KwaZulu-Natal is steadily building a reputation as one of the world’s top diving destinations with some sites being regularly voted among the Top Ten dive sites in the world.
The Elephant Coast in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park stretching north of St Lucia to the border with Mozambique has some of the most pristine coral reefs in Africa with long stretches of white-sand beaches fringed with coastal forest growing on 25,000 year-old sand dunes.
Due to the Mozambique (Agulhas) current, the average water temperature here is 26.5C, ideal for sharks, whales, whale sharks, dolphins, manta and eagle rays. The area is also home to loggerhead and leatherback turtles who lay their eggs on the beaches here every November.
Coral reefs in excellent condition attract a wide range of fish species and the Oceanographic Research Institute based at Durban’s uShaka Marine World has also created three artificial reefs. Top dives include Sheffield Reef, Tiffany’s Reef, Big Bream Reef and Lemonfish Reef.
Top Dive Sites:
Sodwana Bay & Rocktail Bay
Both in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the Elephant Coast, Sodwana Bay & Rocktail Bay are both considered to be among the world’s top dive sites. The reefs here are home to up to 100 species of hard and soft coral and more than 1200 species of fish including whales, manta rays, giant moray eels, colour-changing octopuses, squid, bottle-nosed dolphins, sharks, whalesharks, huge potato bass and both leatherback and loggerhead turtles.
The topography of the reefs are spectacular and include platforms, pinnacles, gullies, buttresses, caves and blow holes interspersed with patches of white coral sand. Reef depths vary from a few metres to over 30 metres and visibility can be anywhere between 10 and 40 metres with the best visibility during the winter months from April to September. Temperatures are usually between 24C and 28C degrees.
Protea Banks Shark Diving
A 90-minute drive south of Durban and 8kms offshore from Shelly Beach just south of Shepstone on the south coast, Protea Banks is widely considered to be among the best shark diving sites in the world.
The reef itself is an old fossilised sand dune with depths ranging from eight metres to 40 metres in an area about 4kms wide. Zambezi (Bull Shark), Tiger, Hammerhead, Blacktip, Ragged-Tooth, Bronze Whaler and, if you are lucky, Great White sharks can all be seen.
Shark diving is very different to the more ‘cosy’ experience of reef diving and most dive operators insist on a PADI Advanced Diver qualification or more than 50 logged dives. The Protea Banks also often have a current of between 4 to 5 knots.
Five kms offshore from uMkhomazi, a 30-minute drive south of Durban on the South Coast, the spectacular reef ranges in depth from five metres to 30 metres. Regular sightings include dolphins, manta rays, hump-backed whales and ragged tooth sharks during their winter migration between July and November. The best visibility is usually from May to September.
Find out more about activities in KwaZulu-Natal