Diving Aliwal Shoals, South Africa
After leaving Zimbabwe we flew back to South Africa to go on a three-day dive trip in the Kwazulu-Natal on Aliwal Shoals. We were pretty excited to get wet again after being in the blistering heat for a week but I think we expected the weather to be a bit warmer than it was. Unfortunately for us, a cold front had moved in the day we arrived and the temperature outside was around 15 C. Aliwal Dive Centre and Bed and Breakfast is an hour drive from the King Shaka Airport and because we arrived so late in the day the only way for us to get there was via a taxi and it cost us 1278 Rand which is the equivalent of about $128 USD. By the time we got to the Centre, found our room, and settled in it was almost 10pm and we had to get up for our first dives at 6:30 the next morning. We decided to use another one of our MRE’s and boiled some water in the electric kettle in the room and enjoyed our Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef using teaspoons.
When we woke up in the morning, we could see the ocean from our balcony and the sea was calm but the weather was cold and looked like it would rain. Luckily, when you dive you get wet anyway so rain isn’t too much of a bother. We set up our gear and loaded the inflatable rib and rode down to the beach in the back of the pickup truck. The skipper launched the boat from the river side of the beach, loaded us in, and then rocketed out through the shore break to the shoals, a twenty minute boat ride out to sea.
Our first dive the visibility was poor but we did get to see our very first Sand Tiger shark, otherwise known as a Raggie. They are such docile sharks despite their menacing teeth; they just cruise around and seem very unfazed by divers around them.
On all our subsequent dives the visibility remained poor, ten meters at best and four meters at worst. We did get to see a few more Raggies, a couple of green sea turtles (one that was absolutely massive!), giant Potato Bass (groupers), and some fun little nudibranchs as well as a slew of other species of fish all swimming in a plankton soup. On one of our dives, the number of salps was staggering, there must have been tens of thousands of them.
The dive shop we went with, Aliwal Dive Centre was top notch, run by very professional and nice people. The B&B upstairs makes early morning diving easy and hassle free, and the complimentary English breakfast after the dives is delicious and fills you up after a great morning underwater. The diving was a bit disappointing but I think our timing and the poor visibility made what could be incredible diving, slightly lack luster.
Our last day there we didn’t dive because Ronen started to get a cold and he didn’t want to push it and ruin our diving in Mozambique. We relaxed at the shop and then we wanted to walk around town a bit. Umkomass is a quiet town but it is apparently not safe to walk around even during the middle of the day. We were warned on several occasions not to walk on the beach at all. Then when we did walk during the day to the little surf shop up the street, we were told by a local man that muggings were on the rise and it would be in our best interest just to go back to the dive shop. Not being able to walk to dinner or stroll down the beach was very hard for me throughout our time in South Africa. Everywhere we went it wasn’t safe to walk at night or even during the day in some places, which is something that I am not used to and I don’t think I could ever get used to. For me it put a whole different feeling to our experiences. Knowing that you aren’t the most safe or secure made it impossible for me to completely relax and enjoy myself.