Diving in South Africa: Top Scuba Diving Spots

South Africa is one of the top scuba destinations in the world, blessed with a number of extremely diverse diving sites.

This is due to two different currents running along its east and west coastlines. The colder Benguela current flows north from the South Atlantic up and along the West Coast of the country. Whereas the Mozambique current starts in the Indian Ocean near the Equator, bringing with it warm tropical waters to the coast of Kwa-Zulu/Natal and further south.

These two diverse currents lead to a number of unique scuba spots located throughout the country.

Sodwana Bay

One of the premier dive sites in South Africa, Sodwana Bay is situated 500 kilometres north of Durban in Kwa-Zulu/Natal.

The bay itself is blessed with very warm waters and temperatures that range between 22 C in winter to 27 C in summer. It also receives extremely good weather all year round. The best conditions, however, are between April - September when visibility is anything from 10m to 40m.

Sodwana Diving

Sodwana has over 50 kilometres of reefs to explore, each with their own attractions such as caves, blowholes, overhangs as well as alleys. These are situated at various depths from 10m, making them accessible to beginners. In fact this tranquil bay is the perfect place for beginner scuba divers to make their first open sea dive.

The reefs themselves appear all over the bay. They receive their names in accordance with their relative distance to Jesser Point, a landmark in the area. These reefs are Quarter Mile, Two Mile, Five Mile, Seven Mile and Nine Mile. Most dive charters take place at the Two Mile reef. This is the most popular dive site in Sodwana.

The bay contains 95 different species of coral as well as 1200 species of sea-going mammals, crustaceans as well as fish. Expect to see manta rays, humpback whales, dolphins, leatherback turtles, whale sharks, ragged-tooth sharks, bass, grouper, snapper, paper fish, pipe fish and seahorses. Stringer Reef provides the most diverse diving experience in terms of species encountered. This bay is also home to the fabled coelacanths, but at depths well beyond regular divers.

Gansbaai

Situated 163 kilometres from Cape Town, Gansbaai presents divers with a unique opportunity to view the apex predator of the deep, the Great White Shark. Of course, all this takes place while in the safety of a steel cage, allowing divers to see this majestic animal in its natural habitat.

Gansbaai, in fact, was the first place where "breaching" was observed, a technique employed by Great Whites where they lay in wait on the ocean floor, attacking any seals above them. This often results in their whole body leaving the water in their capture attempts.

Gansbaai Cage Shark Diving

Tours set out early in the morning. Once the diving area has been reached, a special formula “chumming” mix is thrown overboard to attract the sharks. As soon as they arrive, everything swings into action. The cage is lowered into the water. At this point, divers are allowed to enter. The shark cage is submerged just below the water line. Chunks of fish are fed to the sharks, right in the vicinity of the cage, leading to an incredible spectacle often lasting for close to an hour. This process of feeding the sharks is not practiced by all operators.

You probably want to know the best thing about this whole experience? You do not need any prior diving knowledge or skill to be able to dive with these Great Whites! For those not brave enough to enter the tank, the sharks can clearly be seen from the safety of the deck.

Click here for more information on shark cage opportunities in Gansbaai.

Cape Town

With many wrecks, reefs, forests of kelp and gardens of coral, Cape Town is an excellent diving destination. Although always still fiercely debated, all indications are that the warm Mozambique and colder Benguela current meet around the Cape Point area. This leads to a large difference in fish species found on the West Coast compared to the False Bay region even though they are only separated by a few kilometres.

A word of warning, the Cape Peninsula is not called the “Cape of Storms” for trivial reasons. Pay attention to both the prevailing as well as forecast weather conditions, especially during winter.

Top Wreck Dives

The waters in Cape Town are littered with shipwrecks of all kinds, lost to the storms over centuries. Some of the more popular wrecks are:

Ark rock barge: A good beginner's wreck dive at a maximum depth of 11m. Divers can enter the wreck, exploring the main hold as well as other areas.

Brunswick: Lost in 1805, this wreck is home to many sea creatures, although the wreck itself is rotting away, totally overgrown with kelp.

SAS Good Hope: A man-made reef of five scuttled ships in Smitswinkel Bay.

Lusitania: One of the most popular wreck dives in Cape Town, this is only for experienced divers. Expect depths approaching 40 metres.

Seven Gill Cowshark

Many wrecks can be found both close to shore as well as in deeper waters. Trips to these wrecks are offered by Pisces Divers, a local diving operator.

West Coast/Atlantic Reef Diving

With water temperatures of between 10 - 13 °C, diving on the West Coast is not for the faint hearted. Those divers that take up the challenge will not be disappointed however. On a good day, visibility can be up to 20m but on average it is approximately 10m.

Popular dives are:

Seal island: The perfect place to watch seals frolicking near their home. This dive takes place in 5m of water.

Tafelberg Reef: A massive 600m reef off Hout Bay, Tafelberg is still not completely explored. Expect to dive at depths of between 10m - 30m.

Di's Cracks: A reef comprising many hidden caves together with a large amount of fish activity. This dive is only for advanced divers.

A large number of species can be seen in the waters along the West Coast including seals, dolphins, cob, yellowtail, kabeljou and rays. Kelp forests coupled with various colourful corals provide some amazing underwater scenes. The West Coast should be dived during October to February. Don't forget your thick wetsuit to insulate against the cold.

Cape Scuba

False Bay Reef Diving

Temperatures range between 13 - 18 °C on the False Bay coast, thanks to the influence of the Mozambique current as it ends its journey from the equator. Visibility on this coastline is not as clear as on the West Coast. Here, maximum visibility is up to 15m, but on average, it is normally only 6m.

False Bay has a number of reefs to explore:

Pie Rock Reef: A newly discovered reef, Pie Rock has many smallish caverns to explore as well as tall walls and pinnacles. This area is teeming with marine life.

Roman Rock Lighthouse: One of the best known nautical landmarks in Cape Town, the lighthouse at Roman Rock features some excellent spots. Reefs are found on either side of the lighthouse itself while a large cave is located further to the north. Expect to see many crustaceans, reef fish or the occasional seal in waters from 5m to 20m deep.

Pyramid Rock: An excellent dive for beginners, Pyramid rock has a number of overhangs, swim troughs as well as a small kelp forest.

False Bay is filled with all kinds of marine life with fish such as red roman, stump nose or hottentot. Some areas contain rays, sharks as well as seals, while many crustaceans can be found along the sea bed or in cracks in reefs, including the fabled crayfish, a delicacy in Cape Town.