The Aliwal Shoal reef is rated internationally as one of the “Top 10 dive sites” in the world, and for a very good reason. It is a rocky reef, which is the remains of an ancient sand dune, lying approximately 5 km off the coast of Umkomaas, , which in turn sits about 40kms south of the vibrant city of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
The Aliwal Shoal was named after the near-sinking of the 3-Masted vessel "Aliwal", captained by James Anderson, in 1849. There are two wrecks near the reef that are popular recreational dive sites. The Norwegian bulk carrier “MV Produce” which sank in 1974, and the “SS Nebo” which sank in 1884.
Aliwal Shoal has incredible and diverse marine life, including large predators, and is very popular as a recreational and adrenalin scuba diving destination. The Shoal is known especially for its abundance of Grey Nurse Sharks or Sand Tiger (known locally as "Raggies") between June and November, and the inquisitive “Black Tip” sharks which frequent the outer waters. Larger species such as Tiger, Zambezi (Bull), Hammerhead and even the magnificent Great White Shark are sometimes spotted. In addition, divers get to see passing Dolphins, Turtles, Manta Rays, Whale Sharks and the twice yearly Humpback whale migration.
The reef is gripped by many kinds of hard and soft corals and a variety of tropical and subtropical fish species. There are many crevices, small caves, large potholes and rippled sand patches to explore – search the sand for shark teeth, search under crevices for “beautiful-ugly” creatures, and search the blue for those larger attractions.
All boat launches start in the Umkomaas river, and then head out straight through the breaking waves – often an exhilarating ride. Although divers of all certification levels are accepted, we suggest a minimum of an Advanced qualification to get the best experience out of your journey – this practical course can be arranged during your stay and requires only 5 dives.
A “bucket-list must do” is a baited shark dive, which take place in mid-water, just south of the main reef system. As the boat stops, a concoction is poured into the water to create a “small trail”. Have patience, as soon dozens of Black Tip sharks appear. Then a “food drum” is lowered into the water, and guess what? You jump in too and descend to about 5m only. Then you, the food drum and the sharks drift in the current – it is wonderful, it is electric, it is a must do! And you often get a few large and docile Tiger Sharks who lazily amble into the action. An hour later, you regretfully return to the boat and journey back to shore – tomorrow is another day!