Although the challenging conditions and cooler temperatures of South Africa’s east coast are a far cry from the white sands and bath-like seas of more popular scuba destinations, the coastline offers plenty of rewards for divers willing to take the plunge. Scuba diving in South Africa opens the door to some of the most uniquely exciting underwater experiences on the planet, from the tip of the Cape to the Mozambican border.
The waters around Cape Town and Gaansbai in the far south of the country are famous for one thing in particular- cage diving with great whites. Operators offer day trips to meet the ocean’s most feared and respected predator, and South Africa is the only place in the world where the sharks breach fully out of the water in pursuit of the area’s Cape fur seals. Cage diving is by no means the Cape’s only diving attraction- also unique to the area are beautiful kelp forests inhabited by seven-gill cow-sharks, catsharks and playful seal colonies.
From June to August, the Wild Coast town of Port St Johns becomes the base for witnessing one of the natural world’s most exciting phenomena, the Sardine Run. Great shoals of silvery baitfish migrate up a narrow corridor of cool inshore water, where they are harried and preyed upon by an incredible showcase of marine predators. These include pods of common and bottlenose dolphin in their thousands, numerous shark species, sailfish, flocks of seabirds and the enormous Bryde’s whale. Charters search the coastline for concentrations of activity known as bait-balls, and the resulting feeding frenzy is one of the ocean’s greatest spectacles.
Further up the coast, the sleepy town of Umkomaas provides access to a diver’s playground known as Aliwal Shoal. The Shoal is known for its baited shark dives, which attract tens of oceanic blacktips throughout the year and huge tiger sharks between December and April. Sharks are not the Shoal’s only draw, however- the reef is exceptionally productive and provides an opportunity to dive with turtles, several species of ray, sand-tiger sharks, big gamefish and seasonally, migrating humpback whales. The area is also home to two impressive wrecks, one of which has a resident population of brindle bass, the world’s largest reef-dwelling fish.
Just south of the border lies the beach town of Sodwana, where fair-weather divers can get their fill of warm sea temperatures and colorful soft coral. Visibility, surface conditions and reef topography have more in common with neighboring Mozambique than the rest of South Africa and provide a myriad of subjects for underwater photography. Big schools of jacks and snapper roam the beautiful reefs, and turtles, rays and countless species of reef fish are commonly spotted on dives. Sand-tiger sharks seasonally aggregate on Sodwana’s reefs and the area is home to a resident pod of friendly bottlenose dolphins.
With good roads and cheap public transport connecting the towns of South Africa’s eastern coast, it is feasible to incorporate several spots into one incredible diving holiday. Wherever you choose to go, you will find that the country truly does boast some of the most unforgettable diving imaginable.