Aliwal Shoal Dive Trip July 2015
Winter time in Cape Town can be challenging so what is not better to go and find some warmer waters to dive in South Africa like Aliwal Shoal in Umkomaas.
We got a small group together and arranged a package with Aliwal Shoal Scuba in Umkomaas which included Stunning ocean view accommodation, dinner, Breakfast, 12 dives, 1 baited shark dive and transfers from airport.
Arriving mid-afternoon on a Saturday we were shown to our en-suite rooms and where to unpack our dive gear. The rooms are Very comfortable but a bit noisy due to the breaking waves on the outside. No complaints on the ocean noise levels as rooms like that in South African dive centres is not common, so bargain.
Aliwal Shoal Scuba previously known as Umkomaas lodge is one of the centres with the most diving knowledge in SA and the only operator in the town to have rooms on the beach.
The reef offers a wide variety of dive sites and also one of the places in South Africa where you can almost be guaranteed to see Ragged tooth sharks. They do however move in some seasons where the sightings are not in such big numbers what we experienced. With the raggies around they drop their teeth all over the reef and if you are lucky enough to spot one you can keep it. Just remember it must be on the reef and not on the shark 😉 We were also fortunate to see how a raggy bit into the sand and this is how they get rid of their older teeth and give space to the new row of sharp teeth.
Potato bass one of the other big fish we spotted was also kind enough to pose for photos and allow us to pose with them. On the baited dives they liked to make an appearance and next to the sharks you can note they are really big.
Of the 2 wrecks on the shoal we were only able to dive the Produce and had dark eerie water due the SAPPI pipeline. But our Cape Town divers felt at home as this is what our summer False Bay waters normally look like, only difference, water was 21 degrees. Kerri and Brian were the only ones seeing the big Brindle bass so we need to go back again. On the wreck scorpion fish and lion fish are in abundance with goldies everywhere. Here my camera skills failed as with the set up I did not pop up my flash so photos could only be taking with a high iso and a torch shining on the subject.
A baited shark dive is where 3 drums with mashed up fish are hanging in the water where the oil and smell trail from the drums are there to attract the Black tip Oceanic sharks. Summer months Tiger sharks and bull Sharks can also be seen. We were treated to 2 dives with these awesome creatures and so cool to see them swirling around us with other fish who can eat the scraps coming out of the drums. With the sharks comes the remora fish attaching themselves to the sharks or just using the slipstream to swim with them. Some of them and a whole lot of sharks had some human interactions where you can still see hooks and line sticking out from their mouths. In bad cases the jaws and mouths are misshaped due to jaws being broken or cut badly. One shark also had a bad chunk of skin and flesh away just under the gill slits.
The whole dive is done in around 10 meters of water with sharks, fish and even potato bass all around you and they are not interested in us at all. An awesome way to experience the blacktip sharks from so close.
Aliwal reef dives vary from 30 odd to 5 meters with current changing and surge that can affect you ears. This trip we had not to hectic currents and the surge was very calm.
But getting to the sites is where the fun starts. Early morning between 6 and 7am is kit-up time. This depends on the wind as wind pick up normally over lunch time. Once all your gear is loaded on the boat we get on the back of the truck and head of to the river mouth, about 5 minute drive away.
Aliwal Shoal Dive Trip July 2015
Once there the skipper will decide to go through the Mkomazi River or from the beach. The river is slightly easier for the divers but still fun to go through the surf and skippers trying to miss big waves and sand banks. The trick once on the boat is to get life jackets on hold on tight feet in the foot straps do not lean inwards and enjoy. From the beach it’s a boat more work for the divers as you would need to help to get the boat in the water, point the bow into the wave and push a bit into deeper waters. This happens very quickly with waves coming in the whole time and once the skipper is ready trying to jump or roll onto the boat ASAP. Skipper will ensure all is safe and secure and then look for the gap to get through the surf safely. Sometimes it takes a while and some waves can get the boat airborne but the skippers know what they are doing so flipped boats do not happen too often.
Then a 15 minute boat ride to the reef to explore the winter waters with temperatures of +-21 degrees and viz from 6-20meters depending on the current. The dive leaders were good and we were shown some stunning underwater specimens. A first sighting for me was a Pineapple fish in the back of a cave system. Glad I could get some nice photos of them.
My favourite, Nudibranchs was also seen but not as in abundance as in Cape Town. But we did concentrate to look more for the bigger fishes around the reef. False stone fish melting in on the reef, scorpion fish hiding away, paper fish and then schools of fish on top of the reefs or chilling under overhangs. Moray eels were gulping water in holes with shrimps cleaning their mouths and shy blennies and crabs quickly disappearing as you got closer.
After the dive we were spoiled and fattened up at the Waves restaurant at the far end from the Dive centre. Stunning food, friendly staff and good views, what else could a hungry diver ask for.
AliwalShoal Scuba really spoiled us and we had a great time thank you Lelanie ensuring everything happens, Brian for showing us the sharks and reef, Charl, Lizz for taking us around the reef and showing the wonders you have, Charly & Donovan for finding kit and getting all ready and the Skippers, Andrew & Bruce. The backup staff we did not meet all did a great job to ensure we had fun with clean boats and rooms.
Definitely a trip we would need to do soon again as Aliwal Shoal Dive Trip July 2015 was a success.
More pics from Aliwal Shoal Dive Trip July 2015 , Aliwal Nudibranchs