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The Best of South Africa's Epic Scuba Diving

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The epic 2,735km (1,700-mile) coastline of South Africa borders two oceans – the wild southern reaches of the Atlantic and the milder waters of the southern Indian Ocean. As such, there is an incredibly diverse array of diving to be found around the country, from the rocky Aliwal Shoal and coral reefs of the KwaZulu Natal national park, to the great white sharks and whales of Gansbaai - and, of course, the world-famous sardine run - there is plenty for all types of diver to enjoy. Above the surface, visitors can enjoy the big city hustle-and-bustle of Durban or enjoy the charms of Cape Town with its spectacular backdrop of Table Mountain, or head off-road for a wildlife safari in Kruger National park and the flavoursome delights of the Winelands region. 

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KWAZULU-NATAL

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Durban's iconic Uhmlanga Pier at sunset

The coastline of KwaZulu-Natal province is the most northerly of South Africa's border with the Indian Ocean. Just south of the tropic of Capricorn, the waters off KwaZulu-Natal are warm - varying between approximately 20-28°C depending on the season and location - and teeming with rich marine life. The beaches are recognised as some of the best in the world, and the region is also home to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, the last refuge of the white rhino. Direct Flights to Durban's King Shaka International are available from most of Europe

Aliwal Shoal

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Blacktip sharks are present in numbers at the thrilling Aliwal Shoal

High-energy shark diving is what Aliwal Shoal is all about. Some 60km south of Durban is Umkomaas, the staging post for trips to the rocky shoal around 3km out to sea. Bull sharks, hammerheads, tiger sharks, blacktips and sand tiger sharks (or 'raggies' as they are known locally) are all frequently encountered around Aliwal Shoal, along with a huge variety of other aquatic animals including rays, turtles, dolphins and whales. As well as the large and exciting marine life, there are three wrecks around the shoal - the 1884 wreck of the British steamer SS Nebo and the 1974 wreck of the MV Produce are well within recreational depths and the 55m deep 1970 wreck of the Griqualand can be enjoyed by techies. Diving is best enjoyed over the southern summer but sea conditions can be quite exciting so some experience is required before visiting.

When to go: January to May, August to December
Suitable for: Experienced divers, minimum AOW
Dive Worldwide itinerary: 9 days from £1,675 - www.diveworldwide.com/group-tours/sharkweek-diving-adventure

Sodwana Bay

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The coral reefs of sub-tropical Kwazulu-Natal are filled with familiar Indo-Pacific species

355km north of Durban is Sodwana Bay, located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of iSimangaliso Wetland Park and home to the world's most southerly coral reef formation. Diving is available year-round, often with clear visibility and calm sea conditions. Although there is an almost ever-present current, there are easy drift dives suitable for novices as well as more challenging drifts for advanced divers. The rich and unspoilt reefs are home to at least 1,200 species of fish and 100 different species of coral, populated by the typical denizens of the Indo-Pacific. Large pelagics are frequent visitors, with whale sharks, ragged-tooth (aka sand tiger or grey nurse) sharks commonly spotted during the summer months of December to February, migrating humpback whales pass through the area between July and October.

When to go: Anytime, but December to February is best
Suitable for: Beginner to Advanced
Dive Worldwide itinerary: Speak to a Dive Worldwide Consultant about planning a tailor-made itinerary to South Africa www.diveworldwide.com/discover/south-africa#contact

The Sardine Run

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The sardine run is an impressive site but the presence of many predators is what makes it so thrilling

Every year, sometime between May and July, several billion sardines decide to swim north along the eastern coast of KwaZulu-Natal. The sight of a 6km-long cloud of fish all glinting in the light is impressive by itself, but what drives divers to this giant baitball are the hordes of predators that come to feast on the tiny fish. A variety of shark species, dolphins, tuna and sailfish compete for their food, with seals, whales and sometimes orcas joining the party. This is high-intensity diving of the highest order - some say it's the most thrilling dive experience that it's possible to have. The sardine run is unpredictable, however, and is constantly on the move, so exactly where and when it might be encountered cannot be guaranteed. Late June is generally considered the best time for a chance to witness the action, but you'll need to spend a lot of time out at sea hoping for the action to arrive - one diving day is simply not enough!

When to go: Late June/early July 
Suitable for: All levels (some people just snorkel) but some experience is preferable- you need to have your wits about you!
Dive Worldwide itinerary: 11 days from £2,695 per person - www.diveworldwide.com/group-tours/sardine-run-adventure

 


 

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WESTERN CAPE

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Cape Town with Table Mountain in the background at sunset

From the northeastern coast of KwaZulu-Natal to the southwestern shores of the Western Cape province brings a dramatic change in scenery, climate and diving. Western Cape's west coast borders around 450km of the southern Atlantic Ocean, and another 450km of South Africa's south coast, including Cape Agulhas, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans officially meet. Much of Western Cape diving is based around the beautiful, modern and multicultural city of Cape Town, with its dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain. Situated at the top of the long peninsula known as the Cape of Good Hope, divers can explore the peninsula's Atlantic side and False Bay, which lies in between the Cape and mainland South Africa. Gone are the tropical reefs of subtropical KwaZulu-Natal but in their place is an underwater world no less rich in diversity and habitat - rugged rocky reefs and forests of giant kelp, filled with critters both big and small.

Atlantic Coast

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Cape fur seals are friendly and inquisitive animals and can be dived and snorkelled with at Duiker Island

The Atlantic side of the Cape peninsular is wilder, colder and more prone to challenging sea conditions that comparatively sheltered waters of False Bay, but still offers divers of all levels of experience plenty to see. Duiker - or Seal - Island, for example, is surrounded by shallow, rocky waters filled with kelp and inquisitive seals, and conditions are easy for both novice divers and snorkellers alike. There are plenty of wrecks around the Cape, from historical to relatively recent. The SS Clan Stewart, for example, ran aground in 1914 and lies in just 10m of depth, and can be accessed from shore by divers of any level. The popular SAS Pietermaritzburg, a former British Second World War vessel was sunk as an artificial reef in 1994 but requires some experience to dive, as do the wrecks of Smitzwinkel Bay - of which there are five - that can be seen in a single dive, conditions depending. Those who prefer colourful coral dives will enjoy sites such as The Steps, Coral Gardens and Stonehenge.

When to go: Year-round diving is possible but October - March is generally preferred 
Suitable for: Conditions can be tough at times, but all levels can be catered for
Dive Worldwide itinerary: Speak to a Dive Worldwide Consultant about planning a tailor-made itinerary to South Africa www.diveworldwide.com/discover/south-africa#contact

False Bay

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The seven-gilled 'cow shark' is often encountered among the kelp forests of False Bay

With warmer water and less current than the Atlantic coast, False Bay is the most popular dive location from Cape Town. A mixture of rocky sea beds and sandy bottoms, False Bay is diveable year-round thanks to the Cape's protection, however, visibility can be poor and with the water temperature averaging between around 12 and 18°C  over the year, thicker wetsuits or drysuits are the order of the day. Giant kelp forests provide shelter to inquisitive Cape fur seals and the enigmatic seven-gill 'cow' shark with its Mona Lisa-esque smile.  Much of the diving is suitable for beginners, and a lot of diving is conducted from the shore, for those not partial to boats. Nudibranch lovers (who isn't?) will love diving in False Bay, and there are plenty of fish and several varieties of rays commonly spotted in the area.

When to go: Year-round
Suitable for: Conditions vary greatly depending on location, but all levels can be catered for.
Dive Worldwide itinerary: 10 days from £1,995pp - www.diveworldwide.com/trip-ideas/cape-town-extravaganza1

Gansbaai's Great Whites

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Gansbaai is one of the world's hotspots for great white shark encounters

One of the most popular of South Africa's marine encounters is the possibility of coming face-to-face with one of the world's most unjustly feared predators, the great white shark. They are present throughout the waters of Western Cape with one of the most popular locations being Gansbaai, approximately two hours' drive from Cape Town. Trips often include a tour of nearby Dyer Island, home to colonies of African penguins and Cape fur seals - one of the reasons the area is so popular with the sharks. Dolphins, whales and sometimes orcas can also be spotted from the boat. Great whites are a protected species in South Africa and some of the cage diving operators - such as Marine Dynamics - are heavily involved in the conservation of the sharks, with trips including the presence of a marine biologist on board to supervise and record data from the experience. Great white trips are also available in False Bay and further along the coast at Mössel Bay, heading towards Port Elizabeth.

When to go: Year-round but March-September for best water visibility.
Suitable for: Anybody - you don't need to be a certified diver to get in the cage and you can observe from the boat if you prefer.
Dive Worldwide itinerary: Speak to a Dive Worldwide Consultant about planning a tailor-made itinerary to South Africa www.diveworldwide.com/discover/south-africa#contact

 

ABOVE THE WATERLINE

There are plenty of places to visit, natural and historical, in South Africa. Here's just a few of the best.

Culture - The Winelands

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Heading inland from Cape Town to the Boland region, visitors can explore South Africa's famous wine-making country, with plenty of tasting tours available in some stunning locations, surrounded by the majestic Stellenbosch and Franschhoek mountain ranges. It doesn't all have to be wine and cheese and fine dining, however, as the natural beauty of the area is particularly appealing for hiking and especially biking. The Dwars River Escape Route is a mountain bike trail specially designed to explore natural, historic and cultural attractions of the region.

Dive Worldwide itinerary: 10 days from £1,995pp - www.diveworldwide.com/trip-ideas/cape-town-extravaganza1

History - Robben Island

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There is much to be explored of South Africa's history and cultural heritage, but one of the most significant is the relatively recent abolition of the country's brutal apartheid regime. Just off the coast of Cape Town is the World Heritage site of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Organised tours to the island take in the museum of the Nelson Mandela Gateway before taking the 45-minute crossing to the island. One of the most humbling experiences of the tour is that some of the guides are ex-prisoners, whose stories are first-hand accounts of the conditions they suffered. The tour is popular so advanced booking is recommended - as are sea-sickness pills for the sometimes lumpy crossing.

Dive Worldwide itinerary: 10 days from £1,995pp - www.diveworldwide.com/trip-ideas/cape-town-extravaganza1

Safari - Kruger National Park

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Located inland from KwaZulu-Natal, Kruger National Park was established in 1924 (previously Sabi Game Reserve from 1898) to control hunting and protect the dwindling populations of some of the wildlife. One of the largest reserves in the world, it is managed for conservation and is credited with having saved the black rhino from extinction, although it remains critically endangered. Parts of the Park are open to safari tours where visitors have the chance to see lions, cheetah, rhinos, elephants, hippos, giraffes and crocodiles - and many more species of mammals, birds and wide range of flora. With spectacular diving available in KwaZulu-Natal and nearby Mozambique, travellers can leave having seen some of the biggest and most spectacular species that exist both above and below the water.

Dive Worldwide itinerary: 13 days from £3,795pp - www.diveworldwide.com/trip-ideas/kruger-safari-mozambique-diving

Feeling inspired? The team at Dive Worldwide can create tailor-made holidays for the discerning traveller to take in a range of the available options - speak to a member of the Dive Worldwide team today to get planning your South Africa diving adventure! Click the banner below, give the team a call on +44 (0)1962­ 302087, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or use the contact form at www.diveworldwide.com/discover/south-africa#contact


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