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Diving in South Africa

In South Africa you can dive with tremendous sharks and explore astounding reefs. Extensive visibility paired with abundant marine life makes South Africa the place to be.

Diving in South Africa

Quick facts

Capping the southern tip of the sprawling continent of Africa is a diverse, multicultural nation with a 2735-kilometer/1700-mile coastline on two oceans. South Africa’s waters beckon scuba divers to enter its wild and wooly realm. The dive experience here is as varied as the people, running the gamut from big sharks to throngs of tiny sardines. You’ll find tropical reefs in the northeast and temperate rocky reefs in the west.

Some of the best diving here involves colder water, strong currents and launching from the surf – bring your appetite for adventure and reap the rewards of marine life encounters you’ll remember for a lifetime. Some of the very best dives in the world are found in South Africa. If you’ve ever been interested in diving with large creatures in epic seascapes, you’ve come to the right place. Off the coast of Gansbaai you have the opportunity to cage dive with massive great white sharks. In the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal you can enjoy warmer waters, coral reefs and, of course, lots of sharks.

Be prepared for a range of water temperatures during your dives. Water temperatures range from around 57°F to 80°F (14°C – 27°C) in various locations throughout the year.

Recommended training

Take the AWARE - Shark Conservation course to get the best out of your dives in South Africa. The PADI Enriched Air Diver and PADI Digital Underwater Photographer courses will help you prepare to capture great images and get the most out of your dives.

When to go

With a varied topography, South Africa has several climate zones that range from desert to subtropical. The Cape Town area has a Mediterranean-like climate with wet winters and hot, dry summers. Winter temperatures can get down near zero and summers can reach 30ºC/100ºF

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

  • The Northern Cape

    Vast and sparsely populated, Northern Cape welcomes visitors to South Africa’s frontier. The diving here is as wild as the landscape and features one of the deepest cave dives in the world.

  • The North-West of South Africa

    While South Africa may be surrounded by oceans, some of its most exciting diving occurs inland. In the North-West Province, training opportunities abound in sink holes, lakes and former mines.

  • Sodwana Bay (KwaZulu Natal)

    With 83% of the world’s marine fish families, an alluring mix of shipwrecks, reefs and pelagic species, and one of the top five dive sites in the world, KwaZulu-Natal is a diver’s paradise.

  • The Western Cape

    South Africa’s Western Cape is as thrilling as it comes. Dive into heavy currents with giant sharks in the southwest. Or enjoy a little less danger in the calm and colorful reefs of the south coast.

Cathedral (Aliwal)

Ave 19m, Max 27m.

Cathedral is one of the most popular dive sites on Aliwal Shoal, known for the haven of ragged tooth sharks during the mating season. It's a large amphitheater structure with entrance either via the large front archway, through the roof or a swim through. A visually stunning rock formation leads to a crater like centre forming an enclosed area that shelters from the currents and surges. Also look out for various other attractions such as cuttlefish, moray eels and other special critters that your dive master will show you.


7 Mile Reef (Sodwana Bay) Northern Wall to Mushroom Rocks

Ave: 16m, Max: 22m

With the number of fish species, spectacular drop offs and coral formations, 7 Mile is not to be missed, and should be listed as one of the world's top dive sites. What makes this reef so popular is its variety, including Blacktip Reef Sharks, schools of pelagic fish, huge moray eels and plenty of turtles. Even Black Marlin have been known to visit this beautiful reef. The ride out is often interspersed with sightings of Bottlenose and Spinner Dolphins, Whalesharks and Humpback Whales, depending on the season.


Smitswinkel Bay - False Bay - Cape Town

Ranging from 22m to 36m

Located on the East side of the Cape Peninsula Smitswinkel Bay is home to five of Cape Town's best wreck dives. These wrecks form an artificial reef offering advanced divers to explore a diverse range of wrecks. For the tech diving community there is also the opportunity to explore all five wrecks in one dive, known as the Smits swim.


Riy Banks: (Port Elizabeth) - Eastern Cape

Ranging from15m-30m+

Comprises of an extensive reef system situated 20km from Hobie Beach. Due its location, one is never sure of the conditions, however we often experience excellent visibility making for a spectacular dive. The long boat trip out to this dive site is also often rewarded by penguin, dolphin and whale sightings. Known for its magnificent walls, vibrant reef and schools of game fish. A must for the adventurous diver.


Groot Bank (Plettenberg Bay)- Eastern Cape

Ranging from 20m - 30m

If you get the right diving conditions this can be the most spectacular dive and make the long boat trip worthwhile. An extensive reef with numerous caves, swim throughs and drop offs rich in marine life and soft corals. Ragged-tooth sharks are often sighted here including numerous different fish species.


Protea Banks - The Southern Pinnacles (Shelly Beach) - Kwa-Zulu Natal

Depth ranging from 26m to 40m

The Southern Pinnacles of Protea Banks are dived mainly in the warmer months. This site is home to the Bull (Zambezi) shark which brings a great deal of notoriety to this world-renowned dive location. Other sharks frequenting the Southern Pinnacles include hammerhead, oceanic blacktip and dusky sharks. For the fortunate few there is even the possibility of seeing tiger sharks. Giant sandsharks are often seen on Sandshark Gully numbering up to about 50 at a time. A variety of rays and potato bass are seen on a regular basis and game fish love to shoal on the Southern Pinnacles.


The Sardine Run

The world-famous Sardine Run typically takes place each year between May and July, when billions of sardinops sagax spawn off Agulhas Bank then high-tail it up the eastern seaboard. Naturally, this convoy attracts predators looking to satiate their appetites. The numbers vary, but try to wrap your mind around a cloud of sardines up to 6.5 kilometres/4.0 miles long by 1.6 kilometres/1 mile wide by 30 meters/100 feet deep, closely trailed by sharks, dolphin and other pelagic species. It's a major spectacle and perhaps one of the planet's greatest dives.

What to see

South Africa is an epic destination if you are interested in diving with large creatures and sharks in particular. During the sardine run, hundreds of sharks hone in on the school, ­including Zambezis, coppers, hammerheads and even great whites. In addition during this time, you can see dolphin, tuna, and even humpback whales feeding as well. If you head to South Africa outside of the sardine run season, off the coast of Gansbaai you will get a chance to cage diving with great whites year-round. Furthermore, the variety of marine life on the reefs is astounding, so be sure to take a closer look as well.

Calendar

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Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

Country

Officially the Republic of South Africa, this nation lies at the tip of the continent of Africa. Because of its location, South Africa has always held a place of importance in the global community. In the 1400’s, making it around the Cape of Good Hope from Europe to Asia was an incredible feat.

Between Table Mountain and the beautiful beaches you can find the capital city of Cape Town. Much of the history of the country is held in this beautiful and diverse city.

South Africa has a troubled past, but the nation has made huge leaps and bounds with the help of the former president, Nelson Mandela. The country’s struggle with apartheid has brought everyone in the nation closer together, as a rule, though tensions can still run high.

Other attractions

South Africa is an expansive and diverse country, so be sure to explore inland from the coastline. There are mountains to be climbed via epic switch-backing roads, and gorgeous rivers that cut through rugged landscapes. Indulge in the fantastic cuisine, and don’t miss out on Cape Town, with its colonial architecture and endless opportunities for discovery.

Getting there

You can arrive in South Africa by air or by land. Most divers enter the country via Cape Town International Airport, but Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is also a major international hub. There are taxis scattered across the country, and an extensive bus system. Or, you can rent a 4x4 and really get to exploring.

UTC+02:00

Time zone

ZAR

Currency

27

Calling code

230 V

Electric volt

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D, 

M, 

N

Plug type

CPT

Main airport
Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.