Scuba Diving in South Africa.
With its diverse marine life, range of habitats from coral reefs to kelp forests, well-preserved wrecks and annual marine phenomena such as the Sardine Run and chokka spawning, South Africa has some of the most spectacular diving in the world. The country is rightly proud of having some of the best shark diving on the planet – people travel from the other side of the globe to get in a cage and ogle a great white – but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. In my privileged position as former editor of southern Africa’s premier dive magazine, Divestyle, I’ve travelled far and wide, and I’ve never found anywhere with the sheer variety of dive experiences that South Africa has to offer.
With 2,800km of coastline South Africa boasts an astonishingly diverse range of sea worlds. There are the southern temperate waters of the Northern and Western Cape, where most marine animals are endemic to southern Africa, the south coast reefs where animals are an intriguing mix of tropical and temperate species and, on the Mozambique border, the tropical shores of northern KwaZulu-Natal, which share much of their marine life with the abundant animals of the Indo-Pacific Ocean.
Sodwana Bay, in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site, which also boasts magnificent topside game viewing) is renowned for its magnificent coral reefs - the most southerly coral reefs in the world – which teem with tropical fish. Some 100 species of hard and soft corals and over 1200 fish species make for diverse and colourful diving. Whale sharks are often seen and between May and December pregnant ragged-tooth sharks congregate on one of the shallow dive sites so even complete novices can sit on the sand watching these incredible animals cruising overhead. Appropriately qualified technical divers also have the unique opportunity to dive the deep canyons in search of coelacanths.
There are sharks of all shapes and hues, particularly around Aliwal Shoal, the main hotspot off the southern KwaZulu-Natal coast; and magnificent wrecks, kelp diving and tiny critters in the freezing waters of the Cape.
While most diving is from inflatable boats, there’s also good shore diving (and snorkelling) so this is a cheap, fun option if you own or want to rent gear and go unguided. A well-regulated industry ensures that there are reliable dive operators offering good value dive charters and a range of courses as well as gear hire and airfills (generally including nitrox).
On a good day the South African waters offer scuba diving that is as good as any dive destination in the world. And if you don’t fancy the open water, there are always the magnificent aquariums – the Two Oceans Aquarium and uShaka Marine World - where you can enjoy marine life in nice, warm, confined conditions.
By, Fiona McIntosh