Umkomaas Diving

Umkomaas is a quiet coastal town in the KwaZulu-Natal Region of South Africa and it is famous for its diving. Aliwal Shoal located off its shores has some of the most diverse marine life in the world. It has plenty to keep all levels of divers happy, including lots of sharks, reef life and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Africa’s famous Sardine Run. 


Diving in Umkomaas

Umkomaas is a quiet town on the tropical coastline of KwaZulu-Natal in eastern South Africa. The reason that this town is known to divers is the fantastic Aliwal Shoal that’s located a few kilometres offshore. The reef is volcanic in formation and boasts many varieties of fish and shark species. 

There are lots of dive centres in this small town and many of them offer dive courses from beginner right up to professional levels. It is important to bear in mind that many of the most famous dive sites are not suitable for beginner divers. Dive resorts also offer dive and stay deals which can prove economical. Umkomaas is not a liveaboard destination as the sea conditions can be rough. 

Not only does Umkomaas diving offer fantastic reefs to explore, but there are also two wrecks - The Produce and Nebo. The Sardine Run is on the bucket list of many hardcore divers and it is possible to see it off the coast of Umkomaas, if the timing is right.

Best time to dive

Diving in Umkomaas is possible year round due to the warm, tropical climate though it is more popular in the summer months between November and February. The air and water temperatures are at their warmest, mostly in the high 20s. Though there is more rainfall, mostly in the form of short, sharp downpours. Tiger sharks and hammerheads are seen more frequently at this time. 

The winter months are cooler, with water temperatures dropping to 16oC, but it does offer the chance to see ragged-tooth sharks congregating in huge numbers on the shoal to mate. This is also the quieter time of the year so it is possible that the rates of some resorts drop at this time. 

Types of diving

Diving in Umkomaas is all reef diving, based on Aliwal Shoal. Within the reef system, there are lots of opportunities to explore. The wrecks, The Produce and The Nebo, are both excellent wrecks to explore though they are now both mostly broken up. 

It is possible to cave dive here, though in a way accessible to recreational divers. The Cathedral and The Channel both have large cavern-like spaces and swim-throughs which you can investigate. Many of the diving in Umkomaas encompass drifts in some capacity as the strong Agulhas currents flows out in the Indian Ocean. Many sites simply require that you drift with the current and don’t fight it - but be sure to always follow an experienced guide to be safe. 

What to see

Umkomaas diving centres around Aliwal Shoal, which is famed as some of the best and most diverse diving in South Africa and the world. Divers will be astounded by all they can see on a single dive, including up to 6 species of sharks. 

The reef life here is extensive. Some examples of reef fish include groupers, barracuda, tuna, parrot fish, angelfish, butterflyfish and pineapple fish. The macro life is perfect for photographers with plenty of nudibranch, shrimp, crabs, lobster, octopus and cuttlefish to capture. In the blue you can see manta rays, black marlin and intimidating sailfish. Turtles are common visitors to the reef as they munch the corals.

The sharks here are numerous. Ragged-tooth sharks are found year round but can be found schooling as they mate from July to November. Whale sharks migrate through the area annually too. Other shark sightings include white tips, tiger sharks and great white sharks. 

Best places to dive

The Nebo, sunk in 1884, has been degraded by the years - only her boiler and propellers are now visible. It has, however, formed an impressive artificial reef which draws large numbers of fish. 

The Produce was sunk in 1974 and now is a thriving coral garden which has resident morays, leopard rays and groupers. 

The Sardine Run is an annual event between May and July and is a tremendous spectacle. Imagine a dense swarm of sardines measuring 6.5km long, 1.6km wide and 30m deep. These unimaginable numbers draw ocean predators to feast - sharks, dolphins, tuna and seabirds all want a piece of the action in one of the world’s most incredible dives. 

The Cathedral is located between 19 and 27m and is one of the best dives on Aliwal Shoal. Its large cavern can be entered through an archway or the swim through on the roof. It has impressive rock formations which shelter divers from currents. There are creatures hiding in the dark too - especially during ragged-tooth mating season. 

The Channel is a dark section of caves, near the Raggie cave. Diving in the near pitch black with sand sharks and stingrays can be a little intimidating.