Scuba Diving Site Write-Ups by Fiona McIntosh – Aliwal Shoal
A huge thanks to MapStudio for allowing me to add their dive site write ups by Fiona McIntosh from the Atlas of Dive Sites of South Africa and Mozambique.
Cathedral Scuba Diving Site. All Open Water Divers – Boat Launch – Average depth 13m
Arguably the most spectacular site on Aliwal Shoal, Cathedral, as it names suggests, is a massive arch which dominates an amphitheatre-like hole in the southern section of the reef. The arch is encrusted with marine life and covered with colourful goldies that take refuge as you drop down, while the amphitheatre is home to many large stingrays, moray eels and, in season (July – November), large numbers – sometimes as many as 50 or more – of ragged tooth sharks.
The base of the arch is at around 27m, rising to 18m, and the typography makes it a very photogenic dive site. If you’re an advanced scuba diver you can swim through the arch and check out wonderful sponges, soft corals, starfish, and cleaning stations manned by hinge-beak banded coral shrimps in the deep sheltered bowl – if you’ve got good eyes you might even see paperfish, frogfish and pineapple fish while scuba diving.
The top of the reef is at around 17m, so this usually a multi-level drift scuba dive, and there’s plenty for open-water scuba divers to explore. Like most of the dives on Aliwal Shoal, when the current is running, this can be combined with other spots such as Outside Edge on the seaward side of the Shoal.
One of the advantages of of Cathedral is that you can dive it on either north-south or south-north current. Common sightings in the caves and gullies on either side of Cathedral include potato bass, turtles and large. Almost guaranteed on every scuba diving visit.
Raggies Cave and Shark Alley Scuba Diving Sites. All Open Water Divers – Boat Launch – Average depth 16m
A little further north of Cathedral on the outside edge, Raggies Cave is, as you guessed, a top dive spot to view big groups of ragged-tooth sharks, which come here to breed in winter months. The scuba diving site, a massive overhang with two swim-throughs out the back, is world renowned and popular, so following raggie etiquette is important – scuba divers may not enter the cave when sharks are in residence; rather you hold onto the large rock at the entrance and watch in awe as the fearsome-looking raggies move in and out or rub themselves in the sand.
A short drift dive south of Raggies Cave is Shark Alley, another favourite hangout for the raggies. In season you might also be lucky enough to do some scuba diving with tiger sharks.
MV Produce Wreck Scuba Diving Site. Advanced Divers – Boat Launch – Average depth 24m
The Produce was carrying a cargo of mollasses when she hit the northeast pinnacles of Aliwal Shoal on 12 August 1974. No lives were lost and the wreck, which lies on her starboard side facing north, is in two pieces – the bow, which still has spare propeller, and the ship stern – with scattering of the mid-ship in-between.
A number of scuba diving penetration points make the Produce a great site for wreck lovers to explore – bring a torch, it’s dark in there! A resident family of massive brindle bass is an added attraction, and you’ll often see turtles, lionfish, scorpionfish, stonefish and big rays as well as the usual colourful reef fish. Endemic harlequin goldies – which are only found here and the Nebo – flit around the wreck, while big gamefish such as salmon and kingfish, and even manta rays, are sometimes seen by groups of scuba divers.
The Pinnacles Scuba Diving Site. All Open Water Divers – Boat Launch – Average depth 12m
The reason the demise of the Produce and many of the other wrecks on the Shoal, this is a shallow site so it is ideally dived when there is little or no surge or current. There are numerous caves, gullies and overhangs to explore, but the northeastern pinnacle, which rises from 18m to within 5m of the surface, is definitely the main focus of this scuba diving area.
A nice dive site for scuba diving beginners.
Eelskin Scuba Diving Site. All Open Water Divers – Boat Launch – Average depth 12m
Eelskin, t the southwestern tip of the reef, is a superb example of the fossilised rock formations, swim-throughs, sand gullies and caverns that epitomise the Shoal. The dive reef has something for everyone. Go slowly, checking out the corals, numerous cleaning stations and wonderful nudibranchs and searching the nooks and crannies for rarer critters such as peacock mantis shrimp. Many cowries can be found here and, as the gullies offer shelter from the currents, you will often find raggies during the season as well as big shoals of tropical fish. Blacktip sharks are often spotted and in season you might even see tiger sharks while scuba diving.
Landers Scuba Diving Site. Advanced Divers – Boat Launch – Average depth 21m
The deeper, little-scuba-dived sites of Landers Reef are for advanced divers only, and all offer interesting typography and diverse marine life. The best known, and the most scenic, is Landers, which consists of a big pinnacle and large boulders, gullies, overhangs and caves. The hard and soft corals are impressive; there is a big green coral tree and branched black coral, thistle coral and dead man’s finger are abundant. Gamefish, dolphins and eels are regularly spotted, but the reef is best known for the large number of nudibranchs and also tropical fish, including large schools of goldies will also entertain visiting scuba diving enthusiasts.