South Africa is known by divers for the Great White Shark, but less known is diving in the town of Unkomaas, south of Durban will meet the Aliwal Shoal Reef, undoubtedly one of the best (if not the best) destination in the world for diving from hotel where you can dive with sharks, giant blanket, stripe blankets, impressive groupers etc at a more than interesting price.
There are several factors by which diving I consider this destination something that you can not miss, to start the plane access. Durán is easy and convenient, for example with Emirates with a single stop in Dubai or with other companies stopping in Johannesburg. Booking in advance the flight with rates you can leave for about 700€ which is not bad. Another interesting factor is that once in Durban the time difference is only one hour with Spain, so we can forget the happy “jetlag”.
Upon arrival in Durban, about an hour by road south we find the quiet town of Unkoomas, here we can stay at the “Agulhas House & Diving”. It is an old colonial house of a doctor, now converted into a very familiar “dive resrot”, with only 14 rooms, a few in the old house and the rest built behind the small garden pool. All rooms have enough space and the necessary amenities, including the typical “set” with water heater for tea or coffee as well as free wi-fi. The diving center is located in the facilities, properly equipped, with Nitrox available and several boats to accommodate divers depending on the number. The center is also prepared to accommodate “rebreather” divers.
The day of diving begins very soon, breakfast about 6 in the morning and 6.30 we equip ourselves, small “briefing” and we get on the “pick up” that takes us to the mouth of the river Unkomaas where the boat awaits us. The river usually goes down hard and you have to cross to the open sea that pushes towards the coast, so it gets fun. They put us life vests, we hold on to the rope that crosses the boat, we put our feet on the hooks on the floor of the boat and the boatman starts looking for the crossing time, sometimes after several attempts. It is a brief but exciting moment when it hits the 240 hp aft and we go full steam across the waves to the open sea, once there we take off our vests and we wait for a quiet journey of about 15 minutes to reach the reef of Aliwal Shoal.
Aliwal Shoal is about 3 kilometers long, with various depths and nooks and crannies but in general we do them at low or medium depth, between zero and 25 meters deep. Here you can dive all year round, depending on the season we will find a type of fauna or another but the sharks are guaranteed. Aliwal Shoal is a very peculiar place, it reminds me of Cabo de Palos but to the beast, there is no coral, there are only a few sponges and some coral but its great attraction is that in the same dive you can see potato mashed potatoes of more than 200 kg (there are some of almost 400 kg), Manta Ray, giant Manta, shoals and of course sharks !. In our summer, the water is cooler in this area, between 17º and at most 21º. It is the time in which we will find the star shark, the “Ragged”, of fierce aspect and considerable size but very calm and that in general comes very close and is photographed at pleasure. During this time the most fortunate can cross while diving with the great white shark, without cages or milk, the rush of adrenaline is guaranteed. From November the temperature begins to rise and the fauna changes, in February or March it reaches the highest point, about 25º, we will not see the “Ragged” nor of course the white one but on the contrary it is when we cross in the tiger shark , another great shark that does not leave anyone indifferent. The other sharks like the black tips or the “Longimanus l” can be seen all year round. One of the star dives is when they throw a metallic ball full of fish to attract the sharks, from the boat you can touch them! They throw the line and we dive about four meters deep, once there to see the spectacle of the sharks passing by, they look us in the eyes and they are so close that sometimes they touch you with the fins, it is a sensation amazing.
Back to the resort we arrived early after the two dives, around 12.30 we are already having lunch and we have the afternoon free, which we can take advantage of to rest in the garden or the pool or take advantage of doing some of the activities available, such as visiting the crocodile farm, see a “Zulu” dance or do a mini safari for about two hours, there are no felines but there are other interesting animals like giraffes, rhinoceroses, etc. If the conditions of the sea allow it we can also do a third dive.
In the resort we are in full board, we eat great and especially are the barbecues, that these South Africans have good hand to prepare delicious meat.
In summary, the diving in Aliwal Shoal is great all year round and suitable for all types of divers, in a very familiar environment and at a price to be taken into account.