In the waters off the small South coast town of Umkomaas, you will find Aliwal Shoal – considered one of the best dive sites in the world. It is a rocky reef which is the remains of an ancient sand dune approximately 5 km off the coast. The shoal is approximately 5km in length, and runs in a north to south direction.
Aliwal Shoal was named after the near-sinking of the three-masted vessel “Aliwal”, captained by James Anderson, in 1849. There are two wrecks near the reef that are popular recreational dive sites. The Norwegian bulk carrier, the MV Produce which sank in 1974, and the SS Nebo which sank in 1884.
Over time, Aliwal Shoal has developed into a spectacular dive site, with an abundance of soft corals, sponges, and hiding places. These have combined to attract over 1200 species of fish, as well as turtles, rays, sharks and whales. The Shoal is known especially for its abundance of Grey nurse sharks (known locally as ragged tooth sharks or “raggies”) between August and November when the sharks congregate there to mate. It is not uncommon to find 15 to 150 of these ferocious looking but docile animals on a single dive.
The Cooper Light Wreck, named after the nearby lighthouse, can be found about 2 km offshore and 6 km south of the Durban harbour mouth, near Treasure Beach. It lies at a maximum depth of 32 meters and is Durban’s most interesting wreck. Her origins are British (she has not been identified yet); at a length of 77 meters and weighing over 1000 tons.
Lying upright, she is home to many fish species, but due to the prevailing currents this can be a challenging dive. Large shoals of salmon can be found here during July to November. Other fish that divers are likely to come across are the Harlequin Goldie, juvenile butterfly fish, scorpion fish, paper fish, lion fish, eels and coral banded shrimps.
This site can only be dived from a boat.
One of the oldest dive sites on the Bluff, The Caves is a subterranean system that forms the remains of a prehistoric shoreline. Weathered sandstone formations have collapsed to form caves, holes and gullies; which allow one to dive below the seabed.
The entrances to the “Caves” are well disguised; but divers will not be more than 5m from open water so this dive is suitable for any diver. Bring a torch along to see into all the crevices, and gloves are recommended for this dive. Only 15 minutes’ boat ride from Durban.
Vetch’s Pier, known locally as “Vetchie’s”, can be found at the southern end of the Golden Mile, past uShaka Beach. The remains of a manmade pier dating back to 1860, this rocky reef is 500m long and 50m wide.
The largest concentration of fish can be found on the outside of the reef. The best time to scuba dive is after or during a strong south westerly and during high tide. Expect a depth of between 1 to 6 meters and look out for moray eels, nudibranchs, octopus and scorpionfish.
During low tide – if you’re not a diver – this is the place to be with your snorkel and goggles. The snorkelling is spectacular on the inside of the reef. When the tide is low and it’s a calm day, the reef acts as a shelter and the visibility is good.
This is a shore entry.
The No. 1 Reef is a challenging reef with an average depth of 82 feet (25 meters) for more advanced divers.
Its name derives from the times when the fishermen used to describe this site as “fishing ground number one”. The reef is characterised by many boulders and long bits of anchor chains going around the pinnacles.
It is best to visit this dive site during the winter months, but be aware that this is a feeding ground for sharks. Because of the currents, depth and changing visibilities this reef is recommended for experienced divers only.
This interesting site, to be found on the southern tip of the larger Blood Reef, was named due to the high number of surprises hidden in every nook and cranny.
Birthday Ledges features a craggy profile with large overhangs and ledges, as well as an impressive cave filled with an array of pink and orange thistle coral. Marine life includes raggy scorpionfish, paperfish, frog fish, moray eels, turtles, nudibranchs to name but a few.
This is a boat dive.