As South Africa’s third largest city, Durban has a lot to offer, including beneath the waves. Surrounded on all sides by world class diving destinations, it more than manages to hold its own. Wrecks, reefs and abundant shark diving all mean that this is a diving holiday not to be missed.
Diving in Durban
Durban, found on the KwaZulu-Natal Region of South Africa’s east coast, is the third largest city in the country and offers some excellent diving nearby. Though the heavy boat traffic and slightly unpredictable conditions mean that the area doesn’t get as much thoroughfare as nearby destinations like Aliwal Shoal, it offers great diving nonetheless.
The area has several dive centres which are popular with dive courses, from beginner all the way up to professional - there aren’t any dive resorts to stay at as they are all located in the centre of Durban’s busy city centre. There are no liveaboards operating here due to the ocean conditions.
Some of the highlights to be found here are the variety of shark species. Many dive centres offer cage dives for the less experienced diver but most can be dived without a cage safely. There are wrecks, reefs and drift dives to explore and annual spectacles to witness - like Africa’s Sardine Run and the schools of ragged-tooth sharks during mating season.
Best time to dive
Diving in Durban is possible year round the conditions vary depending on the season. The warmest months, between November and February, have the hottest air and ocean temperatures - both in the high 20s. There is also increased rainfall during these months which can affect the visibility on the sites closer to shore as river runoff can muddy the waters.
During the drier, cooler winters the waters are usually clearer. The daily air temperatures have an average of around 21oC. The ocean temperature at this time can get down as low as 16oC which would necessitate at least a full 7mm wetsuit, if not a drysuit.
Types of diving
There are a mixture of dive sites found in Durban - many dives cannot be planned ahead due to the unpredictable weather, so you never know what you’ll get! There are reefs to suit all certification levels at varying depths and difficulties. Some of the most famous diving in the world is found nearby at the famous Sodwana Bay, Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks.
Shark diving is big business in this area and some companies offer cage dives which are in fact cage snorkels. Most scuba companies however, will safely take you out uncaged - these sharks are not known to attack divers. Baiting or not baiting the sharks is an ongoing debate.
Night diving is a possibility at some of these sites, some dive centres even advertise UV night diving. The UV torch illuminates the natural glow of many corals, sponges and creatures. A slightly odd dive which you can experience here is the chance to dive in an aquarium.
What to see
The tropical reefs of Durban are healthy and abundant. They host plentiful, colourful reef fish like butterfly fish, parrotfish, angelfish, groupers, coachmen, paperfish, lionfish and razorfish. They also have rarer species like pineapple fish, weedy scorpion fish and ornate sleeper rays. The macro life on the reef isn’t the best but there are enough shrimp and nudibranch to keep most macro photographers happy.
The sharks are a big draw in Durban and there are lots to see. Giant bull and tiger sharks are frequent visitors. School of ragged-tooth sharks migrate here annually during the winter months to breed. Blue sharks, guitar sharks, white tip and black tip sharks and hammerhead sharks have all been sighted here too.
Whale sharks migrate through the area yearly. Dolphins will often skim through the water alongside your boat, and they can be seen hunting at some sites, especially on the sardine run. Humpback whales can be seen (and heard!) during their spring migration to the south.
Best places to dive
Coopers Light Wreck lies in 32m of water and is an old iron steamship. It is home to lots of moray eels, shrimp and harlequin goldies. The Fontao is an artificial reef which is mostly destroyed, though you can still recognise the engine block and keel. There are lots of midwater fish, crayfish and reef fish. The maximum depth is 18m and the visibility isn’t great.
Outer Anchorage, or Number One Reef, has drop offs and potholes. It has sightings of copper and black tip sharks and schools of fish. Nearby is the Amphitheatre, which has lots of caves and overhangs where you can find ragged-tooth sharks. The Artillery Reef is so named due to the amount of ammunition shells which are visible on the ocean floor.
Blood Reef is a great spot for macro photographers - the ledges are coated in corals which hide frogfish, paperfish, nudibranch and crayfish.
Vetchie’s Pier is an artificial reef, abundant in eels and scorpion fish. It’s located in an area of heavy boat traffic and all divers should have an SMB and suitable experience.