The Aliwal Shoal
A rocky reef about 5km off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the Aliwal Shoal is what remains of an ancient sand dune that has become fossilized!Inhabited by a variety of sharks, hard and soft corals, and a veritable smorgasbord of tropical and subtropical fish species. The Aliwal Shoal location is a one-of-a-kind recreational diving site.
Actually a world-famous dive spot, the shoal is named after the three-masted vessel it nearly sank – the Aliwal, a ship captained by one James Anderson in 1849. Whether you’re keen to explore wrecks, get up close and personal with some epic marine life or view some of nature’s underwater masterpieces; the Aliwal Shoal has a dive spot to satisfy absolutely everyone!
From open water shark diving opportunities to more low-key snorkelling activities; the Aliwal Shoal reef can be enjoyed by adrenaline junkies and more low-key explorers alike. A known ragged tooth shark (Grey Nurse Shark, or “raggie”) mating hub, the Aliwal Shoal is the ideal place to observe these gorgeous predators in their natural habitat July through November; but watch out!
Often swimming in a semi-sleep state, these sharks have been known to accidentally bump into divers who weren’t keeping an eye out for them! While a raggie isn’t capable of killing a human in any single bite given their mouth structure, they can still cause some pretty nasty wounds if startled or harassed.
Aliwal Shoal fun facts
There are two wrecks in the Aliwal Shoal reef region that you can explore!
The first, the SS Nebo, is thought to have been the third ship named “Nebo” built by the same shipyard in Sunderland that capsized on its maiden voyage!
The Nebo was a 2000 ton, single-propeller steam freighter carrying 4500 tons of materials from Britain to Durban that sank on 20 May 1884. According to official reports, she struck an unknown rock pinnacle as she neared the coast of Southern Africa, and may have capsized due to the weight of her cargo and the rough seas.
The 4500 tons of material she was carrying was material needed to build the Amanzimtoti railway; unfortunately, she never arrived, and the wreck actually went undiscovered until the 1960s when divers happened upon her!
Lying upside down in the sand, the SS Nebo can be found at a depth of 27m, and, while the hull of the ship has decayed and the remains washed away over the years, her stern is still clearly identifiable, and her propeller and boiler make for some incredible photo-opportunities.
The second wreck in the Aliwal Shoal reef region is that of the 176m long MV Produce, a Norwegian bulk molasses carrier that sank on August 11th 1974 after colliding with the Northern Pinnacles part of the shoal.
Resting on her starboard side at a depth of 32m, the vessel took only four hours from the moment of impact to colliding with the ocean floor once and for all.
While the captain was apparently snoozing when she hit the pinnacles, the crew had only 30mins to abandon ship, and were rescued by fisherman from the SAS Oranjeland, and an air force helicopter that came to their aid.
While this wreck is also not entirely preserved, with the back of the ship broken and the midship largely collapsed, her bow and stern remain largely intact, and it is possible to swim between the bow and the stern when diving the MV Produce site!
The Aliwal Shoal is a Marine Protected Area
There are two restricted zones in the Aliwal shoal in which no fishing is allowed.
The rest of the Aliwal shoal falls within a control zone, in which limited fishing is permitted under certain circumstances and when the person doing the fishing has followed the correct procedures and obtained the necessary licenses.
Recreational diving at the Aliwal Shoal reef is governed by the “hands off” principle.
There is an understanding in the diving community that divers are not to touch the coral, or otherwise interfere with the marine life. Divers are to observe only, and to ensure that their behaviour while diving the reef doesn’t cause the sharks or fish.
When diving at any of the Aliwal shoal dive sites, recreational scuba diving equipment is adequate for normal diving as the deepest dive doesn’t exceed 30m in depth.
A DSMB and reel are advantageous, especially during stronger currents or when the reef has low visibility. For the sites deeper than 25m, the use of nitrox allows a much longer bottom time.
Aliwal Shoal Map With It’s Scuba Diving Sites
Max. Depth: 17m
These are the pinnacles to which we owe the amazing wrecks that can be explored at Aliwal Shoal. The pinnacles are breathtaking to behold, and exploring them is a little like exploring the Cango Caves underwater. Reaching amazing heights of only 6m from the surface, this dive, with a maximum depth of 17m, has gullies, overhangs, caves and swim-throughs. An amazing dive that is suitable for experienced and less experienced divers alike, if you haven’t dived the Northern Pinnacles yet, you’re missing out.
Max. Depth: 17m
Another dive with a 17m maximum depth, the North Sands dive spot is basically a giant sandy dive patch that functions sort of like a clearing in the woods. In other words, this spot is surrounded by loads of other dive sites that feature more densely populated or rougher underwater terrain. This dive site is home to a ridiculous amount of round ribbontail rays, so if you haven’t seen those beauties yet, this is the dive for you. North Sands is also home to guitar sharks during the summer months, so time your dive accordingly.
Max. Depth: 17m
The Chunnel dive spot, also with a max diving depth of 17m, is the known waterway where the sharks are constantly on the move. While this area is primarily home to ragged-tooth sharks, you’ll also spot some sand sharks, ribbontail rays, raggie scorpionfish and even turtles!
Max. Depth: 18m
A dive that’s only a hair’s breadth deeper than those aforementioned, Tiger Coves clocks in at a maximum dive depth of 18m. This dive spot has a massive overhang that forms a cave at the bottom of the wall that is just absolutely begging to be explored. On the inside edge of the Aliwal shoal, Tiger Cove is named for the incredible amount of Tiger Cowries that have made Tiger Cove their home. There is also a wide variety of soft coral to be seen at Tiger Cove, which is also home to Goldies, the Guineafowl Moray eel, guitarfish, scorpionfish and false stonefish!
Max. Depth: 19m
If you’ve come to Aliwal Shoal for the view, then Eel skin is a dive spot you don’t want to miss. With some of the most beautiful scenery the Aliwal shoal reef has to offer, Eel Skin is home to starfish in every shape and size imaginable; as well as boasting peacock mantis shrimp, puffer fish, box fish, green fern coral and nudibranchs. The maximum depth of this dive is 19m.
Max. Depth: 22m
The first over 20m dive, Manta Point has a maximum depth of 22m and is riddled with rocks and cave formations that raggies just love to hang out in! There is a really awesome swim-through and a number of gullies to explore, as well as schools of tropical fish making their way through soft and hard coral formations; including the famous leather coral! You never know, you may have a Manta Ray on your dive too.
Max. Depth: 19m
Raggies cave is a slightly shallower dive again, clocking in at a max depth of 19m. Raggies Cave consists of, you guessed it, caves, gullies, swim-through, and overhangs, and the site is home to a variety of hard coral species as well as juvenile fish, false stonefish, scorpionfish and without a doubt Raggies in the winter months.
Max. Depth: 27m
The deepest dive, Cathedral is a 27m max depth dive spot featuring a cave surrounded by crater-like rock formations. With all the ragged-tooth sharks patrolling the area, it looks almost like a castle in a Disney cartoon, with the sharks cast as the evil henchmen! This open water dive is unlike any other.
Max. Depth: 18m
South Sands is another big sand patch dive spot with some reef which is home to box fish, puffer fish, crayfish, leather coral, yellow turret coral and thistle coral. If you keep your eyes peeled at South Sands, you may even spot game fish like tuna!
Max. Depth: 21m
Howard’s Castle is a beautiful 21m deep dive site with channels featuring walls of reef on either side. With an overhang and some amazing swim-throughs, Howard’s Castle is home to loads of different species of coral, including: leather porous, sponges and thistle bright yellow deadman’s finger! Howard’s Castle is incredibly diverse and is also home to flutemouth fish, trumpet fish, the Devil Firefish, and the Mantis shrimp. If you’re lucky, you can also spot game fish and Tiger sharks! Howard’s Castle sets the stage for baited shark dives.
For more information on Aliwal Shoal diving, open water dives, Aliwal Shoal shark diving, or any of the species of fish or coral found at the Aliwal Shoal reef, please feel free to Contact Us, here at ScubaCo, for all your Scuba Diving needs.
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