South Africa is known to be a spectacular destination. It offers world-class diving punctuated by amazing top-side recreation from hiking to Big Five game safaris. It is a place that will one day definitely be worth trying to put in the extra effort to reach!
The Mother City
Cape Town has been alternately called the Cape of Storms and the Fairest Cape, both monikers it has come by honestly. People who have visited there say It is a port city that will take your breath away with its beauty. Table Mountain rises from the center of the city with the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian ocean to the east, both of which offer adventurous dives. On a good day, both oceans reflect calm inviting water, but that could change within an hour, and the placid waters can turn violent with massive swells and gale force winds. Many is the ship that has not withstood the wrath of the Cape of Storms!
Moody Weather, Magic Dives
This fair coastline offers up some super dives and an abundance of diversity in terms of habitat—from rocky shores, kelp forests, and reefs to sandy bottoms. The uniqueness of two accessible yet different oceans and ecosystems means that you can customize your dive experience. A bad weather day on the Atlantic side may mean a magical day on the Indian side! When diving on the Atlantic side, you can expect colder water and stronger currents (not ideal for novice divers unless supervised and/or partnered with an experienced buddy.) The geography there hosts a narrow shelf, which drops off pretty quickly into extremely deep waters. The Atlantic side is best in the summer when the northeast wind brings clear and calm waters, albeit still cold! The eastern seaboard on the Indian Ocean side offers a warmer, more relaxed dive, with a current that is manageable and that makes for great diving for all levels of experience. The Indian Ocean is best during the winter months when the northwest winds calm and clear the waters, which means you get great year-round options!
You cannot escape the reality of sharks in the Cape. All beaches have warnings posted about swimming at dusk and dawn, and there are reports of people sustaining injuries from bites. Nevertheless, South Africans still can be seen hitting the water to dive, swim, surf, paddle, and enjoy. This is because while sharks can present a threat, attacks are infrequent and almost never heard of for SCUBA divers, so I wouldn’t let their reputation keep me from getting wet!
Great Whites! Great Sights!
Cape Town is probably the premier place for experiencing Great White sharks up close. There are several outfits that can take you out for a cage diving experience. While I wouldn’t particularly love the experience of being in the cage (I prefer free diving), it would certainly be an adrenaline rush to find myself 30 centimeters away from such magnificent creatures as they silently swam in, jaws wide, for the tuna chum.
There is no better way to introduce junior divers to the beauty of these sharks. Their ferocious strength is apparent in equal measure to their beauty and grace. These apex predators play a critical role in maintaining an ecological balance in our oceans with their only threat coming from humans who use their fins for soup, their teeth for ornaments, and their jaws as trophies to mount on a wall.
The Clan Stuart
Both sides of the peninsula are scattered with wrecks, which are a testament to the mercurial nature of the Cape weather. These wrecks make for some excellent dives and lots of marine life. On a stormy day in 1914, a 3,500-ton British turret steamer ran afoul of a Northeaster and was lost to the sea after dragging her anchor some distance. Yesterday’s misfortune is today’s opportunity. The wreck is not far from the shore and is an exciting dive for beginners to experienced divers. You can enter the water at Mackerel Bay beach, and it’s a short swim to the shallow wreck. While many would consider the dive easy, the dividends are great, since the steel is encrusted with corals and plays host to a multitude of small fish. At night, the wreck comes to life as many shy sea creatures come out in the quiet of the moonlight. This is also a good location for spotting those Great White sharks.
Justin’s Caves, Cold Water, Clear Sea, Great Sights
On the Atlantic side, a family favorite for us would be Justin’s Caves. This is another dive site that is easy to reach right from the beach. It’s a fun dive with swim-throughs, caverns, and sea kelp. You’ll see various nudibranchs, anemones, sponges, and crayfish (not to be confused with lobster though also good to eat!) You could also see sharks in this area, though they are reportedly not too common there.
Know Before You Go
I know that I will have to get a permit to dive the Cape Town waters, but it can be easily obtained through diver operators or the post office. While the shore dives are plentiful and easily accessible to experienced divers, conditions in this part of the world can change within hours, and I would probably dive here along with other experienced locals or through a dive outfit. I also certainly intend to take advantage of the plethora of fantastic activities topside between dives, from a walk on Table Mountain to sundowners at the VA Docks. Cape Town is a destination that I very much look forward to and am sure I will not easily forget.