Sardine Run and Shark Safari in South Africa
This 14 night trip will take us to KwaZulu-Natal on the south-east coast of the African continent. In addition to the Sardine Run, we will visit World renowned dive sites and explore the true South African culture and cuisine. July is winter in South Africa, but the temperatures normally reach a pleasant 20-22°C and higher.
The BBC's Blue Planet named this annual migration 'the biggest shoal on Earth'. Tens of millions of sardines stretch for several kilometres as they migrate north along the coast towards the border of Mozambique, attracting thousands of dolphins, sharks, game fish and sea birds - sometimes even orcas and whales - to a gigantic feeding frenzy!
This captivating action is best seen from the surface, but if the conditions allow you will also get the opportunity to dive or snorkel.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee you will witness this event as the sardines have their own schedule, and are as unpredictable as all other animals. Our local operators have years of experience, and will do their best to give you a great diving holiday to this exciting country even if the sardines should disappoint us.
Well known sites like Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks will keep us entertained while we wait for the sardines. The perfect incarnation of a nightmare predator, the Sand Tiger Shark, also known as Ragged-Tooth Shark (nickname Raggie), are seen on virtually every dive at this time of year.
No trip to South Africa is complete without exploring the fantastic nature and wildlife. A two day trip to a Game Reserve and a visit to a local Zulu tribe will offer an exciting break from the diving.
Raggies at Aliwal Shoal
Aliwal Shoal is a submerged rocky reef about 5 kilometres offshore. The dive boats are launched at the mouth of the Umkomaas river, and experienced skippers take us through 2-3 metre waves with surgical precision, while we keep ourselves on board with ropes and foot straps.
Although the congregation of mating Raggies often steal the limelight at the Shoal, you can also find a variety of sponges, soft and hard corals, schools of fish, stingrays, moray eels, turtles and much more.
The 13,500 tonne Norwegian molasses tanker struck the north-east pinnacle of Aliwal Shoal on 11th August 1974. Her crew of 74 were all safely rescued before she sunk just north of the Shoal.
She lies on her starboard side with a diving depth of 14-32 metres, and is a perfect artificial reef with its intricate eco-system.
A family of huge Brindle Bass (weighing up to 300 kilo) have substituted their normal habitat of rock caves for the roomy cabins inside the wreck, a perfect hiding place for this threatened species.
This 10 kilometre long sandstone reef is a 15 minute boat ride offshore, and was one of Jacques Cousteau's favourite shark destinations. The currents here are often strong making great drift dives, and provide the perfect conditions for sharks.
Although this is not peak season at Protea Banks, there is a possibility of encounters with sharks like the Bull (Zambezi), Scalloped Hammerhead, Tiger, Bronze Whaler (Copper) and Raggies.
Rocky Bay is said to be one of South Africa's best kept secrets within the diving community. This group of submerged reefs lies 2-4 kilometres offshore at a depth of 20-40 metres.
The reefs are built up of huge boulders, rocks, pinnacles, walls, crevices, gullies, ledges, caves, swim throughs and sandy patches. This environment is home to an abundant marine life of tropical fish, hard and soft corals, sponges, crustaceans, macro life and sometimes visited by sharks.
Sometimes diving the unknown can be as exciting as visiting the places everyone else talk about. On this trip we have been given the opportunity to dive some areas where the local fishermen often lose the majority of their catch to sharks. Our goal is to visit these undived sites in the hope of discovering new shark reefs.
1,200 species of fish
Most people know that South Africa is a great destination for encounters with sharks, but make sure you save some space in your mind for the little guys.
The marine life on this coastline is amazing. Blue-banded snappers, yellow-spotted kingfish, potato bass, smooth grouper, common bigeye, glassy sweepers, silver soldierfish and lyretail anthias - are just a tiny selection of the fish you can see during a dive.
Natal Shark Board
The Natal Shark Board (NSB) service all the shark nets along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, and is responsible for maintaining the South African section of the International Shark Attack File. They also run several programs to educate school children and the general public in safe swimming practices as well as the biology, ecology and conservation of sharks.
Professor Vic Peddemors has been Chief Scientist at NSB for 15 years, and is the foremost expert on sharks in South Africa. During our stay Vic Peddemors, or one of the other shark experts at Natal Shark board, will hold a speech for us about the local shark species.
Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Park
The Hluhluwe/Umfolozi game park is not only the oldest in Africa (est. 1895), but also the only one under formal conservation in KwaZulu-Natal where you can meet the Big Five - Rhino, Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Buffalo.
The 960 sq km park supports a wide range of habitats, including 80 species of mammals and in excess of 300 species of birds. On our two day stay in the park, we will search for the wild animals in jeeps accompanied by park rangers.
True Zulu culture
About five hundred years ago, a determined young man called Zulu brought his wives and followers to the Mkhumbane River. Here he built his homestead according to Nguni traditions, with a central, circular cattle-fold with huts arranged in a crescent at the higher end of a sloping piece of land.
His realm was named KwaZulu – Place of Heaven - and this traditional form of living still remains strong. During the trip we will be private guests of a tribe and experience this way of life first hand.
The dive centre
Karin and Reon at Dive South will be our hosts, and the majority of our stay will be at their newly renovated lodge KwaMnandi, located in a small village called Umkomaas, south of Durban.
Few dive centres we have been to can compete with the hospitality and kindness they offer. Be prepared to gain a couple of new friends and a bit of extra weight around the waistline, as Karin is a keen chef and doesn't take no for an answer when it comes to seconds.
The lodge was totally renovated inside in 2003 with new rooms and a dining area/reastaurant on the ground floor. All the rooms are decorated in true African style, and most are en-suite.
There is no reason to leave your non-diving partner behind at home. The Durban/Umkomaas area has lots of activities for those who do not dive. Please let us know, and we can help arrange activities like extreme abseiling, white water rafting, golf, shopping or a visit to a crocodile farm!