This article is intended to provide the already qualified Scuba diver with information which will help to plan dives in the waters of Durban, South Africa, whether as a local resident or a visitor. Information is provided without prejudice, and is not guaranteed accurate or complete. Use it at your own risk.
Climate, weather and sea conditions
Diving off Durban is affected by prevailing winds and the run off from the Umgeni river, the Harbour mouth and the Umlass Cutting on the Bluff which can affect visibility in the rainy season (spring: Sept – Dec).
With the damming of the Umgeni River at Inanda, reducing the run off considerably, the visibility directly off central Durban on the Number One Reef system has steadily improved over the years. However, the run off from the harbour entrance and Umlaas canal do still affect visibility in the immediate vicinity of their mouths and careful monitoring of prevailing weather conditions is required to make the best choice of dive site on the day.
The south westerly wind is generally associated with cold fronts off Durban. However this wind is directly responsible for bringing in the clear waters of the warm Mozambique current. The low rainfall and prevailing south westerlies make winter the best time to dive Durban (March though to July).
Durban Undersea Club, Vetch's Pier, Point 4069, Durban (Follow Mahatma Gandhi Drive (Point Rd) from Durban central towards the harbour and Ushaka Marine World. Turn left into Browns Rd which leads straight to the club gate), ☎ 031-368-1199 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 086-637-4301).
This section of reef includes the features known as Bikini reef, Caves , Big Cave , Birthday Ledges
This area of reef derives its name from the large amount of blood and offal that clouded the water during the days of the whaling off Durban.
The reefs lie close to shore on the Bluff in relatively shallow water.
Position: — Near the Bluff
Depth: — 14 to 18m
Topography: — The dive sites are in areas of the reef structure where the sandstone bedrock has been eroded to form ledges and caves.
Boat dive —
Marine life and features: — The reef supports a variety of corals and fish life with some of the more interesting finds being the Leafy scorpion fish, the Pineapple fish, Banded pipefish, and frog fish. Under the ledges one often finds the Flap-nose hound shark, morays and turtles. From July through to the September, divers can encounter Ragged tooth Sharks as they follow their annual migration through to the warmer northern reefs of Sodwana and its surrounds.
Big Cave: — A ledge that runs perpendicular to the shore in 18m of water off the Water Tower on the Bluff. There are two caves in the area. The one which is large with an opening in the roof is the one that is of interest as it is home to Raggies as they migrate up and down the coast. There are gullies and holes that are home to Flap-nose hound sharks, Frog fish, Paper fish, Moray eels, cleaner shrimp, Razor fish and pipefish.
This is an interesting section of reef that can be reached by swimming from Birthday ledges. If you see striped grunter, look under the ledges in the area as there is sure to be a hound shark resting there.
Depth: — 15m to 18m
Birthday ledges: — A sandstone ledge that faces out to sea. It is approximately 14m on the top of the ledge and 18m at its deepest. The Birthday Ledges is situated off “the fence” off the Bluff. The dive starts with a cave. Swimming north, with the ledge at your left shoulder you will encounter gullies and little holes.
This is the premier dive spot on the Bluff and was discovered by one of the local divers on his birthday in 2002 — hence the name!
Frog fish, Paper fish, Raggy scorpion fish, Broad barred lionfish, Moorish idols, turtles, pipe fish, Emperor angel fish, Semi-circle angel fish, Potato bass and Pineapple fish can be seen here. The top of the reef is covered by red thistle coral and there are various hard corals and tube-worms.
Take your time on this reef! The more time you spend on the reef the more you will see.
Depth: — 14m to 18m
Caves: — One of the oldest dive spots on the Bluff. The Caves is situated off the two pillars of the old Bluff whaling station. The cave entrance opens up into a large vault. The vault then opens up into a tunnel which opens up into another smaller vault. The tunnel which has no light penetrating the roof has been roped by DUC divers.
There are eel cat fish, sweepers, crayfish, Natal Sea-Catfish and the odd lion fish and turtle that inhabit the cave.
This dive is not for every diver… If you have wanted to do cave diving, the Caves will give you an idea if you are claustrophobic or not. It is not advisable to dive this reef if there is a large swell running as the surge can knock divers about in the cave. Get your buoyancy right, have a powerful torch and be aware that there is a roof stopping you from doing an emergency ascent. Divers can exit the system at the end of the tunnel where there are two exits. One is an easy exit through the hole the roof, the other requires a bit of a crawl and shouldn’t be attempted unless you have been trained in diving in overhead environments.
The dive master will generally tie a marker buoy up at the entrance to the cave and retrieve it at the end of the dive. Be sure to take your DSMB in case you exit at the other end of the system if you are unable to navigate back to the marker buoy.
Depth: 13 to 10 m
Coral Gardens: — This reef was discovered by one of the pioneers of diving off Durban – Rikki Schick. This area has the biggest variety of both hard and soft corals and sponges on the Bluff.
The reef does not have dramatic topography &mdash but the whip corals, coral trees, vase sponges, hard corals and Thistle corals are the highlight of this reef.
Weedy scorpion fish, Razor fish, Paper fish and the Flap-nose hound shark are some of the interesting finds on this reef. Get your buoyancy right, get a powerful torch and get ready to scratch around!
Depth: 15m to 18m
Deep Blood: — (no information currently available)
Harlequin Reef — So named because of the Harlequin Goldie that inhabits this reef.
The reef could actually be a wreck - potentially an old concrete barge. The reef looks like a bread loaf sitting on the sand. There is a large anchor and chain.
This dive can only be attempted in perfect conditions – good visibility and no current are prerequisites. It is one of the few dive sites in the world where you can see the Harlequin Goldie.
A deep dive that should only be attempted by the experienced, trained and adventurous diver. H valves on cylinder, bailout cylinders (redundancy focus) and an Advanced Nitrox course are recommended qualifications / equipment needed for this dive.
The Harlequin Goldie (Pseudanthias conneli) is endemic to the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. This uncommon goldie was thought to only inhabit wrecks off KZN. The fish has however been encountered on reef off the Bluff (Harlequin Reef), No.1 Reef and a few isolated reefs in the Phumula/Rocky Bay area of KZN south Coast.
Depth: — 30m to 35m
Hazards: — Strong currents may occur
Skills: — Skills and qualifications appropriate to the planned dive profile are required
Equipment: — Surface marker buoys or DSMBs are recommended for all the routes at this site.
Coopers Light wreck
Description: One of three artificial reefs sunk by the Oceanic Research Institute (ORI) on the 8th of August 1991. The Fontao is a disused prawn trawler that is 34.5m long, 8m wide and 13.5m high.
Depth: 15m to 27m
The wreck is situated off Umhlanga rocks and sits upright on a sandy bottom. The ship is mostly intact, except for the wheelhouse, which has broken off and now lies on the sand. It is possible to penetrate this wreck however these penetrations are characteristically very restricted. The wreck swarms with bait fish which can restrict visibility on the wreck.
The aspect of penetration, as well as the restricted visibility due to the vast amount of bait fish, should be considered when diving this wreck.
This wreck is dived with a shot line. Diving this wreck as a group can be difficult - the penetration aspect and bait fish characteristics of this wreck, make it important to stick to the buddi pair system. Make sure between you and your buddi, that there is deploy buoy in order to ensure that you ascend on a bouy line in the event of you not being able to ascend with the group.
DM should note the number of divers on board and divers should note the name of the boat they are on as this wreck can get busy.
Description: the vessel lies upright on its hull in the sand. The vessel is approximately 25m in length with not much structure remaining. The small size of the vessel makes it difficult to dive in a strong current. This recently discovered wreck has as of yet revealed any clues as to how it came to rest in this part of the ocean
At the bow there is and anchors and chain. Unfortunately the coach house has been ripped off, either by a large swell or through the recent dredging activity in the area.
Paper fish , eels , bait fish , bat fish , angle and butterfly fish are all here.
The wreck is best dived in calm conditions. The small size of the wreck makes this a difficult wreck to dive in a big current
The "Kate" wreck
The "Kaidie" wreck
No.1 reef is an offshore rocky reef about 5km out to sea – It includes the features known as Nev's ledge, Raggies, Bat Reef, Daves Cave and the infrequently dived "Yardingdale" mark
This area of reef derives its name from fisherman who consider this the No.1 fishing spot of Durban. Although this reef is extensive, most of the diving takes place to the South of the Bell Buoy that demarcates the shipping lane and entrance to the harbour.
Depth: — 20 to 30m
Conditions: — This is the most consistent and most dramatic dive site off Durban with 10m drop offs, immense caves and variety of reef and pelagic fish, corals and marine artefacts.
Boat dive — appriximately ??km from launch area at ??
Marine life and features: — Mantas, Eagle rays , electric rays, Butterfly rays, Swordfish, marlin, king fish, baardman, Daga salmon, Frog-fish, Paper-fish, Tiger angelfish, Zambezi sharks, Black tip sharks, Copper sharks, Guitar-fish , Whip gobies , Fire gobies, lizard-fish are just some of the fish you are likely to encounter at No.1 on any dive.
Black Coral trees – some over 2m tall, whip corals, fan corals, tiger anemones and strawberry anemones colonise the reef and host invertebrates and small fish.
Marine artefacts such as huge ships anchors and chains, rudders, and ammunition lie scattered on the reef.
Artillery Reef: — Artillery shells from the dump are sporadically encountered here… look on the sand and inside the cracks and crevices. This is one of the areas of No.1 Reef where you can swim in any direction and find some interesting reef. The ammunition that is found in this area is from the ammunition dumping ground off the Bluff. If you find a shell it is advisable to let it be as most the ammunition that was dumped is unexploded!
Depth: — 25 to 30m
Nev's Ledge: — The ledge begins with a 8m drop off and opens up into a mini amphitheatre which holds an old Danforth anchor and a rudder. There are a number of caves and swim-throughs along the ledge. The Raggy scorpion fish, pipe fish, razor fish and Flap-nose hound sharks, along with incredible topography are the reasons you would do this dive.
Depth: — 20m to 30m
Raggies: — This is a large ledge that has been under-cut to form two large caves. The caves are often inhabited by Ragged Tooth sharks as they migrate up and down the eastern coastline of SA. There is a anchor chain that runs parallel to the entire ledge. The Frog fish, Tiger angel fish, lizard fish, Whip gobies and Ragged tooth sharks are why you want to dive this section of the reef.
Depth: — 22m on the top of the ledge and 30m on the sand
Bat cave: — This reef is a pinnacle that extends like a large finger from 27m. Wrapped around the pinnacle is an anchor chain with the anchor out on the sand. The pinnacle is surrounded by gullies and caves that host a large variety of butterfly fish, wrasse, goldies, angelfish and clown trigger fish. There is also a large population of bat fish here –hence the name. Look out for whip gobies, Long-nose hawk fish and crabs in the Black coral trees.
Depth: 22m on the top and 27m on the sand
Conditions: — Best dived in calm conditions – whereas a drift dive on No.1 is always exciting, a strong current will not allow you to get where you want to be.
Dave's Cave: — An isolated reef that juts out of the sand. The isolated nature of this reef makes for intense concentration of pelagic and tropical fish. This is one of the southernmost sections of reef dived on No.1. There is an isolated cave that is home to Daga salmon and baardman which sift through the sand in search of invertebrates. Look on the sand for rays and Paper fish.
Depth: 27m on the sand
Conditions: — Not an easy dive in a strong current due to the isolated nature of the reef. This reef is very popular with the fisherman due to the Daga and baardman that are found here.
Eskom: — A shallow reef that is dominated by a large pinnacle that stands to attention on a relatively flat reef. There are coils and coils of cable that are scattered all over the reef which inspired the name Eskom (for foreigners: Eskom is the Electricity supply commission). Swim in any direction on this section of the reef and you will be rewarded with an interesting dive.
Depth: — 20 to 27m
Yardingdale mark: — An area of reef off the "Yardingdale" apartment block. Not dived very often.
This is probably one of the most challenging and rewarding dive sites on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. The depth, the variation in visibility, strong currents and proximity to the shipping lanes make this dive an advanced, if not technical dive.
Hazards: — Safety stops should be conducted at 10m in order to assist with decompression and as a avoidance measure against in and out going ships. (it is not uncommon to have ships travelling to within 100m of the buoy line!)
Skills: — Appropriate qualification for the depth, and the ability to handle an SMB or DSMB are strongly recommended.
Equipment: — Nitrox is highly recommended, along with a DSMB.
North breakwater and wreck
The "Odd" wreck
Position: — This wreck lies at the entrance to Vetch's harbour and very close to the new North Pier of the harbour mouth.
Topography: — The vessel is relatively intact with the boilers, mast, bow and stern all visible from the surface. The wreck lies parallel to the beach in Vetch's harbour. The seaward side is well preserved but is submerged in sand. The inshore side is broken up and is home to many juvenile butterfly and angel-fish.
Shore dive —
Marine life and features: — There are resident lion fish and scorpion fish that predate on the shoals of juvenile fish on this wreck.
Hazards: — Most of the skippers that launch their boats from the mini harbour are unaware of the existence of this wreck and therefore special care should be taken when diving on this wreck, so as not to be run over by a boat. Always dive with a buoy and do not surface if you hear a ski boat approaching.
Skills: — No special skills recommended
Equipment: — Use a surface Marker buoy to alert boats to your presence.
"Ovington Court" wreck
Description: One of three artificial Reefs sunk by the Oceanic Research Institute
(ORI) on 19th December 1990. The barge is 30m x 20m x 3m comprising of 48 compartments of 3m x 3m x 3m. The barge itself is made of concrete and there is a gantry like superstructure of steel located at the T junction.
Situated off Virgina this wreck is home to bait fish, bat fish, lion fish and pine apple fish.
This is a popular fishing spot. Whereas the alpha flag displayed by the dive boat dictates that all fishing activities cease whilst the dive is being conducted, it is best to carry a knife in order to assist yourself or buddy in the event of entanglement. Carry a deploy buoy with you and make sure you dive with your buddi – this is not a drift dive and so it becomes difficult to follow a DM on this dive. It is quite safe to explore this wreck in buddi pairs but just ensure that you have a buoy line to ascend on – whether it be your own deploy buoy or that of the DM.
Batfish, pineapple fish ,turtles puffer fish and lion fish are some of the interesting fish that are found on this wreck. Of late there have been sightings of brindle bass on this wreck.
House reef of the Durban Undersea Club
Depth: — 1 to 6m
Topography: — The reef is the remains of a man made pier that was built in 1860, and named after Captain James Vetch.
Shore dive —
Marine life and features: — Hard corals, large numbers of juvenile fish from numerous species of wrasse, butterfly fish, angelfish, damselfish and surgeon fish. Also Moray eels and Scorionfish
Hazards: — Moray eels, Scorpionfish and surf.
Skills: — No special skills recommended
Equipment: — A snorkel is recommended in case you return on the surface.
Yacht 1 and Yacht 2
There are three or four different sites where there are shipping containers to visit