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More on Kwazulu Natal
KwaZulu Natal's South Coast stretches over 150kms from Amanzimtoti to
Port Edward near the Wild Coast.
The South Coast is a scuba divers paradise, Aliwal Shoal being most popular with as many as 40.000 dives taking place annually. Protea Banks
further south is considered to be one of the best shark dives in the world.
The waters surrounding Southern Africa boast 40 different kinds of marine mammal. Boat based whale and dolphin watching is fast becoming one of
South Africa's most popular tourist industries. Humpbacks are the most frequently seen in Kwazulu Natal.
The Humpback Whales move North from Antarctica to mate and breed in the warmer waters of Southern Mozambique before beginning their return journey south in late August. Between May and September, Humpbacks can be seen close to shore along the Natal coastline.
Dive Aliwal Shoal
While waiting for the sardine run go diving in Aliwal Shoal. Aliwal Shoal is just 5km offshore, south of Umkomaas. It is roughly 3km long by 300m
wide and benefits from the cold Benguela current and the warm Agulhas current resulting in a rich and varied marine life as well as some thrilling
Despite challenging launches, and sometimes limited visibility, the rewards are obivous. A dive between August and November practically guarantees
that you will be surrounded by the Spotted Ragged Tooth Sharks (also known as Grey Nurse Sharks, or Sand Tigers.
Hammerhead and Zambezi sharks are also seen here, more often during Summer, along with the odd Great White Shark. Favorite dives in this area are: Raggie Cave, Cathedral City and the Produce.
Possible Marine Encounters main attractions are Spotted Ragged Tooth Sharks, Dolphins, Zambezi Shark, Hammerhead Shark, Potato Basse, many rays including Eagle Rays, Stingrays, Moray Eels, Humpback Whales, varied Wrasse species, Some tropical reef fish, colourful nudibranches, anemones and soft corals.
The Produce Wreck
This superb wreck, 176m long, is a glorious dive. The Norwegian Bulk carrier sank on 11th August, 1974 after hitting Aliwal Shoal. She now lies on
her starboard side in a divers heaven.
Surrounded by thousands of shoals of brightly coloured fish, the wreck having gradually formed a reef now has an entire eco-system living in
and around it. Glass Fish and Lionfish hide in the dark corners along with gigantic Brindle Bass.
Dive with Sea Fever based in Umkomaas. Graham Powell, PADI Course Director runs
the centre, lodge, restaurant and bar with his partner Bronwin. They are fully equipped with training pool, compressor, 3 Rigid Inflatable Boats
and professional Skippers showing an impressive knowledge of the local dive sites and sometimes challenging sea conditions. They can also provide
Trimix and Nitrox fills.
This is the site that is being developed to give you full information on Aliwal Shoal. The shoal has become internationally recognised as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. Tourism in Umkomaas and Aliwal Shoal has grown over the last few years as more divers flock to Umkomaas to experience the incredible attractions that this famous shoal can offer.
With the growth in the number of service providers on the Shoal, it can become confusing to search for information necessary to plan for your stay, book your dives and equipment, and find accommodation that is perfect for you. No longer....
On this site, you will find unbiased information on everything that Aliwal Shoal, Umkomaas and the surrounding South Coast area have to offer. They do not plug any one specific company on the Aliwal Shoal. They cater to divers, surfers, and adventure seekers. More...
Following the yearly sardine run, Kwazulu Natal, Africa
Every year, between June and September, huge numbers of silvery sardines travel north from the cold southern oceans off Cape Point in South Africa,
moving inshore up the Transkei and the Kwazulu Natal coastlines in what is commonly known as the annual sardine run - resulting ultimately in
This mass migration occurs in June when the sardines head north from the Cape. Miles upon miles of shoals of sardines meet about 40km south
of the Kwazulu Natal Border. These shoals eventually break out and travel north, hugging the Natal coastline. Right on the tails of these shoals
are the predators; Humpback Whales, Bottlenose and Common Dolphins, Sharks, Turtles, Game fish, and a host of marine birds: White Chinned
Petrels, Cape Gannets, Storm Petrels and Albatross to name a few.
Dolphins hunting the sardine bait balls
This incredible natural phenomenon of millions of fish brings with it another creature - kindly referred to as the tourist!
Why do Sardines go north?
Some say it is an annual migration but Geremy Cliff, Chief Scientist of the Natal Sharks Board prefers to call it a 'range extension' as
only a small percentage of the fish in the Western Cape actually move northwards. From June through to September, the southern cold waters
stretch northwards with the currents hugging the coastline and the sardines simply move with them. Once they have outrun their food source and reach warmer waters they head for home sometimes following the cold currents out into the Indian Ocean and back around to the Cape.
Freediving through a sardine bait ball
We went diving with Aliwal Dive Charters who have been in the diving industry for almost 15 years. Grant Swinford-Meyer (known as Swinny) is the owner. They are situated in Umkomaas. They offer scuba diving to the famous Aliwalshoal as well as Rocky Bay. The Rocky Bay dive shop is situated at Ellingham Estate.
They take trips to the Transkei to see the sardines. It is obviously very difficult to predict when the big shoal comes through, any of the last three weeks of June. It is obviously a gamble that one has to take, but normally proofs to be a phenominal experience. For the people who do not wish to go all the way to the Transkei, Aliwal Dive Charters also offers sardine viewing when the small pockets come by Aliwal.
They arrange accommodation for clients, depending on their requirements. There is accommodation with selfcatering, bed and breakfast, hotel, youthhostels and camp sites you can choose from. They work with various places around Umkomaas and Scottburgh.
They offer transport and airport pick ups and arrange tours to many places around the Kwazulu-natal area.
Sardine bait balls seen from above...
Even if you are waiting for the sardines to show, the marine life around this coastline during the Sardine Run is enough to keep anyone occupied for long boat rides. In our search for the 'Bait Ball', we frequently came across pod's of 1,000 or more common dolphins charging around the ocean in search of food. Humpback Whales were often seen in pairs or trios, breaching (jumping out of the water), and lobtailing (slapping the tail repeatedly on the surface.
Not easy to find
Diving with what is known as a sardine 'bait ball' is a mind blowing experience. Finding this bait ball is very difficult. No matter what people may say, it can easily take several weeks of scouring the coastline before you come across this phenomenon. Film crews and photographers spend lots of money and time searching the Transkei and Kwazulu Natal coastline to capture the rare and fascinating images of sharks, dolphins and gannets engaged in a chaotic feeding frenzy. The Bait Ball occurs when the sharks and dolphins herd them towards the surface and force them into a tight ball in order to permit easy pickings. The water turns black in front of you and before you know it there are several hundred birds raining down on the bubbling feast.
Dolphins chasing the Sardines...
Due to the Sardine Run, there are no sharks on Protea Banks or Aliwal Shoal during June. The Ragged Tooth Sharks begin to arrive July
time and by August and September there are sometimes hundreds of them. Late September sees the arrival of Scalloped Hammerheads and by October/ November, they are schooling in their hundreds. Little Zambezi sharks can also be seen around this time of year. The large shoals of gamefish come in January and from then on the life is abundant, including big Zambezis, until May. Aliwal Shoal gets incredibly busy at weekends so go mid-week if you want to avoid bumping into other dive groups underwater. Best time for Raggies is August to November.
A 5mm 2 piece was adequate, with hood if you feel the cold. The water temperature isaround 21-22C. From Mid October the water temperture will be around 23-26C.
It's best to fly into Johannesburgh, as Cape Town is further away from Aliwal Shoal. Flying from Johannesburgh to Durban would be the quickest way, around a 50 minute flight.
Aliwal Dive Charters can help you book your flights within South Africa as flights are cheaper to book there in comparison to what you would pay from overseas.
A good domestic airline is Kulula, they have affordable, no frills flights available.
More on Diving in Africa
The Natal Sharks Board