Did you know?
Aliwal Shoal was rated one of the world's top 10 dive sites by the legendary Jacques Cousteau.
Diving in South Africa includes the renowned Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks dive sites – highly rated for the opportunities they afford intrepid scuba explorers as well as their abundant marine life.
Both sites are located just off South Africa's South Coast in KwaZulu-Natal, and both are suitable for novice and experienced divers, offering lots of gripping underwater adventure for the dive enthusiast.
Aliwal Shoal is a 1.5-kilometre long, 1 kilometre wide and 37 metre deep fossilised sand dune, comprising corals and sea sponges, off the coast of Umkomaas. A hidden hindrance to passing ships, the shoal claimed the British steamer Nebo in 1884 and the Norwegian tanker Produce almost a century later. The 2 wrecks rest 30m down on the ocean's floor, attracting a variety of reef fish and large shoals of salmon and brindle bass.
Undoubtedly the stars of Aliwal Shoal are its ragged tooth sharks. Fondly called 'raggies', the sharks migrate northwards along the coast between July and November, affording divers the most spectacular interactions with these animals. The shoal's Raggies Cave is also a magnet for the sharks and can be safely explored.
Protea Banks, further down the coast just off-shore of Shelly Beach, is equally renowned for its resident sharks, which include Tiger, Bull, Hammerhead and Reef Sharks along with many raggies, and its beautiful rays, including Sting, Marble and Giant Manta Rays, which glide silently around the tropical reef.
Not to be missed is the Sardine Run – an annual sardine migration that sweeps across the KwaZulu-Natal coast, attracting masses of sharks and dolphins. Thrilling dives at Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks with the millions of sardines, and the predators they bring with them, are available between June and July.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
Fly from any of South Africa’s major cities to Durban International Airport. If you’re driving, from Johannesburg take the N3 motorway direct to Durban. From Cape Town, take the N2 motorway to Durban. From Durban, travel south on the N2 motorway to Umkomaas to access Aliwal Shoal, and to Shelly Beach to access Protea Banks.
Best time to visit
The South Coast is an all-year-round destination due to its tropical climate. Diving conditions are almost always good – the water temperature rarely dips below 20 degrees Celsius – with March to July offering arguably the best conditions. Visit between July and November for raggie season and June and July for the Sardine Run.
What to pack
If you have your own diving gear the bring it along as it will cut down on hiring costs. What you forget at home, or don't have, can be hired at any number of diving shops and operators along the South Coast. And always remember to pack plenty of sunscreen.
What to eat
Fresh seafood and Portuguese-inspired cuisine at the Umtamvuna Portuguese Carnival in July.
The annual charity event, Bullslingers Tube Race, on the Umzimkulu River in February; South Coast Air Show at Margate in March; Sardine Mountain Bike Classic at Port Edward in June; Umtamvuna Portuguese Carnival at Port Edward in July. The Sardine Run is a natural phenomenon, so always check with local tour operators when and where it's likely to occur.