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Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay/Coral Gardens (Oudekraal)

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Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay : Coral Gardens
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Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay/Coral Gardens (Oudekraal)

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The dive site Coral Gardens (Oudekraal) is a rocky reef at south Oudekraal, on the Atlantic seaboard of the Cape Peninsula, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

The high biodiversity, stunning colour and spectacular topography make this one of the regions most rewarding dive sites.

Get in

South Oudekraal Dive Sites: Coral Gardens and Groot Pannekoek


Shore dive: Use the Table Mountain National Park Oudekraal parking lot off the coast road if there is space. You pay for the parking but the facilities are good, including clean toilets, picnic areas, shade trees, and showers. Security is better than most places. Alternative parking is available at the side of the M6, but the walk is longer.

The entry point for Coral Gardens and Groot Pannekoek on a good day

Go down the stairs at the west end of parking lot and straight across the grassy area to the rocks at the westerly cove. There is a bit of a rough clamber over the rocks from the bottom of the path to the entry area which is usually quite a placid spot as it is well sheltered by reefs a few metres out, and heavy kelp, which is easier to negotiate if the tide is high. The long climb down the stairs and the clamber over the rocks require a reasonable level of fitness, but there is fresh water on tap at the top of the stairs and a few litres on your head and suit before the descent will keep you cooler.

Aerial view of the dive site. (phoyo CDS&M)

Boat dive: It is a long boat trip to get to Coral Gardens; about 14km from either Hout Bay Harbour or Oceana Power Boat Club, but for those who have difficulty with the shore access, this can be done as a boat dive. This is not a good anchorage, as the anchor is likely to foul amongst the rocks and damage the corals, so a live-boat dive is essential. A shot-line is not recommended, for similar reasons, and the pinnacles provide an adequate reference point.

Detail of the Coral Gardens site map showing the route from parking area to the start of a typical dive


S33°59.264’ E018°20.810’ approximately

S34°59.247’ E018°20.921’ (Western cove entry point)

Off the M6 just south of the Twelve Apostles Hotel

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


Noble corals at Coral Gardens


The name "Coral Gardens" is derived from the large areas of Noble coral which can be found here.


Maximum depth is 19m, average about 10m.


Visibility is variable, but on a good day can be in excess of 10m.

File:Coral Gardens Oudekraal from the road.jpg
View of the Coral Gardens and groot Pannekoek from the road.


Large to very large granite corestone boulders and outcrops , Lots of overhangs, crevices and small caves, with occasional swim-throughs. There is an air bubble cave under the inner group of high rocks on the south west side, at S33°59.242' E018°21.817', about halfway along the south side of the group ,at about 8m depth. There is a group of very tall boulders (the pinnacles) further out to the south east, with kelp on top reaching the surface at low tide. The base jumble round this reef covers a large area, with 4 or 5 high pinnacles close together in a sort of L pattern, all of much the same height. The top of these pinnacles is at about 5m depth, the sides are mostly near vertical, with some narrow gaps, there are several deep overhangs and caves at the base of the pinnacles and there is occasional sand bottom between the rocks at about 16m depth.

Big boulders with narrow gaps and overhangs and heavy kelp can be found in the area just west and south west of the gap between the point and the high rock group, opening up and getting deeper to about 12m on the sand in small patches between moderate sized boulders and outcrops

Geology: Late Pre-Cambrian granite of the Peninsula pluton


Often at it's best during or after south easterly winds (offshore). The swell should be low, and short period, though a bit of white water on the outer reefs is normal. The site is exposed to the south west swell, which will both ruin the visibility and make the access difficult, though to some degree this is dissipated by the reefs south of Groot Pannekoek. This is a site where good visibility is usually accompanied by cold water. There is usually some surge, and it can be quite strong in the narrow gaps.

Keep a lookout for times when the south west swell is low and short period. This will usually be in summer, but in winter there may occasionally be a good day.


Limited off street parking with fairly good security, Clean, neat toilet facilities, Fresh water showers and taps, picnic sites (no fires permitted), shade, seating, garbage cans, a nice little beach and pleasant and protected snorkelling areas for beginners. This is probably the best site in the region for shore facilities, and Parks Board staff keep it tidy and in good condition.


Blue sponge
Mandela's nudibranch
Corals and sponges
Walking anemone

Marine life

Very rich in noble corals, small sea fans, sponges of a wide variety of shapes and colours, soft corals, bryozoans and colonial ascidians on walls and overhangs. Also of interest are walking anemones (Preactis millardae), Box jellyfish (Carybdea alata), and various nudibranchs. Mandela’s nudibranch (Mandelia mirocornata) [1] is relatively common here, and seldom seen anywhere else. A kelp forest in the entry cove extends out several metres beyond the high rock cluster. There is more sea bamboo kelp on top of the high rocks of the outer groups. and split fan kelp on deeper rocks, along with a range of other smaller algae. The rocks near the surf zone have a dense layer of corallines and limpets, and lots of small brown algae.


The site is excellent for invertebrate photography. Many of the organisms are small, and macro facilities will be useful. On the other hand, wide angle close-ups can be stunning, and when the visibility is good, good scenic views can be taken.

File:(views of the site and facilities)
The entry and exit area at Coral Gardens is shown here in the foreground. The flat rock (Groot Pannekoek) referred to in the text is shown to the upper right of the photograph, and the high rocks are the group to the upper left. The cave is under the left-most rock of the high rock group. The group of rocks in the middle distance is exposed at low tide, but may be completely submerged when the tide rises. To get to the Coral Gardens, enter here and swim out to the left of the central group as far as the near side of the high rocks. Dive in the area to the left of this.

Suggested Routes

Entry at rocks at the western cove, swim to the gap between the shore rocks and high rock group. There is quite heavy kelp, you may have to work your way around some clumps, especially if the tide is low.

File:(views of the site and facilities)
View of the Coral Gardens and Groot Pannekoek from the road, showing the route to the start of a dive at Coral Gardens.
  1. Pinnacles: Swim to the south east into the Coral Garden bowl. There is an area of pinnacles rising to within 6m of the surface, and large granite boulders scattered around the whole area. You can identify the pinnacles by the kelp which grows on top and reaches the surface at low tide. Descend on the north side and work your way around the steep walls, narrow gaps, overhangs and caves of this rugged group of rocks. You can return by compass if you have sufficient air.
  2. Air cave and high rock group: Dive at the inshore end, along the edge of the rocks on the south west side where you may find the air pocket cave, then swim north along the group of boulders and around through the gap to the kelp forest, and return to the entry cove by compass through the kelp.
  3. Box jellies: Follow the rocks south east towards the shore, visiting the narrow gaps and overhangs, them head South West to the deeper water with occasional sand patches between the boulders, where swarms of box jellyfish often congregate.

Stay safe


Cold water, Strong surge in gulleys and swim-throughs. Sea urchins. Strong offshore winds may develop over a short time. Access to entry/exit point over large boulders may require some scrambling, particularly for those with short legs.


The site requires fitness and good buoyancy control. There are lots of delicate invertebrates which should not be subjected to a battering by the fins and flapping arms of a diver who can not deal with a bit of surge. There is no particular minimum qualification recommended, but this is a site for the reasonably experienced and skilled diver.

The three small coves are very sheltered and quite shallow, and are suitable for beginners to snorkel, if a bit chilly. They are not recommended as scuba training areas.


This is a site where choice of suit is important. The water is cold, the dive is moderately deep and requires a fairly long swim, but there is an energetic walk required before you get in. Do not skimp on insulation. If you are fit enough the extra weight needed for a dry suit will be compensated by the warmer dive you will enjoy, specially if the conditions are very calm. Make use of the water available at the parking lot to wet your suit before or just after putting it on.

A light is recommended for looking into the many cracks and overhangs, where the invertebrates are particularly colourful when full spectrum light is used to illuminate them. A compass is useful for swimming back under water, and Nitrox may be advantageous depending on how long and deep you dive. A DSMB may be used if diving from a boat, but is not essential as this is not an area where you can easily get lost, and there is always the option of swimming to shore in an emergency.

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