Diving Aliwal Shoal

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Aliwal Shoal, South Africa

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Country: South Africa  Area: South Africa

Water Temp: 18 - 26°C (64 - 79°F)

Visibility: 5 - 40m (16 - 131 ft)

Depth Range: 6 - 32m (20 - 105 ft)

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Aliwal Shoal is a reef unlike any other reef you have seen before. It is a fossilized sand dune reef, rather than the coral reefs common on Sodwana Bay or the Red Sea. This creates an area with huge swim throughs, overhangs and ledges that keep every dive interesting.

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Aliwal Shoal is located off the coast of Umkomaas, a quiet beach town south of Durban. The town itself revolves around the ocean, with surfing, deep-sea fishing and diving being the most popular activities. Its close proximity to Durban makes a number of other activiites accessible as well, for those visiting with a private vehicle.

When diving in this unique landscape, there are always new and interesting things to see. They range from different little critters from as small as a little Nudi to as big as whales, dolphins, ray’s, and sharks. During winter you'll get to see the Whales up close as they pass us on their migration route and we have the Ragged Tooth Sharks that come spend time on our reef during their resting/mating period.

A Ragged Tooth Shark commonly seen in Aliwal Shoal, Credit

Locals & visitors alike also get the big Tiger Sharks in Aliwal Shoal in hot summer months, where baited diving is quite fun to see them up close and personal if you are lucky enough that day. All year round we have the Oceanic Black Tip shark that we can see in the 10’s and 20’s on the baited dives. Really a grand experience.

Marine Conservation

Aliwal Shoal was declared a Marine Protected Area in 2004. The protected region extends just over 18 kilometers along the shoreline, stretching from the Mkomazi to the Mzimayi River. Control and restricted zones exist within the MPA, which place limitations and restrictions on fishing. In order to dive in the area, you are required to get an MPA dive permit from the local Post Office. This too applies to fishermen as well.

Various organizations and non-profits are involved in further protecting Aliwal Shoal, with the World Wildlife Foundation being the largest among them. Dive shops generally adhere to PADI’s AWARE program, with some running additional independent programs as well. 


Off season is September, October and start of November due to the wind. But diving is generally good all year round. The most favourite time of the year is Winter June, July, August just wear a bit of a thicker wet suit and go for some of the best things to see.

Other Year round Marine life

Moray Eels especially the Honey Comb Moray , Leafy Fish, Giant Scorpion Fish, Pine Apple Fish and Banded Pipe fish.

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Shore Diving

There is no shore diving in Aliwal Shoal.

Boat Diving

Diving with a Ragged Tooth Shark, Credit

Aliwal Shoal is  about 7km away from shore and is only accessible by boat. Dive sites are extremely varied, and cater to all levels of experiences.

Some of the most popular dive sites are those that afford views of Ragged Tooth Sharks during their season. This includes both the Cathedral and – unsurprisingly – Raggies Cave. Hammerheads, potato bass and stingrays also frequent these sights seasonally.

Paperfish at Aliwal Shoal, Credit

The Inside Edge sight is wonderful for smaller species, including octopus, cuttlefish, scorpionfish, firefish, eels and nudibranches. The inshore edge of the shoal also attracts larger fish, occasional sharks, dolphins and rays from time to time. If however it is the ‘big stuff’ you’re keen to see – the outside edge of the shoal is the place to be. Here you will want to keep an eye out for schools of hammerheads and the occasional tiger shark.

There are also two local wreck dives, which are recommended for Advance and Nitrox divers. Both wrecks are submerged at a depth of approximately 30m, and are home to a number of eels, baitfish and the giant Brindle Bass.

White Anemone hiding a fish, Aliwal Shoal, Credit

Liveaboard Diving

There are no liveaboards operating in the region.

Whitetip Reef Shark Hiding in a cave, Credit

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How to Get there

The town nearest to Aliwal Shoal is called Umkomaas, and is located in eastern South Africa in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province. The nearest airport is located in Durban. It is called King Shaka Airport and connects with domestic flights throughout South Africa. International flights all arrive through Johannesburg and require onward connections.

Umkomaas is approximately 51 kilometers south of Durban. In a private vehicle, this takes roughly a half hour. A number of public transport options also connect the cities.

Humpback Whale seen on route to Aliwal Shoal, Credit

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Where to Eat & Drink

Umkomaas is generally a fairly quiet beach town. A few favourite local restaurants include The Crows Nest, Sebastian’s, Waves and the Blue Ocean Resort. Meals are generally a combination of South African and international dishes, with an emphasis on local seafood.

If you happen to be visiting Umkomaas with a private vehicle, you will also find more variety in restaurants and nightlife in Durban, roughly a half hour away.

Sea Anemone, Credit


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Other Activities

Generally, Umkomaas is a fairly quiet town with little to do beyond ocean-based activities. Other ocean activities that are popular include snorkelling, and surfing. The beach here is beautiful and is excellent for long walks and lazing around. There are a few curio shops in tow, including the Hope Shop which sells a variety of handicrafts and décor. There is also a local golf course just outside of town.

As with restaurants, if you happen to be visiting with a private vehicle, you may want to spend some days exploring the area around Durban. Here, you can visit the uShaka Marine World, the Crocworld Conservation Area or a number of nearby game parks. The Drakensburg mountains are also fairly close by.

Pink sponge and colorful algaes in Aliwal Shoal, Credit

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Do not go for the cheapest price available, the most important aspects of diving here is a safe boat experienced skipper and good Dive Master, so always ask for the experience of your leaders.

Visiting Umkomaas with a private vehicle opens up a lot of opportunities to visit the surrounding region on days when you are not diving. This includes the city of Durban, the Drakensburg mountains and a series of private game parks. It also permits you to explore the ‘Wild Coast’ of South Africa further.

The nearest hyperbaric chamber is located in Durban. It is roughly a 30 minute drive from Umkomaas.

Tiny blacksaddle filefish taking refuge in a gorgonian coral, Credit

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About off-season


The information is not correct at all. You can dive in september without any problem. We did it 2 years ago, with good conditions, and we dive with tiger sharks, raggies, oceanic blacktips and whitetips. In addition, dolphins and whales on the surface :)

Appropriate thickness (mm) wetsuit for Sardine Run

We are going to dive Aliwal and the Sardine Run around the end of June. I am somewhat warm natured but don't want to get chilled either. I am back and forth between using 5mm or 7mm protection.


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Alla Zakharenko

0 votes

Hi, Rod! I would suggest using 7 mm one. It is actually winter in SAR in June, so the water will be rather cold.

Rating 10/10

Incredible Diving

Aliwal Shoal25 Jan 2010 - 1 Feb 2010 with Aliwal Dive Centre

Diving for a week here offered a great variety of diving. Macro to Huge life. Amazing diving.

Rough conditions at times, can be difficult launching and landing. This diving is not for the faint hearted.

However can be totally worth it.

Variety of sites and opportunities, shallow and deep, all boat diving however.

Beware Blue Bottles stinging on the surface.

I've seen Leaf fish, turtles, incredible shoals of fish, huge potato cod, black tip sharks and Tiger sharks all in a week here.

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Showing 3 of 4 comments. Show all

T Anj

Hello, Why is it off-season between September and mid November? Is it to do with poor diving conditions or other factors? Thanks in advance.


Ann Challenor

Hey T Anj, Moslty due to conditions, Weather and winds mostly. Also good to know alot of maufacturing companies close for Dec so diving and all hobbie and sports are in full swing in Dec and often easy to access Nov/Jan

Pete Fleming

I dived there in September 2016 and had a great time. Did 11 dive's in a week. Plenty of ragies, a bull shark, oceanic black tips, hammers!

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