Aliwal Shoal is known worldwide as one of the best shark diving destinations on the planet, and much of that activity centres around one of our most famous dive sites, Raggie’s Cave. A natural hollow filled with sand and encircled on all sides by plateaued reef, the site’s most prominent feature is the deep overhang that dominates one side of the amphitheatre. In winter, this overhang is one of the most popular aggregation points for visiting ragged-tooth sharks, who arrive on our coastline in their hundreds to mate in the gullies and caverns of Aliwal Shoal.
On a clear day, divers arriving at the site are able to see through 18 metres of translucent ocean to the reef below – a veiled promise of the wonders hidden beneath the hull. Upon descent, these secrets reveal themselves one by one – the golden streak of a trumpetfish moving leisurely over the reef, or the shimmer of a school of baitfish materialising out of the depths. A dark form silhouetted against the pale expanse of the site’s sand patch begins to take shape – the pointed snout, two sharp pectoral fins, and long, powerful tail of a ragged-tooth shark.
Maximum Depth: 18 metres
Minimum Qualification: Open Water Diver
Lots of Shark Sightings
At first, this shark suspended above the sand seems to be alone – but then, the gloom of the overhang itself splits and reforms into first one more shark, then another and another. The cave, such as it is, is filled with them. They are magnificent, these sharks, with eyes like molten gold and liver-spotted skin that seems to refract the watery light. Their protruding, mismatched teeth are the stuff of Discovery Channel nightmares; and yet, they are docile, hanging motionlessly in the cave without showing any apparent interest in their unexpected visitors.
In winter, we spend as long with the raggies as the current allows. When the sharks depart for warmer birthing grounds north of Aliwal Shoal, the cave is abandoned – and yet there are still plenty of reasons to visit Raggie’s Cave. The overhang itself is frequently inhabited by a large potato bass, its skin mottled with alternating patches of silver and charcoal. The sand patch, which is out-of-bounds to divers during shark season, becomes an ideal classroom for students seeking to master new dive skills; and the perfect treasure trove for those in search of sharks’ teeth.
Raggie’s Cave With Life
The reef around the sand patch and the overhang is also teeming with life, from almost-invisible scorpionfish to luminous schools of lemon-yellow bannerfish. This is one of the best dive sites for spotting turtles, from the ponderous green turtle to the delicate hawksbill; while the sand itself provides much sought-after cover for round ribbon-tail and leopard rays. Many divers also make the acquaintance of a resident honeycomb moray that spends its days in a nearby cavern, being attended upon by candy-striped boxer shrimp.
As well as providing some of the best shark and sea life encounters on the Shoal, Raggie’s Cave is a popular choice because of its ability to meet the requirements of wide variety of divers. With a maximum depth of 18 metres, this site is shallow enough for entry level divers; whilst also being more than sufficiently exciting for those with plenty of experience. It is an underwater photographer’s dream – not only in winter, when the raggies make for once-in-a-lifetime models; but in every other season, when the beauty of the reef provides inspiration at every turn.
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