If you’re looking for the best diving in South Africa then look no further than Aliwal Shoal, one of the top 10 dive spots in the world as rated by Jacques Cousteau. If you’d like a quick overview of this world class location then check out the first in our Adventure Bucket series, great adventures in 300 words! Aliwal shoal has a special place in our hearts here at MC Adventure Blog because it is where we both started as divers. We subsequently did our advanced course in Bali which was beyond amazing, but South Africa is still our home.
One of Monique’s first experiences was diving with dozens of Raggies (ragged tooth sharks) during their mating season and on my first dive I saw the elusive pineapple fish and had a pod of dolphins play around us for the whole 3 minutes of our safety stop. Aliwal shoal is a truly incredible place to dive, the reason why we rate it as the best diving in South Africa.
The best diving in South Africa, what to see at Aliwal Shoal
The shoal is considered a paradise for shark diving where you have the chance to encounter ragged tooth sharks, black tip reef sharks, tiger sharks, dusky sharks, hammerheads and even whale sharks. This is one of the many reasons why Aliwal shoal is considered home of the best diving in South Africa. Most of these species are rated as vulnerable by the IUCN so it is worth trying to get a dive with them when you can! Monique managed to dive during the mating season of the Raggies and they were out in numbers. Raggies don’t eat during mating season so if you’re concerned about diving with sharks this is the best time to go, even though there have been no reported shark attacks on divers at Aliwal shoal.
Along with sharks there is a large host of marine life that you can encounter at the shoal. One of my favourites is dolphins. Flying through in large pods they will often get really curious about divers hanging around their safety stop. Humpback whales, manta rays, sting rays, moray eels, turtles, nudibranchs and many other reef species of fish are also readily available.
Like all wild animals there can be no guarantee that you will encounter any of them on your dives. Most dive centres will offer baited shark dives but we would rather not encourage those for ethical and environmental reasons. Research the dates for when the animal you’d like to see is most common and try your luck, even if you don’t see it you should still have a great dive on Aliwal shoal.
Popular dive sites on the shoal
There are numerous possible dive sites on Aliwal shoal and more to still be discovered and explored. On one of our last trips our skipper noticed a slice of reef that wasn’t documented yet so on the way back divers who still had some air went to scout it out.
Cathedral, the Pinnacles, the North Sands, Raggie Cave and Tiger Alley are all very popular sites to dive but diving on Aliwal shoal is not limited to only reef diving, there are also 2 wrecks that you can choose to dive, 2 more reasons why it is the best diving in South Africa!
The Nebo is a 2,000 ton steam ship that sank in 1884 just north of Aliwal shoal. The ship was on her way from Sunderland to Durban carrying the Amanzimtoti railway bridge when it is believed to have capsized from the weight and rough rough seas. The Nebo now lies upside down 28m below the surface.
The Produce is a 15,000 ton Norwegian bulk carrier that ripped open her hull on the Northern Pinnacles on August 11, 1974. One of the long-time divers at Scuba Xcursion actually saw the Produce sink. The bridge of the vessel is around 12m deep with the ship lying in a sand bank approximately 35m deep. Its rusted framework is now home to a huge variety of marine life and makes for great diving.
The Geography of Aliwal Shoal
Aliwal shoal is about 5km off the South Coast of South Africa in Umkomaas, KwaZulu Natal. The shoal lies on the inner edge of the Mozambique current so in summer the water is usually around a toasty 24ºC and in winter it doesn’t really drop below 19ºC. The dive sites range from around 12m to 42m deep so divers of any qualification can enjoy the best diving in South Africa.
The South Coast of South Africa is well known for its white, sandy beaches and warm sea water all year round. Even a winter holiday at the beach can be spent sunbathing and swimming in the amazing water. Another perk that makes Aliwal the best diving in South Africa is that you can spend your days switching between exploring the subterranean world and soaking up the sun and warmth on some of the best beaches in the world.
How to experience the best diving in South Africa
We have one go-to dive centre in South Africa, ScubaXcursion. ScubaXcursion was founded in 2009 and is a registered SSI Instructor Training Centre. The centre is situated 20m away from Scottburgh beach, one of the top tourist beaches, and right next to the Cutty Sark hotel.
ScubaXcursion offers a full set of services including dive charters to Aliwal shoal and surrounding areas, full kit rental, dive training through the SSI program and equipment sales. There is also a shuttle service to fetch divers from hotels around Durban and from King Shaka International Airport. The rates for a 10 dive package come to about $350 (R4000) and full kit rental is around $20 (R280).
The main reason that I will always return to ScubaXcursion is the amazing professionalism they maintain, while still being incredibly warm and welcoming. It had been 4 years since I last dived there and Monique and I were welcomed back like old friends. We never felt out of place or like an outsider. We were also suffering from incredible jet lag and Maaike, one of the owners, was supportive and caring, ensuring we were okay even if we bailed on the dive. Emails are also promptly replied to and any queries are answered clearly. Not only does Aliwal shoal offer the best diving in South Africa but ScubaXcursion offers some of the best service.
Just a quick note, the Aliwal shoal is a Marine Protected area in South Africa which means you need a permit to dive there. They are easy enough to get at any post office around the country but you can also talk to your dive centre to help arrange one for you.
Why you should be scuba diving
Scuba diving is a fantastic way to explore a part of the world that relatively very few people ever get to see. Words cannot describe how incredible it is to swim among the life of the underwater world. Scuba may not have the same adrenaline inducing impact as something like skydiving (I also really encourage everyone to try skydiving at least once) but a lot of my top experiences in life have been underwater. I wrote an article a while back about what it was like to swim with manta rays. Scuba diving can also be used to treat anxiety!
All my photos and videos are taken on my GoPro Hero 6. If you’re looking into buying a GoPro have a look at this article on the best accessories for a traveller. The colour correction is done using Dive+, you can also read this article about the best free apps for photo editing.
What are you waiting for?
If you live in South Africa and you love adventure then there is no reason to hesitate in taking a short trip down to the beautiful South Coast and diving in one of the best dive sites in the world. If you’re not qualified then sign up for a course through ScubaXcursion, you won’t regret it.
If you’re not from South Africa then make plans for that African trip you keep talking about but never get around to. Sunny beaches, warm ocean water and the best diving in South Africa, what more could you ask for?
70% of the world is covered in water, make sure you experience all of it! To quote ScubaXcursion:
No words can truly describe or justify the life changing encounters that these dives have to offer,
you simply have to come and experience it for yourself.
Happy travels and blue skies
Pin to share the adventures!