KwaZulu Natal Tourist AttractionsThe Aliwal Shoal
Where? Aliwal Shoal, Umkomaas, South Coast, KwaZulu Natal
When? Book with a number of dive operators
Not only is Aliwal Shoal rated by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top 10 dive spots in the world, but regular divers say it is second only to the rocky ride over breakers to get there ('rocky' describes the turbulence of the sea rather than any protuberances between the coast and the reef).
The marine life of the shoal is said to be spectacular. Raggies or ragged tooth sharks (also known as grey nurse sharks) are regularly spotted between August and November as they use the area to mate. They are, despite looking like hunters of the deep, rather docile. In fact in the history of diving the shoal, there has been no recorded attack from a shark. You are more likely to spot them close to a famous area known as the 'raggy caves'.
But it is not only the prospect of seeing 15 to 20 sharks at any one time that attracts divers here. You can also see mantas, moray eels, huge stingrays, sweetlips, potato groupers (also known as potato bass or cod) and turtles. Whilst, with any luck and only at certain times of the year, you can also hope to see dolphins, humpbacks, whale sharks and hammerheads. This excludes the schools of pelagic and coral fish that frequent the 5 kilometre long reef or shoal.
During summer temperatures in the water average a warm 24 degrees, whilst in winter it does not get much colder than 19 degrees because the shoal lies on the inner edge of the Mozambique current. Popular diving sites on Aliwal Shoal include the cathedral - an amazing hole in the reef - the pinnacles, the north sands and the raggie cave and shark alley.