Diving in South Africa – Essential Guide To Scuba Diving In South Africa

diving in south africa
Featherbed lagoon, Knysna, South Africa, Featherbed Nature Reserve

Now that tourists have upgraded to adventurers and thrill-seekers, they’re on the lookout for picturesque locations that are perfect for activities like diving.

So when you’re thinking of planning your next adventure where you can bask in nature’s beauty, what comes to mind?

There are a million possibilities, but here’s some inspiration – how does diving in South Africa sound?

The Coastal Bioregions

The marine bioregions are the main areas of interest for recreational divers because of their accessibility and shallow waters.

Namaqua

With a cool temperate climate, this area extends from Namibia’s Sylvia Hill all the way to Cape Columbine. Here, the colder Benguela Current has a significant impact on the climate. Its important characteristics include nutrient-dense water and upwelling.

South-Western Cape

From Cape Columbine onwards till Cape Point, you have the South-western Cape Bioregion, which is also significantly affected by the colder currents. The difference between this bioregion and the previous is clearly indicated through features like seaweed communities.

Towards the south-eastern edge, it becomes clearer that the bioregion breaks off at Cape Point because of aspects like inshore depth range.

Agulhas Bioregion

From the Cape Point onwards, you have the Agulhas bioregion which extends till the Mbashe River and features a warm temperate climate. In this case, the river acts as a boundary between the Agulhas region and Natal, which has a subtropical climate. The bioregion acts as a home for the Chokka squid’s spawning that takes place annually.

Subtropical Natal

Starting at the Mbashe River, the Natal bioregion with its subtropical climate extends to Cape Vidal. Much of this area is the product of riverine input. Nonetheless, significant influence is the Agulhas Current.

In this area, there are fewer reef habitats, with some of the major reef-laden areas being Protea Banks and Aliwal Shoal. Here, rocky reef communities differ from those present towards the north; mainly because the number of corals reduces as turbidity increases in the south.

In the subtropical Natal bioregion, divers can see plenty of soft corals. A signature feature of the area is the annual sardine run towards the south.

Tropical Delagoa

Onwards from the subtropical bioregion starts the tropical Delagoa bioregion, which extends from the Cape Vidal and ends northward into Mozambique. In this bioregion, you can observe a change of marine life, such as patterns of mangrove and seagrass distribution. There’s even a unique range of cetacean and tropical seabird species.

The Best Dive Locations In South Africa

Here are some of the best diving spots you can visit.

Avalanche Reef in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

Avalanche is located near Noordhoek, Port Elizabeth. As a popular diving spot, it includes various crevices. The reef is approximately 150 to 200 meters long and as deep as 17 and 28 meters.

It features a plethora of different fish species, of which the most favored is a Horsefish, which the locals named Horace. Usually, this type of fish lives in colder and deeper waters, except for these few. You’ll find plenty of reef fish in this diving spot, such as Jan Bruin, Bronze Breams, and Red Romans.

Some of the other intriguing species you’ll find along the reef are the Elegant Feather Star, Mauve False Plum Anemone, Orange Ghost Nudibranch, Chocolate-chip Droid, and numerous distinct sponges and corals. The area is also known to have frequent visits from sharks, which makes it an interesting dive site.

Temperatures in the water at Port Elizabeth are colder so it’s best if you bring along a dry suit. It’ll help you stay comfortable while you explore the marine life around you.

The Sardine Run at Protea Banks in Shelly Beach, KwaZulu Natal

The annual ‘Sardine Run’ is famous throughout the world for being an amazing spectacle that shows various aspects of nature. It starts at Protea Banks, which lies towards the north of Port Elizabeth.

The Sardine Run takes place during the hotter months of June and July. Enormous schools of sardines migrate from the Cape’s colder waters towards Kwazulu Natal’s warmer waters so they can give birth.

During this fantastic display, it’s as if the ocean comes alive because numerous predators like dolphins and sharks run after the sardines in an attempt to satisfy their appetites.

You’ll get a chance to see the exciting view at a depth of around 5 to 7 meters while numerous species surround you.

At Protea Banks, you’ll also get the chance to make some advanced dives, if you’re up for the challenge. Dive along with a variety of sharks such as bullsharks, hammerheads, and tiger sharks. But remember, you’ll need to be an advanced certified diver for this diving experience.

Shark Alley in Aliwal Shoal, KwaZulu Natal

Positioned 50km south of the Kwazulu Natal coast called Aliwal Shoal is the dive site Shark Alley, also known as Raggie Cave. As one of the top ten diving spots in the world, Shark Alley comprises a sandstone reef that’s approximately 80,000 years old.

Throughout the year, Shark Alley promises to show a variety of different species. For instance, you’ll see Ragged Tooth sharks from June till November. On the other hand, the warmer months welcome species like Hammerheads and tiger sharks.

Once you leave the river mouth, you’ll travel to the reef in a rigid inflatable boat. After a 20-minute ride, you can expect depths of around 6 to 18 meters. During the summer, water temperatures are above 24°C but don’t go below 19°C in the winter. Winter is the best time for diving since the waters are warmer and divers can see the sharks being more active.

Underwater, visibility levels can range between 5 to 40 meters at different depths. The dives will be cage-less so you’ll get a chance to observe the sharks in their natural habitat.

Uniforms in Sodwana Bay, KwaZulu Natal

Uniforms, a popular diving site, are part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and known for having a diverse community of coral reefs. Compared to other sites in Sodwana Bay, Uniforms isn’t as risky for a dive and is around 45 meters long.

According to visitors and guides, the ideal time for diving here is from April to September, despite the water being at immensely low temperatures, because you get to see more coral activity. Of course, if you’d much rather prefer the warmer waters of December and January; you’re free to make a visit for a dive. This also provides quite the experience, since you’ll get the opportunity to see the turtles when they are about to lay eggs.

Once you’re a few meters deep, you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking coral and species such as the yellowtail goldie, purple butterfly fish, and tiger angelfish.

Storms River Mouth in Mossel Bay, Garden Route

Mossel Bay is home to one of the mildest climates in the world, which makes it a great diving spot for thrill-seekers and recreational divers alike. On one hand, you can go shark cage diving to see Great White sharks feeding. On the other hand, Storms River Mouth is an amazing diving site that’s home to big fish and beautiful reefs.

If you dive by the shore, you’ll get a maximum depth of 12 meters, making it suitable for beginners who want to experience the sights underwater. Expect to see species like blacktails, red Romans, sandsharks, nudibranchs, sea anemones, and most importantly, soft corals.

The drop off at the dive site is low-risk, so there are also possibilities to engage in night diving, which, just by the name, sounds like a new experience altogether. Mossel Bay is part of the Garden Route, the 300km stretch of South Africa’s south-western coast, and delivers divers with a variety of different adventures.

Hot Spot in Sodwana Bay, KwaZulu Natal

dive in south africa

Located in Sodwana Bay, Hotspot has an average depth of 25 meters, which makes it the ideal diving spot for highly-qualified and advanced divers. Near the center of the ledge, you might get the chance to see the rare Longnose Hawkfish that’s sometimes seen on the Black Tree Coral.

Just off the ledge, you can see plenty of Lionfish from a pinnacle, while numerous Butterflyfish will surround you in the water. During your dive, you’ll also see species like the golden moray eel, mantas rays, paperfish, and whip coral gobies salt.

Once you arrive, make sure to take your time exploring the various diving sites near the area so you can take advantage of what it can offer. Sodwana Bay has plenty of pinnacles, caves, and spaces that are well-known for being frequented by sharks.

When there are strong currents, guides would recommend opting for a negative entry from the boat.

Haerlem Wreck in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

This unique dive site reaches greater depths of around 18 to 21 meters. Located in Port Elizabeth’s cooler waters, the Haerlem Wreck is the result of a navy frigate that was scuttled in 1987 to create an artificial reef.

Set at 21 meters beneath the water, the frigate has various crevices and holes for you to explore. It’s likely that you’ll come across species of soft coral, fish, and even a few shy sharks.

Paquita Wreck in Knysna Heads, Garden Route

The Paquita Wreck, an exciting wreck diving spot, is located in a small town on the Garden Route, Knysna. With depths of up to 20 meters, you’ll enter an underwater wonderland, surrounded by coral reefs, steenbras, and seahorses.

The Paquita ran ashore in 1903. Originally a 460-ton German vessel that struck the Knysna Heads while en route to Barbados, it’s now home to a variety of species like blacktails and nudibranchs. Experienced divers can go to greater depths to see the ship’s iron plates accentuated with brightly colored corals. In fact, its anchors are still visible, too.

Since the wreck is located at the core of an enormous lagoon, it’s crucial that you time your dive. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the tide tables so you know which time is best to dive. Nonetheless, a common dive plan for this spot is to drift dive by starting in the channel at least one hour before the tides change.

Clifton Rock in Cape Town

Around 100 meters off the southwest shore of Cape Town, Clifton Rock is a diving spot located in the Atlantic Ocean. Compared to the other diving spots and their thrill-inducing recreational activities like shark cage diving, Clifton Rock offers a much more mellow experience. Nonetheless, it’s still rated as a popular diving spot because of the social atmosphere.

Clifton Rock covers a massive area that includes many boulders, which create crevices for marine life to hide and swim through, such as crayfish, soft sponges, starfish, and nudibranchs.

It’s a relaxed place with an independent approach to diving, which makes it perfect as an introductory spot for beginners. In addition to diving, you can also spend time with friends on the beach, engaging in other activities such as sunbathing.

A Frame in Simons Town, Cape Town

‘A’ Frame comprises three different dive shores and is situated 5km south of Simons Town. One of the shore dives is also called ‘A Frame’ because of the entrance that features a small A-shaped cave. It’s much easier to enter this dive site as compared to the rest, and it also has a minimal depth of around 10 meters.

You can slowly move from the white beach towards the water, making the spot great for a dive at nighttime. This dive spot has plenty to offer; you’ll get to see a few non-aggressive sharks, such as dogfish and sharks, various kinds of rays, seals, lobsters, and pipefish.

Wrapping Up

So what do you guys think of the list?

South Africa offers a wonderful experience to anyone who enjoys water sports, but it’s essential that you know the exact spots to visit. Now that we’ve compiled all the best places for you, are there any diving spots you want to visit with your friends?

Let us know in the comments and share this article with your travel buddies to plan your next adventure!

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