Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay/North Paw
The dive sites at North Lion's Paw or just North Paw are in the Clifton area on the Atlantic seaboard of the Cape Peninsula, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The sites include North Lion's Paw, North Paw Cave Rock, Monty's Pinnacles, Barry's Pinnacles, the Northern Pinnacles and Eastern Pinnacle.
This can be a spectacular site in good conditions. It is an extensive area of granite reef, marked by exposed rocks identified on the charts as North Lion's Paw. A popular part of the site is the Cave Rock, a large arched granite boulder, which is slightly offshore from the exposed rocks. Monty's Pinnacles is a pair of pinnacles on an east-west ridge slightly to the north, Northern Pinnacles are further north and a bit east of Monty's, and the Eastern Pinnacle is to the east and a bit north of the main reef.
North Paw is about 1 km offshore of the headland between Bantry Bay and Clifton
Cave Rock is about 75m to the west of the exposed rocks.
Monty's Pinnacles are about 100m due north (magnetic) from the exposed rocks.
Northern Pinnacles are about 200m due 037°(magnetic} from the exposed rocks.
Eastern Pinnacle is about 270m due 099°(magnetic} from the exposed rocks, and is about 240m due 143°(magnetic) from Northern Pinnacles.
Barry's Pinnacles are about 300m due 299°(magnetic) from the exposed rocks.
This site is in a Marine Protected Area (2004). A permit is required.
The name "North Lion's Paw" is an allusion to the mountain "Lion's Head" directly above Clifton. The mountain is likened to the head of a reclining lion, whose back is Signal Hill, and whose paws are the two groups of rocks to the south and north of Clifton. Monty's Pinnacles are named for the diver who found them on a scooter excursion from the Cave Rock in 2010. The Northern and Eastern pinnacles were found on echo sounder by Blue Flash charters during dives in the area, and are also identifiable on recent sidescan surveys of the region made by the Council for Geoscience for the South African Ecological Observation Network (SAEON) as part of the Fish and Invertebrate (FIN) reef monitoring project.
The whole area is an extensive granite reef. There are occasional sand patches in the bottom of gullies and other local low points, but most of the bottom is rock.
Main reef: — A cluster of huge granite corestone boulders, on a base of low granite reef. Some of the boulders have swimthroughs between or under them, and there are several very large overhangs, The side exposed to the south west swell has strong surge in the shallower parts, even when the swell is quite low and there is little surge at other parts of the reef. This is largely due to the varied heights of the tops of the boulders, which create gaps which accelerate the water flow. The leeward side is far less turbulent, and a more relaxed dive. Some of the swimthroughs are said to be quite large. The highest pinnacle extends above the water at all states of the tide.
Cave Rock: — The bottom is large flattish outcrops of granite, with a huge corestone boulder about 20m long N-S and 10m E-W (magnetic) with a deeply concave underside resting on 3 points to form a cavernous swim-through arch, possibly 4 to 5m high in the middle, where the roof will trap air bubbles. the north side has a small entry arch, but those to the east and west are large flat arches, probably over 10m long in each case. The East and West arches are much higher than the north entry, and quite impressive. The rock surface this boulder stands on is fairly flat, sloping down slightly to the north, then quite steeply right at the north exit. The top of the rock is at about 15m and the floor of the cave at about 22m at the low point. There is another fairly large boulder to the north of it and another to the north west, both quite close and not nearly as large. The exposed rocks of North Paw are about 75m inshore of this cave rock. This is a spectacular site in good visibility, and would make a very interesting night dive.
Monty's Pinnacles: — This section of the reef is to the north west of the main reef, and comprises a long granite ridge rising from the bottom at about 25 to 28m depth to the north and south, to a depth of about 19m on top to the west, with two pinnacles at 10m and 12m. The 10m pinnacle is at the east end of the ridge, which lies approximately east/west. The reef to the west slopes gradually down to about 32m and is relatively flat. The eastern pinnacle is very sheer sided and only a few metres wide. The top is rounded and the north side slightly overhangs the bottom which is at about 20m. The western pinnacle is wider and flat topped and also has very sheer sides to the north and west. The ridge between these pinnacles is jointed relatively closely, and has a grooved appearance. Beyond this relatively high section, the reef to the west is generally lower, at about 19m on top, and there are a pair of outliers to the north of this ridge which are shallower than 18m on top (probably 14 to 16m). The bottom between these outliers and the main ridge is at about 25m.
The ridge has several interesting topographical features, including the pinnacles already mentioned, several cracks, and at least two swim-throughs, one of which is triangular in section and goes through the ridge from north to south, and is big enough to drive a scooter through at full speed without risk of touching the sides. The walls of this swimthrough are covered with pink Noble corals. The triangular swimthrough is to the west of the two pinnacles. The swimthrough is reported to be about 30m west of the pinnacles, at a depth of about 24m, but this is not yet confirmed by survey.
There are sand patches immediately adjacent to the west side of the ridge both to the north and south, at estimated depths of about 27m. The extent of these patches is not known, but they dont look very big.
Northern Pinnacles: — About 140m bearing 071°magnetic from Monty's pinnacle. A pinnacle rising from a relatively flat bottom of low reef at around 20 to 24m depth, to roughly 6m on the top. The pinnacle is steep and precipitous on most of the sides, and is surrounded by a number of lower but fairly rugged and steep rocks. The pinnacle is fairly flat-topped, and is about 25m long and 8m wide. The walls are indented by a number of shallow and deep vertical crevices, and the whole formation is covered by rather colourful benthic invertebrates, mostly sponges, sea cucumbers, strawberry anemones and ascidians. The top has a covering of large red-bait pods and some short kelp. Shoals of Hottentot seabream may be seen, and possibly shoals of Maasbanker.
A short distance to the north there is a lower but wider pinnacle, rising to a bit less than 14m.
The adjacent reef further to the north and east is mostly moderate to low profile.
Eastern Pinnacle: — About 45m wide east to west and 40m north to south at the 18m contour. This is a compact pinnacle area with 3 peaks rising above the 12m contour, and separated by deep, narrow gaps running roughly north-south. The central peak is the largest and it is nearly split by a deep crack running from south to north. The sides are quite steep, and the benthic cover is similar to that on the Northern Pinnacles at similar depth, but with fewer warty yellow sponges.
Barry's Pinnacle: — Pinnacles rising to about 17m depth wre reported about 300m directly offshore from North Paw (main reef) by Dive Action charters. There are at least 3 pinnacles running in a line from the highest in the west to east. Maximum depth reported is 27m, but there should be 30m within 100m of the pinnacle to the south west. The area is mostly low flat granite outcrops at 24 to 27m, with occasional small sand patches, and quite a large area of low boulders to the south. The main pinnacle rises from a slightly undercut base at about 25 to 26m, up to about 17m on top. The sides are very sheer, and there is a lower boulder of considerable size just to the north. To the east there is a gap of several metres before reaching the second pinnacle, which rises from about 25m to about 20m, and a fairly narrow gap to the third pinnacle, which is of similar size.
Other parts of the reef
The site is exposed to the south west swell, so should be dived in low swell, and is more likely to be good after south east wind. The site is reasonably protected from south east winds, and there is not enough fetch to push up much of a chop, but if the wind is strong the boat trip may be very bumpy and wet.
The site is usually at it's best in summer but there may be occasional opportunities in autumn and early winter.
This is an area which sometimes has upwellings, caused by the south east wind, resulting in cold clear water, which may develop a plankton bloom over a few days which will reduce the visibility again. However, the surface layer of "red tide" may overlay clearer water below, and for example, you may descend through 3m of murky green water with orange flecks to about 10m and into a relatively dark but clear bottom layer with visibility exceeding 15m. It will still be cold — the temperature may drop up to 3 degrees at the thermocline
There may be a slight surface current, which can be inconvenient if you delay after entering the water, as you may then miss the shotline and end up on a different part of the reef.
Look for forecasts of several days of strong south easterly winds and low south west component to the swell. The waters off Clifton are relatively protected from the south easterly wind, particulatly closer inshore, and the surface conditions in this area may be more pleasant that at sites further to the north or south if the wind is strong.
This is a boat dive. The site is about 7.2km from Oceana Power Boat Club slipway, Granger Bay, or a bit further from Cape Town Harbour V&A Waterfront.
Main Reef: —
Cave Rock: — Spectacular encrustation of noble coral, soft corals, colonial ascidians, sea fans and particularly sponges on the lower sides and underside of the rock, with large red-bait pods on the upper areas. The low flat rocks are mostly covered with encrusting sponges, urchins, grey sea cucumbers and a few low growing split-fan kelp.
Monty's Pinnacles: — The tops of the pinnacles have small split-fan kelp forests with anemones and red bait pods, and the sheer walls are heavily encrusted with hard and soft corals, bushy hydroid colonies, anemones, black sea cucumbers, and large areas of sponges. The flatter areas of deep reef have the usual sea urchins. Large West coast rock lobster may be seen anywhere on this reef.
North-eastern Pinnacle— Small split-fan kelp forest with red bait on top of the pinnacle, and the walls are covered with brightly coloured sponges, soft corals, occasional sea fans, bryozoans, noble corals, anemones and grey sea cucumbers. Large aggregations of medium sized West coast rock lobster have been observed clustering on the walls, but this is probably not a common occurrence, and may be connected with the conditions, which were cold and dark, with visibility about 3m.
A good site for macro and wide angle photograpy. External flash will usually be neccessary for wide angle work.
The site is too large to see everything on one dive.
Main reef: — Drop in to the west of the exposed rock, dive to the bottom and work your way around the reef back to the west side. Take care if the surge is strong that you are not washed through a gap or over the top of the reef. This can usually be avoided by keeping deep on the south side if the surge is strong. The lee side is safer, and you can swim shallower here to extend dive time or just look at the shallower areas. Surface away from the reef so the boat can pick you up safely. This can be conveniently done by swimming north or west away from the reef at the safety stop.
Cave Rock: — There is a great deal to see by circling the rock and swimming through the cavern, then starting the ascent by working your way up to the top of the rock. If you have enough air, you can swim east from the east end of the arch to the main reef, where there is a huge amount to see. Follow the reef around to the leeward side (north side) if the swell is strong, and do not surface close to the reef on the south side, or you may find yourself unintentionally on the north side anyway. The boat will not be able to approach the reef closely from the south to pick you up.
Monty's Pinnacles: — Drop off the boat at the east pinnacle, and swim west along the ridge past the lower pinnacle to the triangular section swimthrough, through this, and back east to the pinnacle for your ascent. If you have enough air, explore the ridge further west before turning back east.
If you start at the main reef you could visit the northern pinnacles by swimming about 40m due north magnetic from the northern extreme of the main reef, or about 80m at 030°magnetic from the cave. The northern ridge is big enough to be an easy target.
North-eastern Pinnacle: — This would probably be a specific planned dive, with a shotline at the pinnacle, and divers dedicating the dive to the local area, but it could quite easily be reached from Monty's pinnacles on a compass swim. The course is 071°magnetic for 140m. The pinnacle is a reasonably large target and should not be too difficult to find.
Barry's Pinnacles: — This would be a specifically planned dive, probably with a shotline at the pinnacle, particularly if there is a current running. The area is large and generally very open and flat except for the pinnacles, which are the main feature, The big pinnacle to the west will probably occupy your attention for most of the dive, but if you want to explore further, the two minor pinnacles to the east are worth a visit. Either return to the shot to ascend, or shoot a DSMB where it suits you best.
Cold water, Strong surge, and white water around the top of the main reef. Sea urchins. Strong offshore winds may develop over a short time. South easterly winds can cause a surface drift which can take you away from the place you want to be if you hang around at the surface, and swimming back to the shotline can be quite tiring.
No special skills required, though the ability to deploy a DSMB is useful in case you are separated from the group or need to surface away from the shot line. The site is generally a bit deep for beginners as surge in the shallow parts tends to be quite strong, and is only suitable for divers certified for depths over 20m.
A shot line and/or DSMB is recommended to control ascent rate and allow the boat to keep track of independent groups. A light will allow the full colour of the underside of the rock in overhangs and swimthroughs to be appreciated. A dry suit is recommended if you have the option as it is likely to be cold. This is a good site for photography, particularly under the cave rock. Nitrox can significantly increase no stop time. A compass will help if you want to visit different sections of the reef on one dive, and to swim away from the reef during the safety stop, so that you can surface in a convenient place to be picked up by the boat.