Trip details | Diving
Diving in South Africa is not only about watching great whites through the bars of a cage or chasing sardines on the vast ocean. This country's east coast presents an enourmous variety of dive sites for all enthusiasts of underwater exploration. While diving here is world class, there is an additional lure of famous african game drives in many parks situated just around the corner from most coastal areas.
Typical diving on this coast is using rubber ducks. They can usually hold up to 12 divers at a time. In most cases the boat is skillfully launched straight from the beach by a local skipper, who then navigates through incoming breaking waves. This is already an adventure in itself! Boat rides are usually short with the reefs being located nearby from the coast. These are mainly tropical coral reefs vibrant with both small and large marine animals.
There are 2 dives usually done each day, starting early morning. There is a possibility to organise more. Diving day usually finishes in the early afternoon, leaving a lot of time for other activities like trips to nearby parks with wild animals.
Trip details | Sodwana Bay
Sodwana Bay is a diving location situated amidst a UNESCO rated iSimangaliso Wetland Park, on the north east coast of South Africa with the Indian Ocean. It is a mecca for local divers from South Africa with a truly tropical atmosphere. The vast reef construction is full of still undiscovered places and its located 500m parallel to the beach where all the boats take off from. Its untouched with negative influence of civilization in the absence of major cities in the region and the lack of commercial fishing. It is also still rarely frequented by foreign tourists. It offers a diverse topography underwater with all species of animals from warm Indian Ocean. 4 species of turtles, manta rays, lots of life for macro lovers, a variety of shark species and the opportunity to meet whale sharks, pods of dolphins, and even humpback whales depending on the season. The average visibility here is 15-20 meters with possible 30m.
Even Nelson Mandela once said in 1999, when iSimangaliso Park was granted the UNESCO World Heritage status:
"iSimangaliso must be the only place on the planet where the oldest land mammal in the world (rhinoceros) and the largest land mammal in the world (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world's oldest fish (coelacanth) and the biggest marine mammal (the whale)"
Interesting figures onfrom iSimangaliso Wetland Park:
The largest congregation of hippos and crocodiles in the world
Last important breeding grounds for loggerhead and leatherback turtles
8 connected ecosystems
3 systems of lakes
220 km coastline and beaches
190 km marine reserve
100 species of corals
1 283 species of fish
25 000 years of the local sand dunes
36 species of snakes
526 species of birds
Trip details | Umkomaas \ Aliwal Shoal
After Sodwana we are going to spend few days in a small town of Umkomaas situated at the Aliwal Shoal reef complex. It is famous for numerous sightings of many various species of sharks, where you can try a baited (not fed) diving with sharks without a cage and dive on two amazing wrecks, that have sunk there.
Baited shark diving is quite an experience. You can almostsure to see many sharks, sometimes even dozens of them (black tip oceanic shark, bull shark)! They are not shy and you will have an opportunity to come eye-to-eye with them and take some amazing pictures. Seasonally in summer more big tiger sharks arrive, what takes your adrenaline levels over the roof. The dive itself is a midwater dive between 5 and 10 meter deep, we do not sit on the bottom and wait for the sharks, we swim with them!
Umkomaas (uMkhomazi in Zulu) represents female whales - many of them once used the estuary area of Umkomasi river as breeding grounds. Now, unfortunately, they no longer do, but the number of whales migrating through there is still very large.
The local coral reef is quite different from the typical tropical reef. Algae prevail here as well as soft corals that cover underwater rocks forming a very interesting topography with many caves and swimthroughs. There are practically no hard corals, which are the main component of a tropical reef in Sodwana Bay. This in itself makes visit here even more interesting, as you get to see and experience the enormous variety of this coast.
The place is designed for more experienced divers, the ocean can be more rough and average visibility is worse, a few meters down from Sodwana and is between 10 and 15 meters. Therefore, this location is planned for the tail end of the trip after getting used to a similar but easier-style diving in Sodwana.
Trip details | Accommodation
Accommodation will be organized in dive lodges that are also responsible for organisation of diving. It will be a high end accommodation in a private environment. There are no big hotels in this region. Rooms are air conditioned, breakfast served, swimming pool waiting, beds made and all this in a calm atmosphere of intimate places that can accomodate up to 20 guests. All the rooms are for two guests, double or twin according to our needs.
Trip details | Additional attractions
Possible additional activities and trips available to organize on-site according to interest, time, and general consensus.
a) trips to game reserves (safaris)
b) deep-sea fishing - hunting of pelagic fish for reef-type tuna, wahoo, sailfish and even marlin (instead of one day of diving, extra charge)
c) flight over the ocean and nearby area on a microlight with a pilot
d) driving ATVs\quad bikes on the sandy slopes in the nearby bush dunes area
e) Discover rebreather diving. The opportunity to try diving on the new type of recreational rebreather - Poseidon MKVI. This is called "Discover rebreather diving" (PADI Discover rebreather) and consists of a brief introduction and pool session and possibly a dive in the ocean with an instructor. It is also possible to rent a rebreather on-site, after presentation of qualifications.
f) many various short trips to interesting and rarely frequented (and completely forgotten by tourists) locations like lakes, rivers, mountains, etc., everything that is not in the guide books, and what I reserve as a surprise for the group :)!
In addition, as part of the expedition:
a) A trip movie. Throughout the trip I am going to be making a custom video for the group. It is going to be professionaly edited and handed over to participants some time after trip.
b) Presentations on the local marine life, how to distinguish different families of fish, which are most prevailing in the area, etc.
c) Presentations on underwater filming techniques and editing, if there is interest.
Trip details | Route
Johannesburg / Durban - START
Sodwana Bay - South Africa
Aliwal Shoal / Umkomaas - South Africa
Johannesburg / Durban - END
POSSIBLE SCHEDULE for a 15 day trip (version with flights through Johannesburg)
Note: a trip can be planned for any amount of days.
Day 1 - (Friday) evening departure
Day 2 - Saturday morning arrival in JHB, drive to Sodwana, accommodation, intro
Day 3 - diving, braai
Day 4 - diving, safari
Day 5 - diving, intro recreational rebreather - pool + theory
Day 6 - diving, safari
Day 7 - diving, 4x4
Day 8 - diving safari
Day 9 - diving, safari
Day 10 - diving, safari on the way, Durban (St.Lucia)
Day 11 - aquarium, afternoon drive to Umkomaas
Day 12 - diving on the reefs (shark dives)
Day 13 - diving on wrecks
Day 14 - breakfast, trip to Drakensberg mountains (half way to JHB)
Day 15 - Drakensberg mountains hiking
Day 16 - morning drive to Johannesburg, departure in the evening
Day 17 - Sunday at noon arrival
the total number of dives 15-18
Note: proposed plan is very flexible, dependent on weather, ocean conditions and the willingness of the group. The plan might be accomplished not necessarily in the exact order stated above. Everything is within reasonable distances and is available every day. There is no pressure on "ticking off" waypoints.
Trip details | Requirements
This is a trip meant for divers with already some dive experience. I like to call it a recreational diving adventure where prior familiarity with the ocean which will allow for more enjoyment. Diving on this coast can sometimes be challenging depending on the day (surge, waves on the surface). Familiarity with diving from a rubber duck type boat is useful. Furthermore:
- Min. 30 dives
- PADI AOWD or equivalent allowing to dive to 30m (or desire to do skills on site)
- Own Surface Marker Bouy (SMB)
- DAN diving insurance or other
Trip details | Additional Information
a) Weather and diving. South Africa is famous for its temperate climate. It can be very hot especially in summer from November till April, but its not as humid as in many tropical countries. Winters at the coast starting in May lasting until September are warm with a pleasant 20+ degrees C during the day and a little chilly evenings and nights. There is no "no-go" time of the year with respect to weather. The only concern are South African holidays in December and April when the coast becomes swamped by local holiday makers and divers. Christmas, New Year's and Easter time are therefore not the best time for a dive trip, its simply too busy.
Recreational diving to 40m, an average of 20 meters. There are no massive walls withouth bottom (there are but a little further out for technical divers). IMPORTANT: Both in Sodwana, and even more so in Aliwal, the ocean can be choppy on the surface - people who have a big problem with seasickness should properly consider whether they are willing to fight it, unfortunately. It can also be flatish but on average there is always something moving (though a stay on the boat is not long). Conditions of diving (surge, currents, visibility) can change almost on a daily basis.
b) Visas. Generally citizens of most countries can aquire an at least 30 day tourist visa on arrival at the airport.
c) Safety issues. Be careful. Do not leave valuables in plain sight. Paradoxically expensive diving equipment can be left in the middle of the street and no one would be interested in it, but high-end electronic devices are stil a catch. Do not walk alone at night, rather stick with the group.
d) Health care. There is decent health care not far from Sodwana, in spite of its relative seclusion. Half an hour away there is a hospital where many doctors from Scotland and the UK work. Care is therefore respectable, even though this is Africa. The nearest decompression chamber is a 2 hour drive in a city of Richards Bay. The next chamber is in Durban. 4h road. Umkomaas is located 40 min drive from Durban where all health care is quickly available.
e) Diving skill. South Africa does not belong to the easiest dive locations, mainly due to surge (underwater waves), that sometimes haunts the dive sites. Dives are organized so as to avoid it by going a little deeper, where as a rule of thumb it generally disappears. Sometimes, however, it may happen that conditions might not be ideal. The second reason is the launching of the boats through the waves and then the ride on the surface of the ocean, when you have a to hold tight, its a real adventure :). I'm not saying that this place is not suitable for novice divers, as hundreds, if not thousands of local South Africans are trained here each year, but there is a need for flexibility to a variety of conditions. This is not an aquarium with standing water.
f) South Africa does not formaly require any special vaccines, although it is recommended that standard travel vaccinations should be applied. There is no malaria in this region. There will be some mosquitoes but they are not very intrusive, you should take special care only around sunset.