10 incredible dive spots in South Africa: beginner to pro

Forget about lazing on the beach; rather strap on your scuba diving tank to see what South Africa’s gorgeous coastline offers beneath the waves.

Need a place to start? Try Aliwal Shoal off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Regularly rated as one of the top 10 dive sites on the planet, this remarkable spot has something for everyone, from The Pinnacles (at just 15 metres) for the novice to the wreck of The Nebo in a more challenging 30 metres of water.

Speaking of challenging: Protea Banks is one for advanced divers looking for excitement. Plunging down to 40 metres, this site is famous for its sharks: expect to find Zambezi, Tiger, Hammerhead, Dusky, Ragged Tooth and Black Tip sharks hunting on the Banks. If you’re lucky you may spot manta rays and whales cruising past. It’s a deep dive with a strong current, so it’s for experienced adventure divers only.

Sodwana Bay is more forgiving, and home to the southernmost coral reefs in the world. The pristine coral teems with a huge variety of marine life and, if you’re lucky, you could spot turtles, dolphins or even a whale shark.

Sharks of a different sort are the drawcard at Gansbaai, just two hours’ drive from Cape Town. Billed as the Great White Shark capital of the world, the 60 000 seals resident on Dyer Island and Geyser Rock just offshore from Gansbaai draw in these impressive Apex Predators. There are a number of cage-dive operators in Gansbaai, but White Shark Projects is one of the best. In False Bay, closer to Cape Town, Apex Predators offers responsible cage-diving excursions.

If you’re feeling brave, you can leave the cage behind and roll into the warm(ish) False Bay waters in just a wetsuit. Experienced divers should hop on a charter boat and head for the wrecks of Smitswinkel Bay. The five ships scuttled here were sunk in the 1970s to form an artificial reef, and are today covered with marine life.

Not far from “Smits”, A-Frame and Windmill beach are great options for novice divers. Easy shore entries and shallow waters allow you to relax and search for the resident dogfish and pyjama sharks. Close by, the dives with seven-gill cow sharks are also memorable.

If you’re feeling brave Whittle Rock in the middle of False Bay is an outstanding site, but is also popular with great white sharks so a quick descent is essential!

In the summer months you’ll want to dive on the icy Atlantic side of Cape Town, where the prevailing south-easterly wind ensures crystal-clear waters. Add a dash of glamour to a day of diving by suiting up at Justin’s Caves, an underwater playground of jumbled granite. The 12 Apostles Hotel across the road is perfect for an after-dive drink.

For gauranteed good conditions, head to the Two Oceans Aquarium

You don’t have to brave the ocean to see Cape Town’s wonderful marine life up close. At the Two Oceans Aquarium, you can dive with sharks and other predators in a large marine tank.

Cape Town waters are cold, and fear of sharks puts many divers off taking the plunge into the open ocean. The good news is that if you really want to get up and personal with sharks, turtles and big game fish there’s nothing to beat a dive in the in I&J Predator Exhibit in the Two Oceans Aquarium.

After a short briefing you drop into the vast, glass-fronted tank as wide-eyed children and other visitors to the aquarium applaud your bravery from the viewing gallery. This is the easiest dive in the Cape, and one to add to your bucket list if you are a novice diver: there aren’t many places in the world where you can dive with sharks with just a Discover Scuba dive qualification! There’s no surge, the visibility is great, the water is (relatively) warm and there’s a wonderful selection of predatory fish all around you. Cheeky turtles come up to check you out, and after the initial adrenalin rush you soon find yourself comfortable and intrigued by the ragged-tooth sharks.

Divers with an advanced qualification can also feed the fish and check out the marine life in the surging kelp (seaweed) fronds of the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest Exhibit. The tank is home to galjoen (South Africa’s national fish), gully sharks, white stumpnose, black and white musselcracker, as well as crayfish and perlemoen. If you’re really lucky you might even spot a rockhopper or African penguin that has been released into the kelp forest for a swim. Although it doesn’t quite have the same kudos as diving in the predator tank, it’s nonetheless a fascinating insight into the marine life of the Cape coast.

To dive in the I&J Predator Exhibit you need to have a Discover Scuba qualification or higher. You can attain this limited qualification with the Two Oceans Aquarium onsite instructor. Divers with an Open Water qualification must present their dive card in order to dive.