The world‘s finest diving

Southern Africa

For unforgettable sheer adventure, I have to say that southern Africa’s Sardine Run, can’t be beat.   This is a thoroughly unique phenomenon (sometimes described as the Greatest “Shoal” On Earth) and is arguably the supreme mass-predator event in the world.   However, be warned. The Natural World may run like clockwork much of the time … but not ALL of the time.

The event takes place off the KwaZulu/Natal south coast of Africa every June &  July.  Well ….. ALMOST every June & July ! Please note that there are always risks that can mean you get “stood-up”.   The show doesn’t always go on !    It seems to be a water temperature issue.  If the water is too warm, the sardines just don’t budge from where they are.

A word from Dom

Surprising Diversity

Southern Africa is almost certainly known to divers for its abundance of ocean predators … but as we all know, the big guys aren’t there if there are no little guys !

There are plentiful large reefs here which are largely coral built upon ancient rock formations. With healthy corals – hard & soft plus sponges & anemones – there is also a wide range of endemic smaller fish and invertebrates … colorful & prolific.

The southernmost diving, in particular, can be extremely challenging and much of the diving here is recommended for advanced divers. You’ll find big swells and strong currents … and cold water during some periods of the year.

Revel in the excitement of cage diving with GREAT WHITES.  Swim out to meet TIGER SHARKS, ZambeziBULL SHARKS & RAGGED-TOOTH SHARKS (“raggies”) at Aliwal Shoal.  Marvel at oceanic blacktips, HAMMERHEADS, guitar sharks & whale sharks … plus DOLPHINS & MANTA RAYS, swirling schools of pelagic fish, VIVID CORALS, volumes of reef fish & plenty of beguiling macro subjects.   Then of course, there is the infamous SARDINE RUN – probably what every diver thinks of first when southern Africa is mentioned.

Southern Africa Diving .... A Full Buffet Of Delights

Aliwal Shoal, Protea Banks

Located on the south coast of South Africa are rocky reefs covered with hard & soft corals and inhabited by a wide variety of tropical and subtropical fish species.  More importantly, they are recognized for their high-quality shark diving, best known for their close-up encounters with magnificent tiger sharks and the “ragged-tooth”sharks – or raggies, as they’re known here.  Tiger sharks are the fourth largest shark in the oceans, after the whale shark, basking shark & great white shark.  Diving with them is breath-taking.   Tiger shark lovers can usually expect at least 2 tigers on each dive … but up to 6 appear from time to time and the photo ops are incredible.

The “raggie” is a grey nurse shark and it’s the mass of sharks which arrive every year between August and November that cause the stir.   Divers often see 50 or more raggies in one dive.  In spite of their savage appearance, the raggies are gentle animals and divers can confidently swim in their midst with never a problem.

In addition to the raggies, Aliwal Shoal is also very well known for other large pelagics. At varying times of the year, dependant on migratory habits, divers can see tiger sharks, zambezi sharks, oceanic blacktips, hammerheads, guitar sharks, whale sharks, manta rays and the occasional humpback whale.

Dolphins are in residence all year round along with plenty of turtles, devil rays, massive potato bass and great schools of pelagic fish.  And, finally, there are two good wrecks here …. The Produce, which went down in 1974 and the Nebo which was lost on its maiden voyage in 1884.

Protea Banks is also a unique reef system also along the Kwa-Zulu Natal South Coast of South Africa which offers high-energy pelagic encounters. Large schools of yellowtail, kingfish, tuna and barracuda draw in the sharks and other predators.

The Zambezi bull sharks are perhaps the most prevalent here with guitar sharks coming in as number two …. but divers will also see hammerheads, oceanic blacktips, dusky sharks and humpback whales in their season.

The reef and reef life are very much the same as Aliwal Shoal.


Sodwana is home to the raggies mentioned above during their months of gestation.  These females are calm and unexcitable, allowing divers to approach unbelievably close to them.   More than sharks, though, the reefs here offer plenty of life from large schools of pelagic fish to prolific & varied macro life at several of the reefs.  Sodwana offers a bit of everything and is a destination appropriate for divers of all levels … although the shark dives are considered advanced as are several of the most popular sites, simply due to sea conditions.

The reefs all attract different varieties of life, but if you dive a multitude of sites during your stay you can expect to see plenty of large rays, lots of turtles, schools of jacks, trevallies, barracuda, kingfish & the almost-human-looking potato bass.

Add to that the swirling schools of snapper, fusliers, sergeant majors and goatfish …  the intriguing critters such as cleaner shrimps, Durban Dancing Shrimps, harlequin shrimps (and other varieties)  … frogfish, scorpionfish, ghost pipefish & crayfish … plus trumpetfish and lots of morays – juveniles and adults.

See our Practical Information for South Africa for notations on recommended times of year and diving levels.

Great White Shark Cage Diving

A jumbo-sized colony of Cape Fur Seals …. and one of penguins … are the main attractions in South Africa … for the Great White sharks. And the sharks are the main attraction for divers ! In the area known as Shark Alley seals & penguins become tasty morsels for the sharks.  Divers & non-divers alike have the opportunity to view the action from the surface or from cages and you’ll often see the feeding frenzy from the boat.

There are two alternatives for cage diving with great whites in South Africa – the Simon’s Town venue and the Gansbaai venue. Simon’s Town has fewer operators than Gansbaai, so is often the preferred location for serious shark enthousiasts.

There are plenty of 1-day programs available … but as the areas where the shark diving is done is known as the « Cape of Storms » we highly recommend planning at least two here – preferably more. If you have a day where the weather conditions prohibit leaving shore, you’ll miss your shark adventure entirely.

The best of the operators will include information briefings about the animals, their habitat and their habits … explaining how they hunt, feed and breed.

You’ll be transported in a boat which carries its own (very safe) shark cage, which remains attached to the boat the entire time.  You begin your voyage early in the day, crossing to your observation site where 4 or 5 people at a time enter the cage.  The others are rotated in on a schedule. Gear is provided by the operators …. and most offer snacks while you’re on the boat. Return to port is normally 2 :00 pm at the latest.


On the east coast of southern Africa, Mozambique is known to divers as one of THE places to go for ocean giants … manta rays, eagle rays, whale sharks, Zambezi bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, sunfish & devil rays, guitar shark &, leopard sharks and the spotted ragged-tooth sharks. Then, from July to November, add in the presence of humpback whales.  But the diving here is more than just this mixture of magnificant pelagics. This Indian Ocean location offers fantastic & protected reefs filled with abundant reef fish, eels and turtles.

The topography includes arches, drop offs, overhangs, gullies & caverns. You’ll find a couple of good drift dives and will be delighted by multiple manta ray cleaning stations.

The waters are rich in large fish species : potato bass, humphead wrasse, groupers, kingfish, barracuda & wahoo …. as well as mid-size beauties such as angelfish, blue surgeons, red fang trigger fish, emperor angelfish, yellowback fusiliers, unicornfish, butterflyfish, lionfish & sweepers …. plus falling strictly into their own unique categories … trumpetfish and crocodile fish. Certain areas are notable for their large quantities of juvenile fish of a variety of species.

With excellent reefs (including some stunning sea fans) the macro category is also covered here. Any decent photographer’s eye will find nudibranchs, several varieties of shrimps, pipefish, lots of frog fish, scorpion fish, razor fish and long nose hawkfish.

Sardine Run

It all starts with the sardines. When they begin their migration, moving northward, the great chase begins. Thousands upon thousands of dolphins plus numerous sharks, whales and sea birds follow the sardine shoals, gorging themselves on Nature’s biggest banquet.
The Sardine Run occurs most every year along the coast of Africa. The « most » every year part of the sentence is the critical part. Scientists tell us that in order for the sardines to run, the water temperature has to drop to 21º C and lower. If that doesn’t happen the Sardines simply don’t go.  When they do go, it’s sheer mayhem.

Billions of sardines spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northward along the east coast of Africa toward Mozambique. The shoals are often more than 7 km long, 1.5 km wide and 30 metres deep and are clearly visible from spotter planes.

For divers, far greater allure is held in the overwhelming numbers of predators that follow this shoal.
Dolphins and game fish litter the surface of the ocean, darting and diving, grabbing every sardine they possibly can. You never know where to look because the action is fast, furious and absolutely everywhere around you.

Now, the challenge for the average diver is to select when to go …. as the timing of this event is impossible to predict. Should you choose to experience a Sardine Run during your diving “career” you need to know that you may get lucky on the date you pick … and you may not !   This is true adventure.

We work with several operators and will be happy to advise you where and when to book based on the most current information we have …. but it’s all a gamble. No one is in charge here ! But, if you’re a gambler … and if you place your bets carefully … and if your luck holds …. you’re in for one wild & exotic ride!

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