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The diversity of the South African Kwa-Zulu Natal South Coast

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If you know anything about diving in South Africa, you probably know that you can expect to see a wide variety of sharks. From the Great Whites, Makos and Blue sharks in the Western Cape to the Tigers, Ragged tooth (Sand Tigers/ Grey Nurse) and Bull Sharks in Kwazulu-Natal. You have probably also heard of Aliwal Shoal, a reef structure approximately 5km off the Kwazulu-Natal Coast, usually dived from the towns, Umkomaas and Scottburgh.

People travel from all over the world to dive on Aliwal Shoal. When they get there, they discover the region has so much more to offer. Yes, there are the wild game safaris, incredible local craft breweries and a host of other tourist activities. But let’s focus on the diving.

The fossilized sand bank of Aliwal Shoal is home to a wealth of diverse sea life. Apart from the sharks, whales, dolphins and rays, you are likely to encounter hundreds of different species of sub-tropical creatures.

This rocky reef structure presents you with exciting pinnacles, drop-offs and caverns, which during the right time of year, are usually filled with docile Spotted Ragged Tooth Sharks. Dozens of interesting dive sites like Raggie’s Cave, Cathedral, Shark Alley and Manta Point are some of the most frequented by divers.

Of course, with a reef structure that has pinnacles as shallow as 6 or 7 meters, ships were bound meet their demise. Two incredible wreck dives in the area are “The Nebo” and “The Produce”. The wrecks themselves are both interesting and unique, but one of the most incredible sightings divers look forward to seeing, are the enormous Brindle Bass, also known as the Giant Grouper. Growing up to 2.7 meters, they are definitely a giant fish that can be a little nerve-racking to bump into.

To the south of Aliwal Shoal there are even more dive sites that offer not only an abundance of typical sea life but the opportunity to see some of the rarest marine animals.

In November 2019 a team of divers recorded a Coelacanth on a deep wall. The Coelacanth, “Dinosaur Fish”, was once thought to be extinct. However, there have been numerous sightings of the fish on the South African coast, mainly in Sodwana Bay north of Aliwal Shoal, which makes this particular find very interesting.

The elusive and elegant Thresher Shark has been seen on a number of occasions, most notably at a site called Allen’s Cave. This dive site with a maximum depth of 36 meters features some incredible rock formations with gullies, ledges and swim-throughs. During the Ragged Tooth Shark season, there are often sharks resting inside the swim-through.

Umzimai Wall is a site dived less frequently which means that divers are spoiled with inquisitive and curious marine animals. It’s the huge wall and fascinating reef structure that really is the star of the show. Although you can spend a great deal of time at 25m on this reef, the wall descends down to 40 meters. As with many of the deep reefs in this area, you will see long spiraling whip corals that will dwarf many a diver.

Other notable dive sites south of Aliwal Shoal include Landers; Half Acre; Butchers and Fern Reef, all with unique and interesting attractions.

If you’re into some deep wrecks, there certainly are a number in the area that will no doubt impress. The Griqualand is one such wreck that lies in 52 meters of water north of the Aliwal Shoal reef system. At almost 500 tons, this steamer, which sank in 1970, requires more than one dive to truly appreciate all it has to offer. Divers can swim along its mast, that is still intact, and lays across the sand while witnessing a large school of Daga Salmon darting around the wreck. Look out for the enormous Brindle Bass that could be hiding in the shadows of one the holds. And of course, keep an eye out for the sharks that often visit while you’re doing your decompression.

If the weather isn’t great for diving or if you just need to dry out your gills, there are a multitude of activities to keep you busy. Divers visiting South Africa will enjoy seeing the marine big five, but don’t forgot about the big five land animals. A trip to South Africa will not be complete without a visit to some of the best wildlife viewing the world has to offer. Many parts of the country have world-class lodges and camps nestled in the bush affording visitors an unforgettable wildlife experience.

The adventurous could go on hiking or mountain-biking trails, ziplining, bridge swinging or even river rafting. Those that prefer a slower pace can enjoy a round of golf at one of the many golf courses in the area.

Whether you are an entry level diver or an advanced technical rebreather diver, there is something for everyone and enough to see to keep you busy for weeks. South Africa is an incredibly diverse nation with so many attractions whether on land or underwater, that you are spoiled for choice. The hard part is deciding where you want to visit first.

Images: Kristof Goovaerts


Article by PJ Prinsloo – www.pjptech.co.za

Since becoming an instructor in 1996, PJ has had many different roles in the scuba industry. Before joining RAID as the technical training director for Southern Africa, he was the regional manager for SDI/TDI. PJ has written and contributed to a number of courses for RAID. When he is not teaching, he is involved in a various diving projects in Africa and Europe. Find out more at www.pjptech.co.za

Freediving Blogs

British freediver sets new national record with 112m dive

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British freediver Gary McGrath has set a new national record at the prestigious Vertical Blue freediving competition in the Bahamas.

Using only a monofin for propulsion, Gary swam down a measured rope to a depth of 112m (367ft), returning to the surface to receive a white card from the AIDA International judges to validate his dive.

Gary, 41, held his breath for three minutes and 13 seconds to complete the dive.

Freedivers descend underwater on a single breath of air and the atmospheric pressure on their bodies increases as they go deeper.

At 112m deep the pressure is 12 times greater than the surface, meaning the air in Gary’s lungs would have shrunk to less than a twelfth of its original volume – around the size of a golf ball.

Freedivers train to cope with the physiological strains placed on their bodies by their sport, and Gary uses his background of yoga and meditation to help his physical and mental preparation for deep dives.

He has also had to overcome physical challenges after contracting Covid last year during preparations for a previous national record attempt.

Gary said: ‘Diving below 100m is a totally unique environment, it’s my therapy. 

‘This year has been extremely challenging for my mental health and freediving has helped me overcome that for sure. 

‘At depth I have complete isolation from the everyday world we live in. Down there it’s just me and nature. It’s that escape that all freedivers crave. 

‘There are moments of extreme mental clarity and purity that I can only achieve when underwater. The flow state that a deep dive allows me to experience is unique and addictive.

Gary, originally from Twickenham, began freediving in 2006 and has been competing since 2008.

A former tree surgeon, he became a professional freedive instructor in 2014, and he and his partner Lynne Paddon run Yoga and Freedive Retreats in Ibiza.

Remarkably, he completed his 112m national record dive on Tuesday (August 9) despite being forced to compete wearing a borrowed monofin which was a size too small for his feet.

His entire kit bag containing his monofin, bifins and two wetsuits was lost by an airline as he travelled to the competition.

Despite his careful preparation, Gary said he suffered nerves on the morning of his national record dive, and relied on a phone call to his partner Lynne, who helped him focus on breathing techniques and visualisation to calm his nerves.

Speaking immediately after his dive, he said: ‘That was all for Lynne – this whole week has been about her. I could not do it without her. I hope that everyone finds someone they can click with, it’s the most magical thing in the world.’

Gary also thanked supporters who helped him to crowdfund to raise the money needed for him to travel to the Bahamas and compete.

Vertical Blue is considered one of the most elite events on the freediving calendar and has been dubbed the ‘Wimbledon of Freediving’.

Owned and run by world record freediver William Trubridge, the event takes place in a 202m (663ft) deep sinkhole known as Dean’s Blue Hole, off the coast of Long Island.

The previous British national record of 111m was set by Michael Board in 2018, also at a Vertical Blue competition.


All Photographs courtesy of Daan Verhoeven (www.daanverhoeven.com)

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Miscellaneous Blogs

Film Review: Thirteen Lives

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Ron Howard’s recreation of the 2018 rescue of a Thai junior football team is impressive. Even though we know what happens in the end the tension and drama played out is palpable.

On 23 June 2018, 12 members of a Thai junior football team, the Wild Boars, and their coach became trapped deep in the Tham Luang cave system by rising flood water. The film details the incredible international rescue efforts that ensue. And Ron Howard has judged the tone perfectly. There is no Hollywood glitz and glamour and the two leading actors: Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, who play John Volanthen and Rick Stanton respectively, capture the intensity of the situation perfectly.

The diving scenes are claustrophobic in the extreme. Although I suspect that the visibility was even worse than the film depicts as you have to be able to see something in the dramatization! All the way through the film I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the extraordinary feat these divers pulled off. The skill and bravery required still impresses after watching films, hearing them speak in public and reading about the rescue.

I loved that, whilst the divers took centre stage in the film, the heroic rescue efforts of the water engineer and his team was also given the attention they deserve, as well as the incredible Thai Navy Seals and the thousands of people that flocked to the region to help.

Thirteen Lives is a must watch movie about an incredible cave rescue. It’s sober tone hits the mark. The cinematography is skilled and creates an impressively tense experience. It is available on Amazon Prime right now.

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