In the same way that one never gets tired of chocolate, holidays or perfect summer weather, it’s impossible to get bored of Aliwal Shoal. With that being said, it’s also good to branch out once in a while – and that’s exactly what makes Howard’s Castle special. Situated offshore from Scottburgh and entirely separate from Aliwal Shoal, this dive site is partly named for its turret-like topography. It’s also named for Howard Pellew, a local skipper who took the first divers to what was previously known only as a good fishing spot. Upon surfacing, the divers were so delighted with the site that they named it after their intrepid skipper.
Maximum Depth: 22 metres
Minimum Qualification: Advanced Open Water Diver
Calm Days with Little Current
With a maximum depth of 22 metres, Howard’s Castle is generally reserved for divers with a reasonable amount of experience. The plateau rises up from the seafloor to within around 15 metres of the surface, and measures approximately 400 metres across.
Because the dive site is relatively small, Howard’s Castle is best dived on days with very little current, when it is easy for the group to remain on the reef. Calm weather is also preferable, as the journey south from the Umkomaas launch site takes longer than the quick trip out to the Shoal itself.
Pristine Conditions at Howard’s Castle
Because Howard’s Castle requires such specific conditions, it is one of the least dived sites in the area. This reduced boat traffic means that it is also one of the most untouched reefs, with beautiful hard corals and prolific marine life. The long journey to the site gives divers ample opportunity for spotting dolphins and whales from the surface, with humpback sightings all but guaranteed during the months of their winter migration. The real highlights of a trip to Howard’s Castle, however, reveal themselves as soon as the dive group slips below the surface.
The reef is striated with deep gullies, all of which are pockmarked in turn with countless overhangs, potholes and caverns. Each of these recesses provides a potential home or hiding place for any number of species – making a torch an essential piece of equipment for properly exploring Howard’s Castle. The macro life at this site is spectacular, with common sightings including nudibranchs, frogfish, peacock mantis shrimp and cuttlefish. One cave, in particular, is renowned for its resident pineapple fish, a beautiful species that looks exactly like its namesake.
Large Predator Reeffish
Larger species are also prevalent at this dive site, thanks to its status as an isolated food source amidst the relative desert of the surrounding sand. Schools of hunting kingfish are often seen patrolling the plateau’s perimeter, while the gullies themselves provide a daytime resting spot for potato bass and round-ribbontail rays. The variety of marine life on offer combined with the spires and valleys of the reef itself make Howard’s Castle a popular choice for visiting photographers. The swim-through at the northern end of the reef is particularly photogenic.
Above all, Howard’s Castle has earned a reputation as one of the best sites in the area for organic shark encounters. Aliwal Shoal’s famous baited dives take place nearby, just outside the limits of the Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area. Because of this, sharks of all species are drawn to the area, and many visitors to Howard’s Castle find themselves tailed by oceanic blacktips for the duration of the dive or on their safety stop. The site also provides a home for ragged-tooth sharks during the winter, and is one of the best places to see tiger sharks on the reef.
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