South Africa Diving
South Africa’s perfect mix of temperate and warm waters offers everything from great white and tiger shark dives, whale sharks, mantas and sailfish to one of the deepest caves on Earth. Discover an array of whale watching opportunities, the world famous sardine run and reefs that will leave you speechless.
Gauteng Province, located in the very heart of South Africa, may not be the first choice for many diving holidays due to its landlocked status. Despite this, the warm weather and several pleasantly clear lakes nearby make this an excellent inland dive destination.
KwaZulu-Natal Province has everything you could possibly wish for from a dive destination. With miles and miles of stunning coastline and several resort towns like Sodwana Bay, all divers will be satisfied with their stay here. The chance to encounter pelagics like humpback whales and witness the world famous sardine run are just the icing on the cake.
The Western Cape region of South Africa has varied and exhilarating diving. For the adrenalin junkies, there is cage diving with great white sharks, and for slightly less heart racing dives, there are calm, beautiful reefs. This stunning area of the world has diving to suit everyone.
Diving in South Africa
When you think “diving in South Africa”, the amazing sardine run and great white shark diving most likely come to mind. While these are definitely some of the highlights of scuba diving in South Africa, there’s so much more to discover. With over 2735km (1700 miles) of coastline that stretched from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, there’s an underwater world of adventure to explore in this vast country. Diving is not only limited to the ocean, as there are some opportunities for divers inland too. As the country is so large, the conditions and temperatures vary depending on where you dive. Nonetheless, South Africa offers fantastic diving all year round.
There are many dive centers in South Africa to choose from, and a few dive resorts and liveaboards as well. Most diving is done by boat, but there are some shore diving possibilities too.
As for dive courses, all dive centers offer a range of training, from beginner level up to advanced and specialties. Those wishing to take their open water certification will find Sodwana Bay a great place to do so. Divers wanting to experience cold water diving or take dry suits specialities will find better opportunities along the East Cape.
Best time to dive
South Africa is a year-round dive destination. Though conditions and temperatures vary depending on the area. The climate varies from Mediterranean in the southwest, temperate in the interior, and subtropical in the northeast. Parts of the northwest have desert climate, but overall, most of South Africa experiences warm sunny days and cooler nights.
For diving, the Kwa-Zulu Natal province usually has good conditions year round, particularly at Sodwana Bay. East Cape and Atlantic coast experience colder seas and rougher weather, therefore the summer time is better for diving there.
It’s widely considered that March to April is the best time to dive, as the ocean temperatures reach 30°C (86°F). In the winter, water temperatures can drop to 20°C (68°F), which may mean thicker wetsuits or drysuits are required for some divers.
If you want to see specific creatures when diving, there are certain times of the year to dive in South Africa. For great white sharks and other shark species, May to October is the best time. For whales, such as humpbacks, August to October is when to go. The best time to see whale sharks is on the west coast in January, and to experience the epic sardine run, visit between May and July.
Types of diving
South Africa offers all kinds of diving, including reef diving, wrecks, caves and drift diving, all via boat or shore. There’s truly something for everyone to experience.
Northern Cape boasts amazing topography and one of the deepest cave dives on earth, while Sodwana Bay in Kwazulu Natal province boasts exceptionally beautiful reef dives, alluring shipwrecks and an array of pelagic diving. The south coast similarly offers calm and colorful reefs.
There are many drift diving opportunities too, with strong currents serving as a highway for traveling pelagics. South Africa’s Western Cape offers diving with sharks in strong currents.
What to see
South Africa’s vastness makes diving incredibly diverse. From great whites, tiger sharks, whalesharks, mantas, dolphins and turtles, to schooling fish, sardines, colorful reef fish and tiny macro life like nudibranchs, the entire coastline benefits from species that live in the tropical Pacific seas, and species that are found in the Mediterranean.
The east coast of South Africa is warmed by the Mozambique current which nourishes thousands of species of coral, fish and water mammals. The west side is colder, and offers mesmerising kelp forest dives, especially near Cape Town.
On the Indian Ocean side, divers can spot lots of life, including reef fish, dolphins, sailfish, whale sharks, ragged tooth sharks, manta rays, turtles, humpback whales. Two, Five, Seven and Nine Mile Reefs are great dive sites to encounter these creatures.
Gansbaai area offers great white shark cage diving, started offering cage diving with the sharks. Mossel Bay, between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, also offer cage diving with great whites, and the best time to do so is during winter.
Cage dive with ancient cow sharks at Seal Island in False Bay. These are the most ancient sharks still alive today and are incredible to dive with. As well as sharks, the waters around the island host numerous whales each winter, including humpbacks, Bryde’s and Southern Right whales, and megapods of common dolphins and two famous orcas Port and Starboard. All of which you can see from dive or whale watching boats, or watch from shore.
Best places to dive
South of Durban near the town of Umkomaas, is one of the top dive spots on Earth. Located in the protected reserve of Kwazulu Natal, it’s famed for its shark diving, including hammerheads, tiger and ragged-tooths. There are also a number of wrecks to check out here.
The very famous annual Sardine Run occurs between May and July, when billions of sardines travel from the cold west to the warmer waters in the east. Essentially it’s a moving buffet for hungry sharks, dolphins and other pelagic species that turn up to feed on these large numbers. The best place to witness the spectacle is south of Durban, at Protea Banks, at around 7.5km (4.5 miles) out to sea off Shelley Beach. It’s one of the greatest experiences on earth for any diver, and shouldn’t be missed.
Just off Cape Town around False Bay you can explore the kelp forests and dive or snorkel with sea lions. Watch broadnose seven gill sharks among many other species. Simon’s Town, south of Cape Town on the Cape Peninsula offers trips offshore to dive with blue and mako sharks.
Gansbaai, a small resort town, is home to some of the best great white shark cage diving on Earth, and should definitely be on your to-do list when traveling to South Africa.
7 Mile at Sodwana Bay is popular thanks to colorful fish, huge eels, rays, turtles, reef sharks, and mantas. Dolphins, whalesharks and humpback whales can be sighted depending on the season.
Lastly, the colder dive sites of Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay not only boast vibrant reefs and a plethora of colorful marine life, there are also plenty of encrusted wrecks to explore that house huge numbers of fish. Notably, the Haerlem Wreck is an exciting dive and should definitely be on your bucket list.