Scuba Dive Sites @ The Aliwal Shoal
Diving Sites on Aliwal Shoal
Aliwal Shoal is one of those unique habitats where cool and warm water dwelling fish overlap to give us an opportunity to see many forms of life all in one place.
Our reefs are made primarily of sandstone, formed approximately 80000 years ago when an ancient sand dune submerged in the ocean. The sand solidified into what we now see as sandstone.
There is little rock angles, but mostly huge potholes, drifts along plains, random drop offs and valleys. There are numerous swim-throughs and a famous location called Raggie’s Cave, where many visitors come to view raggered tooth sharks.
The fish varieties are numerous with everything from garden eels to oceanic manta. We hear the whales constantly throughout the year and have had pods pass over us on dives as well. Dolphins regularly pay us a visit as well as potato bass that live territorially all around the reef areas. Read more about our reef sites below.
The Produce Wreck
Depth: 24-32 meters
Look for: Raggered tooth sharks, rays, rockcod, snappers, turtles
The Produce is an old cargo vessel that was carrying molasses and was traveling from Durban, heading south when it struck the pinnacles on Aliwal Shoal in 1974.
There were no lives lost as a rescue party launched from the Umkomaas River managed to reach her and saved all the people on board. It is 119m long and lies facing north. She has come to rest on her starboard side and her back is broken leaving her midship very flat and scattered. Her propeller has been salvaged, however, her spare prop can still be seen on her bow.
There are a number of swim-throughs for the more experienced diver and it is advisable to take a torch on this dive as light does not penetrate all the swim-throughs.
A host of very shy giant Brindle bass about 3m long and 1.5m wide could be seen, as well as Harlequin goldies all around the wreck, they are endemic to the wreck and can only be found on her and the Nebo. Scorpionfish and Stonefish are regularly found on the wreck, camouflaged and blended into the scenery. Manta rays and game fish can also be spotted in the big blue if the visibility is good.
The coral on this wreck consists of more soft than hard coral. Some of the soft coral found here include Fire coral, Whip coral, Green fern coral, Polyp coral, and yellow Turret coral.
The Nebo Wreck
Depth: 18-26 meters
Look for: Round ribbon-tail ray, sharp-nosed stingray and grey spot guitarfish
The Nebo is reported to have been carrying materials for the Van Staden’s River Bridge back in the 1800s when she was sunk due to incorrect loading.
She was very top-heavy and when she encountered rough seas she simply went belly up and sank. The wreck, which is over 100 years old, is broken into two main parts.
If the visibility is good or you have an experienced divemaster, it is a simple navigation exercise to get from one part to the other.
One regular fish species found swimming in and out of the wreck on this reef is the Natal catfish. Harlequin goldies, which are endemic to this area, are seen on the wreck.
Round ribbon-tail ray, sharp-nosed stingray and grey spot guitarfish are just a few visitors in the sand around the Nebo.
Squid and scorpionfish are also found lingering about the schools of fusiliers, tuna and hammerhead sharks.
Keep an eye out for Green Fern coral, different colours of Polyp coral and Green and Yellow turret coral are found on this wreck.
The different dive sites on the Aliwal Shoal have something to cater to everyone’s taste including the shark fanatics.
The Griqualand Wreck
Depth: 40-51 meters
Look for: Daga Salmon, brindle bass, and large sharks
The Griqualand was a 499-ton coastal steamer owned by Green R Line. She left Durban on the evening of 13th November 1970 bound for Port Elizabeth with a cargo of chemicals including bitumen, liquid chlorine, and calcium hypo chloride.
Shortly after sailing from Durban a fire started in her forward holds and blazed for nearly 12 hours.
Despite heroic efforts from the crew as well as the tug ‘J.D. White’ and salvage vessel ‘Statesman’ the ‘Griqualand’ was finally declared a menace to shipping and was sunk by Royal Navy frigate H.M.S. Dido at approximately 16h00 on 14 November 1970.
There is an abundance of Daga Salmon, Brindle bass, and large sharks. Access to the wreck is by boat. An experienced skipper is essential.
Sea conditions change rapidly with south-westerly winds. There is normally a light current, but at times the current prohibits diving.
Depth: 12-19 meters
Look for: Ragged-tooth sharks, rays, rockcod, snappers, turtles
T&C: No one may dive into the cave when sharks are residing
This is where the Raggies (Ragged Tooth shark/Sand shark) all meet up to spend their winter holidays. Although fierce-looking they can be approached with caution. This area has rock formations with a great number of caves, overhangs, gullies and swim-throughs. Big caves, where you can easily fit in a couple of scuba divers, are often also inhabited by Ragged-tooth sharks.
The coral life consists mainly of hard coral with fewer reef fish to be found. In the gullies and crevices, the juvenile fish hide during the day with False stonefish and Scorpionfish also commonly found in this area. Shark’s teeth can be found inside the cave and also in the surrounding sand patches. This dive site is known worldwide for the Ragged-tooth sharks that populate the reef.
Depth: 18 meters
Look for: Fern coral, Black coral, Whip coral, guitarfish, rays
Tiger Cove is part of the inside edge of the reef and is basically a big overhang that forms a cave at the bottom of the wall. It is named after the great amount of Tiger cowries found in the area.
Along the wall, you will find big green Fern coral, Black coral, Whip coral, and various other soft coral. Goldies and other juveniles usually form a big cloud around the Black coral.
Be on the lookout for Raggies, scorpionfish and false stonefish as they are camouflaged so well that you really have to look carefully to spot them.
Other regular visitors on the sand patch include Guitarfish and various rays. Guinea fowl moray eels and beautiful Nudibranch also occupy space on this reef.
Depth: 16-26 meters
Look for: Pelagic gamefish, rays, sharks
The Outside Edge runs from the north to the southern part of the shoal with the wall on the seaside of the shoal.
There are different dive spots on this edge, such as Raggie’s Cave, Cathedral and Shark Alley. Some other caves and overhangs can also be found on this edge.
Tropical fish are found here as well as turtles, and the coral includes hard and soft coral which creates amazing landscape scenes. Always keep an eye out for game fish swimming by in the midwater.
Depth: 11-17 meters
Look for: The potholes, manta rays, potato bass
This section is a long backbone of mountain-like rock formations that provide a haven for thousands of species of fish and is an amazing place to dive when you want to do a long, slow dive. The depth here averages between 5 – 18 m, depending on where you are on the ridges. There are some incredible deep potholes with caves that hide at the base of them. This provides a home for many rays and turtles.
On the one side the Pinnacles slope down toward the Raggie Cave and Manta Point area and on the shore-side they gently slope down to the North Sands area. The sea-facing ledges are a lot steeper than the ones which taper gently off to the North Sands basin.
The pinnacles were the reason that the Produce Wreck is now available for divers to explore just off the north point of the Aliwal Shoal. There are a few metal shards still lying on the reef believed to have come from the Produce.
Depth: 12-18 meters
Look for: Like North Sands, this site is home to rays, skates, sand sharks and guitar sharks. The average depth is 15m with a maximum of 18m.
Depth: 15-17 meters
Look for: Round ribbon-tail rays, guitar sharks, sole, shark’s teeth
This is a huge sand patch on the northern part of the Aliwal Shoal which is surrounded by various other dive spots. This is known for the great amount of Round ribbon-tail rays found buried underneath the golden sand and under the edges of the surrounding reef.
Guitar sharks are also a common sight in the summer months. Be on the lookout for Sole hiding underneath the sand with just their eyes sticking out. For the inquisitive diver, the sand patch has lots of old shells as well as old shark’s teeth. Game fish are normally found in the vicinity.
Depth: 18 meters
Look for: Sharks, rays, mantas (summer), whale sharks (summer), dolphins(sometimes), reef fish, macro
Ocean erosion has shaped with part of the reef in gullies and overhangs and swim-throughs, as the sandstone gives way relatively quickly in geological timeframes.
Reef fish tend to visit this area which provides shelter from currents. Raggies also enjoy lurking quietly here in the winter months.
This part of the reef is ideal for photographic groups that want to hand about and find interesting items to photograph. There are often unexpected sightings of raggered tooth shark, white tip reef sharks and thresher to name some interesting sightings.
Depth: 15-23 meters
Look for: Sharks, raggies, scorpionfish, and false stonefish
Inside Edge is a wall stretching three to six meters high, with ledges, caves, and overhangs. Most of the activity is found along the side of the wall – the one side features a big sand patch with scattered rock formations.
Along the wall there are various soft corals with Goldies and other juveniles usually forming large clouds around the Black coral.
Be on the lookout for raggies, scorpionfish, and false stonefish as they are camouflaged so well that they really have to look carefully to spot them.
Other regular visitors on the sand patch include Guitarfish and various rays. The regular tropical fish are found amongst the coral and crevices. Guineafowl moray eels also occupy space on this reef.
Depth: 15-23 meters
Look for: blacktip sharks, tiger sharks, rays, mantas (summer), whale sharks (summer), dolphins(sometimes), pelagic fish, reeffish
Blacktips are often scooting about midwater in this area due to the shark snorkelling and baited shark diving activities. Here you may be lucky enough to spot the odd bull shark or tiger shark cruising their domain.
The bottom surface has sandy gulleys and flat sandstone rock covered with flat coral and soft corals and sponges.
If you are on a shark snorkel be on the lookout for the odd tiger shark, especially in the summer months when they are most active. Although they are shy they do tend to come closer, with the action going on in the water.
Depth: 12-17 meters
Look for: Cave, turtles, sand sharks, ribbon-tail rays
Expect to find a cave full of sharks and tropical fish on this dive, but be aware that not a lot of light penetrates the cave, making it quite a frightening dive. Chunnel, which is near Raggies’ Cave, was named as such because it is a waterway where sharks constantly move.
The marine life in this area consists mainly of Ragged-tooth sharks that patrol the area. Turtles have been spotted as well as Sand sharks and ribbon tail rays in the sand patch nearby. Raggies and Scorpionfish are also common in the area. The fish life includes many varieties of wrasse and tropical reef fish. Coral is not that plentiful on this reef because of currents that sometimes flow over the reef system.