If it’s variety you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. South Africa has an enormously long coastline ranging from about 35°S to 27°S, which isn’t quite within the usual range for tropical diving.
But the Mozambique Current flows down our east coast, bringing warm tropical water with it, and at Sodwana Bay we have the most southerly coral reefs in the world.
Here you’ll find the full complement of pretty colourful fish and some great nudibranchs, including the outrageous Spanish dancer. Whale sharks, turtles, dolphins and ragged tooth sharks are often seen in specific areas.
As you head down the coast the underwater environment changes gradually until, once you reach Cape Town, you’re diving in chilly but beautiful kelp forests. There are three major types of kelp, and a short portion of the Western Cape coast is the only place in the world that they all grow together.
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If you’ve always shunned cold water diving, consider it. Sure, you have to don a thick wetsuit with constraining hoodie and gloves, but it’s worth it. Diving in kelp is like walking in a forest – you float beneath the canopy and admire the surprisingly colourful reef life.
Off Cape Town, divers regularly see anemones in colours ranging from electric blue or deep red to pale pink, nudibranchs of almost every colour you can imagine, and a range of small creatures in and around the bright orange and sulphur yellow sponges.
There are dive schools in almost every centre, with a surprising number in landlocked Johannesburg, where people do their training before heading down to Sodwana Bay for their qualifying dives.
There is even an inland dive resort near Johannesburg, where students can do their first dive or two in a disused quarry. Komati Springs is a much deeper disused quarry in Mpumalanga province, where rebreather, mixed gas and deep diving courses are run.
Take careful note of your no-fly limits, however. A flight from sea level to Johannesburg can take only an hour, but you gain about 2 000 metres (7 000 feet) in altitude – that’s without even considering the flight.
This represents a major risk, so adjust your itinerary to include a day of sightseeing, shopping or beach lounging between diving and travelling to Johannesburg.