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Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay/Star Wall

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The dive site Star Wall is a offshore rocky reef wall in the Karbonkelberg headland area on the Atlantic seaboard of the Cape Peninsula, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

Understand

Map of the dive site at Star Wall

This site was first recorded in March 2006. It is the tallest and longest wall known in the Cape Town area and is a dive site well worth visiting, with a wide range of interesting and colourful invertebrates and spectacular topography.


Position

S34°02.466' E18°18.087' (Shallowest point)

About 200m roughly south west of the offshore rock at Duiker Point.

This site is in a Marine Protected Area (2009). A permit is required.

The south east face of Star Wall (left of photo)

Name

The name "Star Walls" was probably chosen with reference to the adjacent site "Kanobi's Wall", as an allusion to the movie series "Star Wars", and to the vertical granite cliff face that constitutes the site. The site was discovered and named by BlueFlash charters in 2006.

Depth

Maximum depth at the base of the wall is 32m, and the top of wall is at approximately 8m. The pinnacle on top of the rock is at about 5m

Visibility

Visibility is variable, as with all sites in the region. On a really good day it may exceed 20m, and will then usually be very cold. These conditions normally occur in summer, when upwellings driven by the strong south easterly winds bring cold, clear, deep water to the surface. The good visibility does not last long, and is usually followed by a plankton bloom. More often the visibility is less than 10m, and it is quite commonly arount 5 to 8m in ordinary diving conditions. Of course it can easily be worse, and may be as low as 3 or 4m, even if the conditions otherwise look good. This means that you just have to look at the critters, and for this a light is useful.

Topography

A massive and continuous almost vertical granite wall of about 25m height, extending for a length of approximately 100m west to east on the south face of an enormous outcrop, with an extra 50m lenght of wall on the south-east face. The bottom of the wall is on sand amongst large boulders and relatively low outcrops further to seaward. The western end of the wall makes a sharp turn towards the north, and the top is deeper in this area. The rock of the wall is fractured by a number of joints which have weathered to form crevices and small undercuts. These joints are mostly vertical and horizontal, and a few are fairly deeply indented, providing more protected local micro-environments, and which typically are more heavily encrusted with invertebrates.

The wall is the south and deepest face of the huge outcrop, and the north side is more indented and broken up, and slopes down less steeply, to a depth of more than 15m. Caves and swimthroughs have been reported from this area. The reef is continuous to Kanobi's wall to the north.

South of the wall the reef is much lower in profile, though there is an outcrop several metres high quite near to the eastern end of the wall.

The south east face is also a wall, and is separated from a somewhat lower outcrop by a fairly narrow gully with a slightly shallower bottom, which slopes up to the north east.

Geology: Granite of the late Pre-Cambrian Peninsula pluton.

Conditions

The site is exposed to south westerly swells, which can produce a strong surge over the top of the wall. At times there is a slight current along the wall, which has been known to run opposite to the prevailing south easterly wind. The water will usually be cold. Temperatures are generally 12°C or less, but have not been recorded lower than 8°C. Conditions suitable for diving this site will be most common in summer, but any time when the south westerly swell is weak may be suitable, though visibility may be unpredictable in winter.

This is an area which sometimes has upwellings, caused by the south easterly wind, and resulting in cold clear water, which may develop a plankton bloom over a few days which will reduce visibility again.


Get in

The site can only be accessed by boat. It is about 6.6 km from Hout Bay harbour.

See

Small basket star on a nippled sea fan
Lace false coral with Gas flame nudibranch
Mandela's nudibranch
Pair of cuttlefish
Sumo crab wearing a Green moon sponge hat for protection
Reef scene at Star Wall

Marine life

Typical of the big reefs of the Atlantic coast. Heavy growth of red bait and kelp on top. Walls, crevices and overhangs are covered with a large variety of sponges, corals, ascidians and other sessile invertebrates, and a host of small mobile critters, many of them well camouflaged.

The Sumo crab which often carries a "hat" of the Green-moon sponge has frequently been seen on the wall.

Features

The longest and highest unbroken wall dive known in the Cape Peninsula. It is about as high as a 7 floor building and longer than a football field. There are a few small cave/swimthroughs to the north of the outcrop, but the exact positions are not yet known.

Photography

This is a great site for invertebrate photography. Macro and wide-angle equipment are most suitable.

Routes

Find out which way the current is running (if any) and drop in on top of the wall. Swim over the edge and descend to the depth of your choice. Start deep and work your way up, inspecting the various zones and working your way along the face with the current. The site is quite long, so a DSMB will alert the boat to your position when ascending.

Stay safe

Hazards

The site is in a very exposed area and one should not dive there if there is big swell or strong wind. Skippers beware of the pinnacle as it breaks unexpectedly if there is swell or a low tide. This is a particular problem when the swells are in "sets", as there may be a long period where the swells are low and well behaved, followed by a few big ones, which can lift and break without much warning, and can be quite stressful if the boat is over the top of the reef at the time. Other hazards are cold water and strong surge, especially around the pinnacle. Strong offshore winds may develop over a short time in summer, but these are usually forecast.

Skills

Ability to deploy a DSMB is useful, good buoyancy control is essential.

Equipment

A DSMB is useful if you surface away from the shot line. Nitrox can significantly extend your dive time if you are well insulated, and a dry suit is recommended as the water will be cold. If you have a full face mask, it will help on the really cold days, but most divers just take a few minutes to get used to the cold.

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