Often ranked as one of the world’s top ten dive sites, there are plenty of reasons to visit Aliwal Shoal. Its reefs support an incredible diversity of marine life, and its topography includes fascinating pinnacles, reef walls and swimthroughs. There are two amazing wrecks to explore; and a range of sites to suit everyone from beginner divers to life-long veterans. What makes the Shoal special, though, is its sharks. Divers flock from all over South Africa and overseas to come face-to-face with our many different shark species, which can be encountered both on the reef and on adrenaline-inducing baited dives.
Enhancing Your Shark Diving Experience
Shark lovers hoping to get the very most out of their time on KwaZulu-Natal’s beautiful South Coast should consider combining their stay at Aliwal Shoal with a trip to nearby Protea Banks. This under-rated dive site may not be as famous as Aliwal Shoal; but it has just as much to offer in terms of encounters with the ocean’s top apex predators. Better yet, the experience at Protea is subtly different to that at Aliwal, with different species to be seen in different numbers at the same time of year. By making space for both dive sites on your holiday itinerary, you’ll be able to say that you have experienced two of the very best shark diving locations our planet has to offer.
The Sharks of Protea Banks
Located approximately eight kilometres from shore, Protea Banks is a fossilised sandstone reef with similar topography to the Shoal. It rises up from 60 metres to around 27 metres at its shallowest point, creating a nutrient-rich upwelling that attracts shoals of pelagic fish including tuna, trevally and barracuda. In turn, these fish provide a valuable source of food for Protea Banks’ resident and visiting shark species. Year-round, you can expect to encounter large numbers of oceanic blacktip sharks, while bull sharks are a particular highlight of Protea Banks diving. Rare visitors include thresher sharks and great whites.
Many of the shark species that can be seen on Protea Banks are seasonal. If you visit during the summer, you stand a good chance of diving with scalloped hammerheads, sometimes in schools numbering hundreds of individuals. Great hammerheads and whale sharks are also often seen on Protea Banks during the warmer months. On the reef, giant guitar sharks are common in summer, while winter brings with it hundreds of breeding ragged-tooth sharks. Winter also coincides with the best time to see copper and dusky sharks, while the mighty tiger shark is most usually encountered between February and June.
The Practicalities of Diving Protea Banks
There are two kinds of diving on Protea Banks: baited shark dives, and reef dives. The former take place in mid-water, and require excellent buoyancy and the ability to deal with strong currents. The latter are deep dives, with most dive sites claiming an average depth of 30 metres or more. As a result, Protea Banks diving is only suitable for experienced divers with a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certification or equivalent. Bottom times on the reef are relatively short; but the incredible variety of marine life ensures that what Protea Banks diving lacks in length, it more than makes up for in quality.
Most Protea Banks dive operators are located in Shelley Beach, a seaside town situated one hour’s drive south of Umkomaas. Contact us in advance via the Aliwal Shoal Scuba Facebook page or at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance in arranging transportation and diving in Protea Banks.