, Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth - further east, this region offers shore boat dives on wrecks and reefs that are suitable for divers of all levels - including the challenging deep dives on the mysterious, unidentified wreck at Gunner’s Rock.
- Durban and Umkomaas - with limestone reefs, sandstone caves and the giant fossilized sand dune of Aliwal Shoal, wrecks and reef fish are the order of the day. But, there are also awesome encounters with sharks that include Bulls (Carcharhinus leucars - locally known as Zambezis), Sand Tigers (Carcharinus Taurus) - called Raggies by the locals) and Tigers (Galeocerdo cuvier).
- Sodwana Bay - approaching the Mozambique border, divers experience famous pumping surf entries and varied underwater wildlife, on which this Vacation Spotlight will focus.
PADI Dive Shops and Resorts
Find contact information for all the PADI Dive Shops and Resorts in South Africa.
Most Famous Dive Site
Sodwana Bay has one of the world's southernmost coral reef systems and it lies within the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. Sodwana – which means “little one on its own” in the local Zulu tongue – has more than 1200 identified fish species and stands up well among the world’s most attractive dive destinations. Apart from the abundant fish life, underwater photographers will marvel at the abundance of branching, table and plate corals, beautiful overhangs, dropoffs and mushroom rocks. All of this - along with spectacular night dives - mean Sodwana takes its “world-class” status very seriously.
Getting to the site
International visitors usually get to Sodwana Bay with a seven hour drive on the N12 from Johannesburg or the four hour drive on the N2 toll road from Durban. New tar roads are being laid in the area to make the final dirt road legs shorter and more comfortable. You can cut the drive a bit short by flying into the airport at Richards Bay and hiring a car for the final two hour leg. Many Sodwana accommodations will arrange airport pickups from the Richards Bay airport so it’s worth checking this option first.
For the truly adventurous, there is a grass airstrip Mbazwana, about 15 kilometres/9 miles Sodwana, that accommodates aircraft of up to about 12 seats and with minimal passenger luggage.
Once you get there, your adventure is just beginning as your dive trip to the reefs starts with one of the most exciting RIB drives in the world. Many have commented that the RIB ride through the surf would be an attraction in itself - even if there weren’t any diving to be had at the end of it! And, of course, there's always the trip back through the same surf at the end of the dive.
Depth : Dive sites generally range between 10-20 metres/33-66 feet of depth in the “2 mile” area, go beyond 30 metresm/100 feet at the spots further out at the “7 mile” and “9 mile” areas, while the “5 mile” reef system lies between 18-22 metres/60-72 feet. The names of these areas derive from the reef systems’ distance from the exciting Jesser Point launch site. Technical depths are also achievable, and the shallowest sighting of a Coelacanth took place here at depths of just over 100 metres/340 feet.
Visibility : Diver can generally expect excellent, clear and unpolluted seas that result in visibility of more than 20 metres/ 66 feet. Wind and currents, of course, can make visibility drop below these levels.
Currents : A predominant and noticeable current generally (it occasionally reverses) runs across the reef systems from North to South, so Sodwana dives are drift dives. PADI Dive Centers and Resorts operating in Sodwana all use highly experienced dive leaders who will pick appropriate sites on each dive day based on the conditions.
Water Temperature : 23°-28° C / 73°-82° F from March to April. It can drop to 20° C / 68° F in the winter months of August and September.
Dive Season : Year-round
Weather : 21-30o C / 70-83o F from October to February and 15-23o C / 59-73o F from March to September.
Access : Diving Sodwana Bay generally starts with an adrenaline-filled drive out through heavy swell or surf using powerful RIBs (piloted by very experienced drivers!). This method of getting to the site is just about as famous as the diving itself .
Skill level :
Drift Diver; Wreck Diver; Enriched Air Diver , Digital Underwater Photographer , Diver Propulsion Vehicle ; Technical Diving; AWARE - Fish Identification
All seasons: Temperate Scuba Equipment or Tropical scuba equipment in warmest months
Underwater Photography equipment
Diver Propulsion Vehicles
Length of stay :
This is definitely a "Big Game" spot. You can see Whale Sharks (from November to April), Mantas (occasional visitors from September to April) and even Humpback and Southern Right Whales (from May to November). But Sodwana also has a wide variety of nudibranchs, turtles (nesting from October to March, hatching December to April and generally swimming about all the time), various shark species (from blacktips to leopards), frogfish, kingfish, triggerfish and just about everything in between. Indeed, a camera is a must on just about every dive as there are nearly always some interesting subjects around. Check out the Gauteng Underwater Photography Society website to see what can be achieved at the annual photo shoot, hone your Fish ID skills and brush up on your underwater photography to bring home your own masterpiece.
The Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park became South Africa's first Natural World Heritage Site in 1999 and incorporates the Marine Reserves of St. Lucia and Maputaland, the Coastal Forest Reserve and Kosi Bay Nature Reserve. It is the country’s third largest national park and, with pristine coastline and magnificent scenery throughout its more than 3200 square kilometers / 1240 square mile area, provides opportunities to view at least three of the “Big 5” game sightings. The park is home to recovering elephant and white rhino populations as well as native buffalo herds and the roaming leopard. It also houses Africa’s largest hippopotamus populations and other iconic African species such as crocodiles, kudu, eland and zebra.
Its coastal forests, open estuaries and freshwater marshes provide a huge diversity of habitats and ecosystems. The area forms a transitional zone between Africa’s temperate and tropical flora and fauna – it even has a unique range of frog choruses! – all of which makes this an ideal place to study everything from reptiles to raptors to rodents. Or, you can just take a tour to enjoy the beauty and majesty of South Africa’s open spaces.
- Getting there: Nearly 70 international airlines, including the country’s own flag carrier South African Airways, fly into the three International hubs at Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
- Time Zone: South Africa is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean / Universal Standard Time and does not change time seasonally.
- Language: There are 11 official languages in South Africa has 11 official languages. English is, however, the unofficial primary language and Dutch speakers will recognize the Afrikaans dialect. For more information about South African languages, expressions and cultures, look at Hello South Africa, which holds translations of around 600 different useful phrases in each of the official South African languages.
- Visa requirements: the South Africa tourism website has the current Visa requirements.
- Currency: The Rand. Currency conversion rates can be found at www.expedia.co.uk, www.moneyextra.com/advice/touristrates or www.currate.com. You can exchange funds on arrival at the airport or at any bank branch during opening hours. ATMs are widely available in major urban areas and all major credit cards are accepted.
- Mobile Phones: An unlocked mobile phone with international roaming capability is useful as inexpensive SIM cards with local airtime are widely available. Rental phones are also available at major airports and can be hire when entering the country. The nationwide emergency number for ambulance services is 10177 and 10111 for Police (no area code is required).
- Tipping: Tipping is a common practice in South Africa and is usually around 10 percent in restaurants and bars. Hotel porters, car park attendants who specifically watch your car for you, or attendants filling your car and checking the oil and water can be tipped two to five Rand. Similar tips are also appropriate for taxi drivers, tour guides or any other locals providing you with a valuable service.
- Car Hire: Major international car hire companies are well represented at major hubs and urban centers. South Africa drives on the left and speed limits are in kilometres per hour. Excellent general advice on hiring and driving in South Africa can be found here.
- Other transportation: Buses, trains or internal flights are all reasonably priced and have their own advantages depending on how much time you have to look around the superb countryside. The South African government’s excellent website has more information at http://www.southafrica.info/travel/advice/buses.htm.
- Medical: South Africa has excellent modern medical care around all major urban centers and near game parks. Facilities are, however, limited in the outlying areas and the Sodwana area is a medium alert zone for Malaria. You can find further information on anti-Malarial precautions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/index.html. (Note for United States Citizens: the US Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company to confirm level and extent of cover prior to traveling abroad.
- Don’t Leave Home Without: Light, summer-weight clothes, something a little warmer for the cool evenings, insect repellent, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen. But don't worry, all are widely available in country if you forget anything!
Related Resources on South Africa
Submit a request to a Dive Travel Specialist
See a YouTube™ video of diving in and around Sodwana Bay and Umkomaas
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