Located 7.2 kilometres from the mouth of the Umkomaas River, the Northern Pinnacles play a key role in the story of how Aliwal Shoal got its name. Just six metres deep at their shallowest point, the Pinnacles are treacherous to any ship’s captain unfamiliar with their location, and in 1849 the Shoal was discovered when a three-masted vessel named the Aliwal narrowly avoided colliding with their jagged peaks. Captain James Anderson wrote of his experience in a local newspaper, and so the presence of a reef system off the coast of Umkomaas became known. In honour of his discovery, the reef was named after Anderson’s ship.
Maximum Depth: 18 metres
Minimum Qualification: Open Water diver
Since 1849, the Pinnacles have been responsible for the sinking of several ships, the first and last of which have become two of the area’s best-loved dive sites – the wreck of the Nebo, and the Produce. Today, the Pinnacles are an incredible dive site in their own right – one known for its fascinating topography and abundant marine life. Situated to the north-east of the Aliwal reef system, the Pinnacles rise steeply from a depth of approximately 18 metres on the seaward side of the Shoal. At six metres, they form a ragged peak littered with twisted caves, gullies, ledges and swim throughs, before sloping away on the landward side towards North Sands.
The peak and the convoluted reef around it form the dive site known as Northern Pinnacles, and on the right day, it is one of the Shoal’s most spectacular locations. A wealth of potholes, crevices and overhangs provide perfect sanctuaries for juvenile fish – and an ideal hunting ground for the predators that prey upon them. From tiger-striped lionfish and honeycomb morays to frogfish preparing for an ambush attack, this dive site is literally teeming with life. Overhead, schools of spade-shaped batfish hang suspended in the space between the reef and the sea’s surface, while patrolling kingfish are another common sight.
Although Northern Pinnacles is renowned for its macrolife, larger species also frequent this site. In summer, manta rays and whale sharks are attracted to the upwelling of nutrients created by the pinnacles, whilst winter sees an invasion of mating ragged-tooth sharks.
Open at both ends, the cave is approximately 10 metres long. Light and space are both limited within its embrace, and as such exploration is not for the faint-hearted.
Throughout the year, the larger gullies and swim-throughs provide a welcome resting spot for potato bass, turtles and a bevy of different ray species. The sudden drop on the seaward side into deeper water also makes this site an excellent spot for spotting pelagic species, including spotted eagle rays and passing hammerheads.
Best of all, because the site is so shallow, divers have plenty of time to explore. This site is a popular choice for Open Water divers, affording them the excitement of a deeper site whilst still adhering to entry-level depth restrictions. For underwater photographers, it is the incredible species diversity and unparalleled ambient light that makes this site so special. In fact, the only time that the Pinnacles should be avoided is on bad weather days with strong current or surge. On days like these, the Pinnacles become once more the treacherous spot that Anderson discovered, and can cause problems for even the most experienced divers and boat skippers.
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