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South Africa Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving in South Africa

by Nick Lucey 


Courtesy Adventure's EdgeCapping the southern tip of the sprawling continent of Africa is a diverse, multicultural nation with a 2735-kilometer/1700-mile coastline on two oceans. South Africa’s waters beckon divers to enter its wild and wooly realm. The dive experience here is as varied as its people – running the gamut from big sharks to throngs of tiny sardines. You’ll find tropical reefs in the northeast and temperate rocky reefs in the west. Generally speaking, it’s not for the faint of heart — some of the best diving here involves colder water, strong currents and launching from the surf — bring your appetite for adventure.   


The Sardine Run 
The world-famous sardine run typically takes place each year between May and July - South Africa's winter - when billions of Sardinops sagax spawn off Agulhas Bank, then high-tail it up the eastern seaboard. Naturally, this convoy attracts predators looking to satiate their appetites. The numbers vary, but try to wrap your mind around a cloud of sardines up to 6.5 kilometres/4.0 miles long by 1.6 kilometres/1.0 mile wide by 30 meters/100 feet deep, closely trailed by sharks, dolphin and other pelagic species. It’s a spectacle and perhaps one of the planet’s greatest dives.

Sodwana Bay  
In the extreme northeast just below the border with Mozambique, Sodwana Bay is one of South Africa’s most popular dive areas. The protected marine and coastal reserve is suited to just about all skill levels and offers a variety of reefs, depths and tropical marine life — including soft corals, turtles, morays, stingrays, guitarfish, whitetip reef sharks and more.

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Aliwal Shoal  
Just south of Durban lies one of South Africa’s newest marine protected areas — Aliwal Shoal. The area is called Umkomanzi, which translated from Zulu means “watering place of the whales”. Aliwal, named for a ship that wrecked here in the 1800s, is perhaps best known for its ragged-tooth shark encounters, which happen at Raggie’s Cove and Cathedral from June through November. Expect to see dozens of the sharks on a single dive.

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Protea Banks 
About 160 kilometres/100 miles south of Durban is some of South Africa’s best shark and game fish diving. Dive charters make a beeline for Southern and Northern Pinnacles, where divers will find Zambezi sharks in the summer months, along with clouds of hammerhead, guitar, copper, blacktip, tiger and ragged-tooth sharks. Game fish include bass, kingfish, tuna, snappers and barracuda. This is some serious big animal action.

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False Bay 
False Bay is just south of Cape Town on South Africa’s extreme southwestern tip. Relatively speaking, the water here is warmer than the nearby Atlantic coastline and in it you’ll find kelp forests, rocky walls and sandy bottoms. Inhabitants include by Cape fur seals, leopard cat sharks, puffadder shysharks, as well as red and orange sea fans, feather stars and nudibranchs.

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Ponta Do Ouro 
While it's not really in South Africa, a trip to Ponta Do Ouro is definitely worth crossing the border into Mozambique. The hard and soft coral reefs play background to potato bass, rock cod, puffer fish, octopus, turtles and several varieties of rays.

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Mossel Bay
Mossel Bay is a small harbor town in the heart of South Africa's Garden Route with six main dive sites that range from shallow (about 7 metres/23 feet) to deep (30 metres/100 feet). Water temperatures average 16° C/61° F in winter to 26° C/79° F in summer. Although visibility ranges from 4-20 metres/12-65 feet year-round, the best time to dive here is from November through April. Mossel Bay is also one of South Africa's best places to spot great white sharks.

Santos Reef Courtesy of Adventure's EdgeSantos Reef:
Santos beach, in the northern corner of Mossel Bay, is home to a small, well-sheltered reef that is perfect for novice divers and diver training. With the local harbor protecting the reef against incoming swell, divers are free to experience marine life that includes sting rays, cuttlefish and a variety of local reef species. Visibility is generally good during the summer months but can be low as one metre/three feet during the winter.

Maximum Depth: 7 metres/23 feet
Dive Entry Type: Shore
Water Environment Type: Ocean
Salinity: Salt water
Primary Bottom Type: Rock, reef and sand

Fan Garden Courtesy of Adventure's EdgeMitch Reef:
Whether taken on from the shore or by boat, his reef trumps all others when it comes to an abundance of life and color. With a maximum depth of 8 metres/26 feet and good visibility during the summer months, this reef is usually a hit with underwater photographers.

Maximum Depth: 8 meters/26 feet
Dive Entry Type: Shore or boat
Water Environment Type: Ocean
Salinity: Salt water
Primary Bottom Type: Rock reef and boulders

Fan Garden:
A short boat ride from the launch site and just off shore is reef known for big sea fans, sponges and false corals. Summer brings an abundance of life, ranging from the smallest reef fish to large stingrays. A maximum depth of 18 metres/60 feet results in generous bottom times and fairly good light penetration.

Maximum Depth: 18 metres/60 feet
Dive Entry Type: Boat
Water Environment Type: Ocean
Salinity: Salt water
Primary Bottom Type: Rock reef, sand and boulders

Innerpool Courtesy of Adventure's EdgeInnerpool:
Around Mossel Bay's point is a surf spot called Innerpool. While it offers some of the area's best waves, you'll find divers flocking to it when the surf allows. The entry and exit require a bit of patience and render the site most suitable for advanced divers, but when you enter the water you'll immediately understand why everyone raves about this place. When the surf is calm, good visibility is nearly guaranteed and divers can spot creatures ranging from nudibranchs to dolphin or sharks. In addition to the sea life, the tidal movement in the area rubs rocks together, resulting in some interesting formations. Maximum depth depends on how far seaward you move, but most stay in the 10 metre/ 33 foot range.

Maximum Depth: 10 meters/33 feet
Dive Entry Type: Shore
Water Environment Type: Ocean
Salinity: Salt water
Primary Bottom Type: Rock reef and boulders 

Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort in Mossel Bay  



Depth: Vary by destination but ranges from shallow and easy to deep and technical. Courtesy African Dive Adventures Protea Banks

Visibility: Can vary quite a bit but is generally good at major dive destinations.

Currents: Range from minimal to severe off some of South Africa’s Indian Ocean beaches.

Water Temperature: Averages range from 27° C/80° F at Sodwana down to 14° C/57° F at False Bay

Dive Season: You'll need to go from May to July for the sardine run and June through November for the best diving at Aliwal Shoal. Sodwana is a year-round destination.

Weather: With a varied topography, South Africa has several climate zones that range from desert to subtropical. The Cape Town area has a Mediterranean-like climate with wet winters and hot, dry summers. Winter temperatures can get down near zero and summers can reach 30º C/100º F.

Skill Level: Novice through advanced divers will find great dive experiences in South Africa.

Featured Creatures: Sharks, sharks and more sharks. You'll see Sardines in season and the garden variety Indo-Pacific tropical reef fish in the northeast and temperate critters in the southwest.

Scuba Gear: Most dive centers and resorts rent gear, but it’s always good to pack your own mask, fins, snorkel and regulator. This way, you'll be ready to snorkel at any time, in any place.

Access: Several international air carriers from around the world service Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Major Airports: Most divers enter the country via Cape Town International Airport (CPT) but OR Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg is also a major international hub.

Transportation: South Africa has an efficient domestic air network, which makes getting around easy. You can also hire a car and driving is on the left.  

Length of Stay: It’s a vast country with plenty to do so and, for most points of origin, can take a while to get there. With that in mind, you'll want to devote more than a week to soak it all in.

Language: There are 11 official spoken languages in South Africa, including Afrikaans and Zulu, but 60 percent of the country’s population understands English.

Currency: South African Rand (ZAR).

Documents: A passport is required, but citizens of many countries can stay for up to 90 days without applying for a visa. See the South Africa Department of Home Affairs Immigration Services Page for details.

Religion: Predominantly Christian.

Electricity: 220-230V/50HZ (although 250V is found in some areas) and you’ll need a 15 amp, three prong Type M plug.

Airport Entry/Exit Fees: None.

For more information, go to the South African Tourism web site.

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