This article is intended to provide the already qualified scuba diver with information which will help to plan dives in the waters of South Africa, whether as a local resident or a visitor. Information is provided without prejudice, and is not guaranteed accurate or complete. Use it at your own risk. The information is primarily about recreational scuba dive sites, but may also be useful to the snorkeller or freediver.
If you are looking for information on getting training and certification as a recreational scuba diver, refer to the article on scuba diving for general information, or the regional article covering your area of interest, to find listings of dive schools.
More detailed regional information and listings of dive shops, operators, and other related services will also usually be found in the regional guides. Some information and listings for areas without a regional guide may be found in this article under the Services headings in the Destination section.
South Africa has sites spread along its coast that are perhaps better known for sharks and other large marine life, but also have a wide range of endemic smaller fish and invertebrates. The coastal sites range from tropical coral reefs in the north of KwaZulu-Natal on the east coast, where the fish are typical Indo-Pacific tropical species, and very colourful, through the warm temperate south coast with its rocky shores and many endemic species, to cool temperate rocky reefs on the west coast with their kelp forests, where the fish life is relatively dull, but the invertebrates provide the colour.
The annual sardine run from the south to the east coast is justly famous and the lesser known chokka (squid) spawning also attracts large numbers of predators, but without requiring as much chasing around to be at the right place. The right time is the problem there.
There are a large number of wrecks along the coast, some with historical importance dating back as far as the 15th century, and some of which are regarded as good dive sites. They tend to be concentrated near the harbours and near major headlands. The Cape Peninsula, Danger Point, Cape Agulhas, Algoa Bay and Durban have relatively large numbers of accessible wreck dives. The exact position of many wrecks is still unknown and finding them provides entertainment for some divers.
The inland sites are more usually used for training, technical and cave diving. They are freshwater altitude dive sites, some with a cave component, and range from shallow to very deep.
South African diving is generally more physically challenging than the more popular tropical destinations. It may involve cold water, surf launches, big swell or strong currents, depending on the region involved, and a higher level of fitness and skill is desirable if you want to enjoy the experience to the maximum.
The dive sites of South Africa can be grouped in four regions, each of which has generally similar water conditions diving procedures, and biodiversity. These are the west coast, the south coast, the east coast, and the inland dive sites. The coastal diving regions approximate the coastal ecoregions more closely than the political regions, with some transitional areas, excepting that the west coast/south coast split is made east of False Bay, which is considered to be part of Cape Town’s west coast diving neighbourhood.
For those who want more protected and benign conditions, there are two large aquariums where divers can enjoy warmer water and very easy access, and are guaranteed to see a large number of fish.