Rated by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world, the Aliwal Shoal has a great reputation to live up to. This fossilized sand dune lies 4-5 kms out to sea, and was first dived in the 1950s, it is on the inner edge of the Mozambiquan current. The typography is rugged with pinnacles, gullies, and caves. There is an abundance of soft corals and sponges attracting over 1200 species of fish, turtles, rays, sharks, and whales. It offers divers sightings from the smallest nudibranch up to huge whales on launches, and sometimes even whale sharks. Rays, eels, dolphins, octopus, scorpion fish, frog fish are just a few of the reef visitors you are likely to see, but its the sharks that usually brings people to this part of the world.
Diving is generally carried out in the morning as windier afternoons make launches more difficult, and most are drift dives in the blue often with strong currents. The depth of dives will vary from 8m to 30m, with some dives on the reefs and wrecks, and some that are baited on the southern end to attract tigers, blacktips, duskies and bull sharks. The species of shark that you could potentially see on the shoal includes tiger, bull, hammerhead, blacktip, ragged tooth, dusky and guitar.
There are sighting year-round of oceanic sharks, black tips, dolphins, turtles, and white tips. Hammerheads are common from November through to March, along with whale sharks, also tiger sharks and bull sharks until around May. From April to October, you would hope to see giant guitar sharks, ragged tooth sharks, dusky sharks, and humpback whales.
There are two wrecks, Nebo and Produce. Nebo is a 2000-ton steamship that sank in May 1884 carrying a railway bridge from Sunderland to Durban, she is now upside down at 28m. Produce, a Norwegian bulk carrier, had her hull ripped on pinnacle Aug 1974, the bridge of the vessel lies at 12m and the ship on the seabed at 35m.
There is a great selection of dive sites such as Raggie’s Cave, a popular site and great place to see ragged tooth sharks. Here you will find a massive overhang with two swim throughs, a cave with large sand patch and a long overhang. Max depth is 18m. Shark Alley is a gully that drops off Raggie’s Cave with a sandy bottom and stony outcrops, home to potato bass, and stunning sea ferns.
Cathedral is possibly the best-known dive site at Aliwal Shoal, a circular cavern spirals upwards to the pothole entrance at 18m, the massive arch dominates an amphitheatre like hole that mimics light through church windows, the arch is encrusted with marine life. You can see raggies, ray, cuttlefish, and resident frogfish, and keep your eyes peeled for hammerheads, humpback whales and the elusive great white shark that have also been spotted here.
Chunnel is a good dive site for Open Water qualified divers as the max depth is 14m. Sharks, turtles and rays can be found here. Howards Castle is 2km further south than the rest of the reef, and is where baited shark dives take place. The site gets its name from similarities to a castle with its overhangs, ledges, and swim throughs. You can hope to see blacktips, raggies, nudibranch and the elusive pineapple fish.