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Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay/Coral Gardens (Rooi-els)

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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 (Rooi-els)

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The dive site Coral Gardens is an inshore rocky reef in the Rooi-els area on the east side of False Bay, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Information is provided which may assist in planning Recreational and Research Scuba diving at this site, and links to photographs of marine organisms that have been found there.

(reasons to dive at this site)

Name "Coral Gardens"

Named for the abundant gorgonians, sea fans and soft corals found in the area.

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Aerial view of the dive site at Coral Gardens, Rooi-Els. (Photo CDS&M)


S34°18.144’ E018°48.795’

This site is NOT in a Marine Protected Area (2009)


Shore dive: Very limited parking at the side of Rocklands road (gravel). Walk down between and over rock ridges to the entry/exit point in gully. Access is limited to good weather with very low swell, and becomes difficult if south west swell picks up. Alternative exits at ledges in the gully depending on tide and sea state. Familiarise yourself before diving, and take time before attempting an exit to judge timing and strength of the surge, and choose an exit point according to conditions. Not a site for the novice or a diver unfamiliar with local conditions unless you have a guide. There is a good exit/entry point, less sensitive to sea state, just to seaward of the side gully, but the clamber over the rocks is more difficult. This is a ledge on the side of the main gully.

Boat dive: The site may be dived from a boat from the local slip if you have the required permit, or from Hangklip or Gordon’s Bay, but this is quite a long ride.


None. Park at the side of Rocklands road where you can find space. Do not park in driveways.


Exposed to south west swell. Only diveable if the swell is low. Usually best after several days of south east wind in summer. Visibility is not often good, even when there is not much surge, as there is a fine silt that is easily disturbed that deposits in the gullies in the deeper areas.


18m is likely on an ordinary dive, 20m is conveniently accessible, and it is possible to get 30m after a long swim. This is the point on the East side of False Bay where the 30m isobath approaches the shore most closely.


Ordovician sandstone of the Table Mountain group, probably Peninsula formation. Strike approximately north-east south-west, and dip about 25° south east


Rocky ridges run approximately north-east to south-west. Large outcrops and boulders make rugged relief and provide a habitat for a large variety of invertebrates. The entry gully is quite open towards the mouth, with a bottom of smallish rounded boulders and pebbles. This feature extends out beyond the heads, and is a useful landmark for finding your way around. It appears to be interrupted by a few low ridges. An extensive sand area starts quite close to shore at the outer end of the wide gully, Rocks to the north are mostly not very high nearby, but there is a long quite straight ridge a few metres high quite far out beyond the pinnacles. There is another long wall-like ridge closer in, which stops at the low area. The bottom of the low area has fairly large areas of pebbles about fist size and patches of sand. There are big reefs further north, with long high ridges, gullies, big rocks and boulders, occasional overhangs, small caves and an arch. Probably all Peninsula formation quartzitic sandstones. Strike is roughly north/south, dip eastwards about 45°.

Straight out: Big rocks, deep gullies until about 20m, then lower reef with occasional pebble patches. There are three large pinnacles at the south ends of truncated ridges, with the bottom at about 21m and top of the pinnacles at about 12m. They are in a line running approximately north-west/south-east about 160m west from the entry point The southernmost of these ridges has an arch feature just south of the high point at a depth of 17m. The northern ridge has a cave/swim-through under a big boulder on the eastern side, at about 20m. This cave is accessible from at least two points at the bottom, and has a chimney against the ridge. The gully between the middle and outer ridges is deep and steep on north, east and west sides and has a large variety of sponges. Higher up on the ridges are a variety of gorgonians and soft corals. The reef continues out to about 350m offshore, where it drops slightly to almost level sand.

North of gully mouth: Close ridges and gullies approximately parallel to shore, mostly not very long, and tending downwards fairly fast. Big boulders and outcrops further out.

South of gully mouth: Big rocks and ridges approximately parallel to overall shore line.


Shore access requires a scramble over rocks. Exit can be tricky in larger swells.

Skill level

No special skills required. Ability to navigate by compass is useful if diving further out, and the ability to deploy a DSMB is useful for boat dives.


Good site for close-up photography of invertebrates, particularly sponges and colonial ascidians. (photographic equipment suggestions)


A flashlight is useful for illuminating under overhangs. Nitrox is useful for the deeper areas and a reel and DSMB is suggested for boat dives. This is a site where a compass is particularly useful for keeping track of where you are.

Marine life

Kelp forests inshore and in gully.Lot of interesting invertebrates including a variety of sponges and colonial ascidians, often under slight overhangs.

Suggested Routes

Enter and swim out to mouth of gully. Good diving in all directions, deeper straight out.

  1. For a 30m shore dive, swim out approximately 600m on the surface on 290° magnetic. The depth decreases gradually towards the shore, and to avoid decompression (on air) it will be necessary to swim part of the way back in mid-water. Alternatively this can be done on Nitrox or rebreather.
  2. Three pinnacles tour: Swim out due east over the boulder bottom of the entry gully, keeping to the left wall, through the kelp and ridges beyond the mouth, down onto the wide gully with flattish bottom and patches of pebbles at 10.5m. Swim along near the gully bottom with high rock on your right hand side. At 13m depth pass a small sand patch, followed by a low, broken ridge across the gully. At 15m, pass a big patch of pebbles, followed by low smooth rock, looks as if worn by abrasion with stones. Continue past a large rock at 17m on the right hand side of the gully with an orange wall sponge to the north, and a small gully branching off about north west. Continue along the side of the wide gully a short distance past a sand patch at 18m to a fairly smooth ridge crossing the gully. The ridge is a couple of metres high and tapers down from north to south and has a notch in the north side of the crest. Turn right and follow this ridge a short distance to the north, where it rises up and becomes the first pinnacle. Just over the ridge at the base of this pinnacle is the Arch, with a pothole to the right of it. Keep the pinnacle to the right and swim past over a patch of sand bottom at about 21m. On the seaward side of the pinnacle are some fairly high rocks which you keep on your right until the second pinnacle. Swim around the south side of this pinnacle and then round to the west, to a gap between two high ridges, with a large rock in the gap. Keep this rock and the next ridge to the right and you will soon come to a large overhang with a silty bottom and a cave a few metres off the bottom This ridge is the third pinnacle. Continue with rocks to the right, past another lower overhang, to a large boulder which has a swim-through under it with about three entries at the bottom and a chimney against the pinnacle. Proceed round the pinnacle clockwise, passing another large overhang at about 18m on the seaward side. There is another lower ridge visible to seaward of this pinnacle. Continue round the pinnacle to the gap and then move to the next ridge to the east. Follow the ridges clockwise and you should end up back at the arch. Head approximately south east through a gap to return to the wide gully at the rock with wall sponge, then keep the high rocks to the left to return to the entry gully. There is a sudden rise at the end of the low open area, and the kelp starts. Keep on a course due east magnetic to get back to the entry gully, which is recognizable by the round boulder bottom and lack of kelp in the middle. Follow the southern wall of the gully until the kelp starts again and surface near the exit point. This is quite a long dive and is best done on Nitrox if you want to spend time looking at things.


Views of the site from the shore.

View from the road towards the entry point. The path passes to the left of the boulder in the left foreground, then down between the ridges to the centre of the photo. The route continues between the ridges on the left side of the gap.

This is a view of the inlet. Most of the diving is beyond the mouth in the direction of your choice. The pinnacles are more or less straight out.

The entry point is at the end of this little gully. The water is quite deep beyond the end of the ridge and it is possible to simply jump off the end of the left ridge. Getting out is a bit more of an exercise, as the rock is quite steep and encrusted with barnacles. Watch the sets, choose your moment and scramble up the end of the ridge from the mouth of the gully. Try to get high enough to be out of the next wave before attempting to remove kit. Reinforced kneepads and gloves are highly recommended. It is not a good idea to come into the gully as you will be caught by the next wave. The alternative exit at a ledge just to seaward (left) of this gully is an easie exit in moderate surge and is suitable for use at high tide

This view is looking north from the high rocks to the south of the inlet, which is just beyond the fishermen on the rocks to the right of the photo. These gullies are not an alternative entry or exit as the surge is very strong even in good weather. The underwater topography is similar to this, with ridges and gullies following similar direction to those above the surface.

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