Cape Town Diving
Lying in the shadow of Table Mountain is Cape Town - a blend of cultures and landscapes, with just a hint of scuba diving thrown in. This cold water diving destination is best known for its plentiful shipwrecks and mysterious kelp forests. The diverse sites and the opportunity to dive with seals and sharks will delight divers, both experienced and new.
On the shores of False Bay lies the diving destination of Simon's Town. At first glance, it isn’t the most vibrant destination in the world - but the diving offers excellent marine life encounters with seals and even whales and there are great training opportunities at Long Beach.
Diving in Cape Town
South Africa’s capital city of Cape Town lies in the western cape region of the country, sitting on the join between two oceans - the Southern and Indian. The Mediterranean climate here offers year round cold water diving in a mixture of settings including kelp forests, wreck diving and rocky reefs.
Many dive centers are found here and most offer the chance to do all levels of dive courses. Dive resorts are thin on the ground but, being a city center, accommodation is plentiful. Liveaboards do not run in this area due to the sometimes stormy seas and the close proximity of dive sites to the shore.
The tumultuous seas found around Cape Town are responsible for the number of wrecks found here which are a definite draw for experienced divers. There are more wrecks than you could hope to explore in a week's worth of diving, so you might just find yourself coming back! The kelp forests have an eerie green glow and hide unusual animal encounters like cow sharks. For any wildlife lover, capering with the Cape Fur seals will be a highlight of any dive trip.
Best time to dive
Cape Town diving is possible year round due to its mild Mediterranean climate. The summers are pleasantly hot and the winters are mild and bring more rain. During the winter months, the air temperatures are around 18oC but cold fronts can blow in from the Atlantic. The summers have an average daytime temperature of 26oC.
The water temperatures differ depending on the location. The Atlantic Seaboard has an average water temperature of 13oC which can reach as low as 10oC. Around False Bay, average water temperatures are around 17oC but can reach as high as 22oC in the summer months, similar to the Northern Mediterranean.
The south-easterly wind can blow during the spring and summer. It is called the Cape Doctor as it blows away pollution. This wind is good for visibility but it can reduce temperatures by up to 10oC. During the late summer and autumn, the Berg Wind can blow from Karoo, making the weather very hot. The summer winds can sometimes bring in blooms of red algae which can reduce the visibility.
During the winter months, the best options are shore dives and deeper reef/wreck dives. During the summer, the kelp forests, wrecks and reefs are at their best, especially in False Bay.
Types of diving
Diving in Cape Town is all cold water diving and most people require at least a 7mm wetsuit, if not a dry suit. Though the temperatures in False Bay can reach the mid 20s in summer, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Cape Town is known as the “Cape of Storms” and the shipwrecks that litter its seabeds certainly support this claim. Over 800 ships, of a variety of sizes and ages, found their final resting places here. Some of the most popular include the SS Maori, Astor, Katzu Maru and the wrecks of Smitswinkel Bay.
There are many rocky and reef sites found in Cape Town, many featuring a variety of seaweed, anemone and sponge populations and the associated macro life. There are two different types prevalent, the smooth granite rocks and the sandstone reefs which are spotted with gulleys and swim throughs. These rocks support the kelp forests. The undulating strands of translucent green seaweed create a spectral atmosphere in which you can find sharks and other fish.
What to see
Due to the cold water, bright and tropical fish aren’t the norm when diving in Cape Town. Lots of big game fish can be seen, such as yellowtail. Other common fish species found here include romans, cape knife jaws, klipfish and horsefish. The fronds of kelp also helps to camouflage lots of macro creatures, in particular crustaceans like the rock lobster.
One of the highlights for many divers here is the chance to dive with the cape fur seals. They are curious creatures and unafraid of divers, so they might get up close and personal - whether you want them to or not! They are found in both False Bay and the Atlantic Seaboard. There is a colony of penguins in False Bay but they are nervous and it is rare to see them during a dive.
Both dolphins and whales (mostly southern right but also humpbacks and orca) are commonly seen in False Bay but are rarely seen by divers. Dusky dolphins occasionally will investigate divers during a safety stop. The sevengill (cow shark) shark is seen at several sites, as are gully sharks, catsharks and pyjama sharks. Great whites are known to frequent False Bay but aren’t usually seen. If you wish to see them, you can book cage dives from Cape Town, or just outside.
Best places to dive
A Frame - One of the most popular dives, it has a shore entry and short swim and has a maximum depth of 12m, this is a great dive for beginners. You will swim past massive boulders on which begins the kelp forest. There are deep holes and overhangs which create interesting swim throughs and caves with lots of invertebrates, cuttlefish and octopus.
Shark Alley - This site is good for shark lovers - you can see cow sharks, shy sharks and gully sharks. This site is at its best during winter.
Justin’s Caves - This large collection of boulders forms swim throughs and caves. When the visibility is good, the reef life is great with lots of nudibranch and crayfish.
The Maori - This large cargo ship sank in 1999 carrying explosives from London to New Zealand. Now, it lies at 21m and has many interesting features such as the engines and cargo lines.
Smitswinkel Bay - The South African Navy intentionally sank 5 ships in the bay in order to create artificial reefs in the 70s. They are now covered in sea fans, corals, sponges and clouds of reef fish. On a day with good visibility, you can see them all. This site has a maximum depth of 35m.
SS Clan Stuart - This 3500 ton British steamer sank in 1914 and is now a shore dive suitable for all levels, lying between 6 and 8m. It is a popular site for training and makes for an unusual and interesting night dive.