South Africa is renowned for its beauty and is a dream destination for any adventure junkie. The hiking trails around Cape Town are well known, but many are surprised to learn that Scuba diving in Cape Town is excellent. When it comes to diving activities in South Africa the annual sardine run on the East coast of the country and shark cage diving are best known.
Amazing experiences for sure, but South Africa has a lot more to offer to the Scuba diver. With such a diverse coastline it is one of the world’s most interesting diving destinations. Cold water diving in the beautiful kelp forests of Cape Town is a unique experience with colorful sea slugs, playful seals, a variety of sharks and fish and some interesting wrecks to explore.
Scuba Diving in South Africa
The unique South African coastline, bordered by different oceans and currents is home to a massive biodiversity. The Atlantic Ocean with the cold Benguela current and the Indian Ocean with the warm Mozambique current creates two different underwater worlds on the East Coast and West Coast of South Africa. For the best Scuba diving with sharks in South Africa descend at Protea Banks in KwaZulu Natal. You will swim with Tigersharks, Zambezis, Black Tips and sometimes massive shoals of hammerheads.
The most colorful and best tropical diving is in the warm Mozambique current from Sodwana Bay in northern Kwazulu Natal. On Africa’s most southern coral reef you can see Whale sharks, Humpback Whales, Ragged-tooth Sharks, Manta Rays, and nesting Sea Turtles in season.
Driving the Garden Route also offers good diving opportunities; dive with sea horses at the Knysna Heads, go Scuba Diving with Seals at Plettenberg Bay, or go and dive with schools of game fish and ragged-tooth sharks on the vibrant reef of the Ray Banks from Port Elizabeth.
Cape Town offers fantastic cold water diving; go diving with seals, cow sharks and find a variety of unique nudibranchs. Diving in the beautiful kelp forests makes diving here different and spectacular. Cape Town is rich in shark life that can be seen diving here either scuba diving, doing pelagic shark dives, or cage diving with great white sharks. See our in-depth article about different options to dive with sharks in Cape Town. In this exciting city you will not have a boring moment, here is our suggestion for our favorite things to do in Cape Town.
Scuba Diving in Cape Town
Diving around Cape Town is challenging. The water is cold and visibility is not always great, but on a good day taking on the challenge is so worth it with a huge variety of unique marine life; from fantastic small critters to a large variety of fish and even marine mammals. Seals are often seen on dives and are very playful. Diving or snorkeling with seals is a must-include in your Cape Town itinerary. Dolphins and whales are frequently seen from the boat, but meeting them under water is a rare occurrence.
Scuba divers new to the Cape dive scene are often concerned about sharks. This is not a serious concern, very few people are lucky/unlucky enough to ever see a great white shark scuba diving and attacks by these predators are almost non-existent. The water is cold, but this problem is easily solved by diving in a proper wetsuit or a dry suit in extreme conditions.
Cost of Diving in Cape Town
Diving is interesting and challenging around Cape Town, but just because you are in a third-world country it does not mean diving is cheap. Dive prices in Cape Town start around R600 ($45) for a boat dive including equipment. I have worked and dived extensively around Asia and the Americas, a full day diving in Indonesia with 3 dives including gear at world-class dive sites cost about $100, and a single boat dive in Thailand as cheap as $30, much cheaper than diving in Cape Town.
Cost of diving with different operators in Cape Town can be found at the bottom of this entry.
Permits Required for Diving in Cape Town
Most of the dive sites around Cape Town are located in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). These marine protected areas aim to conserve marine life and promote the conservation and effective management of biodiverse marine areas.
To dive in a MPA you need to have a MPA Permit. You can buy this at any local post office at a cost of R75, the permit is valid for one year from the day of purchase. You can also buy a temporary permit at certain dive shops at a cost of R45 which is valid for one month.
When diving around Cape Town, check if where you want to dive is located in a MPA. Make sure you have a permit, large fines can be issued if you do not have a permit and gear can be confiscated.
Diving from the Shore in Cape Town
Many dive sites are easily accessible from the shore. Since no boat costs are involved most training dives in the area are done from the shore. This makes diving cheap if you own your own equipment and know the area, only paying for cylinder refills. Renting is still much cheaper than doing boat dives and many dive shops have dive leaders available for shore dives.
Dive sites around Cape Town are either located inside False Bay or on the Atlantic side, referring to the west coast of the Cape Peninsula.
Transport around Cape Town
It is possible to get by train to Simonstown or move around by taxi or Uber, but renting a car is definitely the best way to move around in Cape Town. Rentacar Cape Town compares prices of all the most reputable car rental agencies. You can rent a car starting at about $20 per day for a medium car or as low as $15 per day for a small budget vehicle if you rent for a week! Pick up your vehicle in town or at the airport.
DIVING IN FALSE BAY
There is some fantastic Scuba diving inside false bay. Diving with seals, large 7 gill cowsharks and some very interesting nudibranches. Shore dives are commonly done and the good roads make most sites easy to reach. Many big cowsharks are often seen from the shore. There are a variety of world class wrecks to dive in the bay.
Inside False Bay is best dived in winter months when the prevailing north-westerly winds flatten and cleans the bay. In winter visibility is normally between 5 and 10 metres, but I have seen up to 20m. Water temperatures this time of year is normally around 16C. In summer the south easter can spoil conditions decreasing visibility to zero and water temperatures can drop to 12C.
Dive sites in this area are located in a Marine Protected Area (2004). The closest post office to buy a permit here if you do not have one is Kalkbay.
Shore dives in False Bay
In my student days we couldn’t afford boat dives and I did hundreds of dives, day and night, from the shore. As an instructor I have trained and showed many divers some fantastic dives from the shore in this area.
The Clan Stuart
The “SS Clan Stuart” is a 3500 ton British turret steamer that ran aground carrying a cargo of coal after dragging her anchor in a South East gale on 21 November 1914.
This wreck is an easy, shallow dive suitable for all levels. Great shore dive, with adequate parking and well protected from south westerly swell. It is suitable for training and night dives, and has quite a diverse population of reef animals and some interesting wreckage. The engine block can be seen above the water from the shore. The wreck is covered in growth, many small fish. Great white sharks have been seen here once or twice.
Avg depth 6m. Max depth 8m
Approximately 4km from the Fish Hoek traffic circle on the Simon’s Town Road, about 100m from the beach at Mackerel Bay
The A-Frame is a very nice shore dive, the entry is easy, there are some interesting swim throughs and a variety of marine life. The entry point is a flat rocky plateau. You decend on a shallow sandy area from where you start your tour through the kelp Forrest and past huge boulders.
There are a few deep holes and overhangs creating interesting swim throughs in which you can see many colorful invertebrates. The smaller of the two rocks has a nice cave to enter filled with big sponges. The site is well suited for night dives. Octopus, cuttlefish, big red romans, hottentot and shy sharks are commonly seen.
The site lies approximately 5km from Simon’s Town on the Cape Point Road.
Castle Rock is huge rocks in a small bay area, which is formed by big boulders. The dive starts in a small bay which you exit through a big Kelp forest. You swim around the rocks and this site has some amazing fish life. Red Roman, Pyjama sharks, Shy Sharks, Butterfish, Galjoen, Cape Knife Jaw, Bank Steenbras and Janbruin (John Brown) of descend size are seen on most dives.
Max Depth 15m
Driving from Simon’s Town Castle Rocks is situated just before the Cape Point Nature Reserve. After the Millers Point turn off you will see a large outcrop of rocks, Castle Rock. Parking is on the side of the Road, about 15 meters above sea level, so you kit up here and walk down to the entry spot.
Pyramid Rock – Cow Shark Dive
This is my favorite dive in Simon’s Town and is often done as a boat dive. Similar fish life to Castle Rock. The highlight is the Seven Gill Cow Sharks. Sometimes many of these large sharks can be seen. They have teeth but in thousands of dives nobody has been bitten.
A pyramid shaped rock sticking out above the water between Castle Rock and the Simon’s Town jetty.
Boat Dive in False Bay
Partridge Point – Cape Fur Seal Dive
Scuba diving with the acrobatic Cape Fur Seals is an awesome experience in Cape Town. The seals are very playful and love to show off to divers.
These seals are used to divers and many of them often come to investigate and play. Partridge Point is a inshore rocky reef close to Castle Rocks.
The amphitheatre, a shallow section of the reef is a good place to watch the Seals. The deeper sections of the reef offers beautiful marine life, swim-throughs and large sea fans.
There are extensive kelp forests in the shallower areas, and a heavy cover of invertebrates on the rocks.
Max depth 26m
Rock in False Bay raising from 35m deep to just 3m below the surface. Variety of nice size fish; Red Roman, Red Stump, Yellow Tail and more. Popular spearfishing spot. Great Whites sometimes seen. Nice nudibranchs’ and other invertebrates.
Boat dive, 9km from Millers Point.
The SAS Pietermaritzburg
This ship was formerly known as HMS Pelorus and led the D-Day invasion of Normandy. It was bought by the South African Navy and scuttled to form an artificial reef in 1994. The wreck is still intact and is easy to access. It is a popular site for introductory wreck dives and night dives, mainly due to the moderate depth and short distance from the launch site. Max Depth 22m
Boat dive, 1 km from Millers Point.
The Wrecks of Smitswinkel Bay
The Wrecks of Smitswinkel Bay are five wrecks that were scuttled in the 1970’s by the SA Navy to form an artificial reef. It is possible to visit all five wrecks on a single no-decompression dive , this is known as a Smits Swim. This is occasionally organised for people who want to have been there and done that. The Five wrecks are SAS Transvaal (navy frigate), SAS Good Hope (navy frigate), the Rockeater (diamond dredger), the
Princess Elizabeth (fishing trawler) and the Oratava (fishing trawler) The dredger and frigates are in an upright position and at this depth can be quite a ghostly sight.
A good charter company is important for this dive, some local divers are not even sure which wreck is which. Grant from Blueflash Divers really knows what he is doing. On the wrecks you can see various nudibranchs, anemones, sponges, sea-fans and soft corals. A good light helps to bring out a lot of color. Because of the depth and cold water be sure to plan the dive well and adhere to limits.
Accommodation in Simonstown, False Bay
- Backpacker Budget – Stoked Backpackers
- Mid Range – The Hotel Glencairn is a very convenient stay for diving in False Bay. Nice rooms, friendly owners and excellent location less than 100m walk from Pisces Divers.
- Treat Yourself – Watercolors House, set opposite the ocean, amazing views, large solar heated pool.
DIVING ON THE ATLANTIC SIDE
Diving the Atlantic Side refers to the sites on the west coast of the Cape Peninsula. Cold, clean water brought by the South East winds makes summer the best time to dive here. The South east cleans up the Atlantic side and visibility can reach up to 20m, but then the temperatures can drop to about 10°C.
Kelp forest, seals, crayfish and colourful soft corals are common on dives on the Atlantic side of Cape Point. Dolphins are often seen from the dive boats and if you are lucky you can run into the interesting and huge oceanic sunfish.
Detailed here are a few of the most popular dive sites on the Atlantic Seaboard. The boat launches are from Hout Bay harbour. A drive along the coast from Hout Bay is one of the most scenic drives in Cape Town. If you have time before or after your dive make sure to do it.
Shore Dives on the Atlantic Side of Cape Point
There are some nice shore dives to do in the Oudekraal area at the base of Twelve Apostles. Located within an MPA you need a Scuba permit (from a post office) to dive here. Parking is usually not a big problem in the coastal area. Be prepared to navigate the rocks to the water, struggle through the patches of floating kelp, and for quite a long swim to the dive site. When in the area make sure to visit the Cape Point National Park it’s one of the must-see places in Cape Town.
This is a very popular shore dive in summer when the water is cold and clean. Large caverns and swim throughs makes this a fun dive. Probably the best (and most popular) shore dive on the Atlantic side. Nudibranchs’, anemones, sponges and many crayfish live in some of the caverns. Many hottentot fish and small, harmless sharks swim in the area. Many years ago I saw a great white shark here on a shore dive. I have never heard about this happening to another diver.
Parking at the side of the road on outside of bend north of the Twelve Apostles Hotel. There is an entry/exit point directly opposite the caves at the bottom of a slope covered with rounded boulders. Dive site about 150m off shore.
Sandy Cove is a nice and easy dive, protected from the pumping South Easterly in summer and popular for training. Located close to the Twelve Apostles Hotel. It is a steep walk down to the dive site, but a easy entry. There are some small swim throughs that you can squeeze through. Lots of marine life, crayfish, some fish mainly Klipfish and Hottentots’ , some Shy Sharks and Pyjama Sharks. If you swim out you can find some canons that remains from an old wreck the ‘Het Huis Te Kraaienstein’, this is known as the oldest wreck in South Africa.
Another dive site located close to the Twelve Apostles Hotel inside the Karbonkelberg Marine Protected Area. The Antipolis ran aground at Oudekraal in 1977 and was later cut down to water level. The wreck was a steel ship, the wreckage is mainly large pipes, broken hull plates and large valves overgrown with algae with a wide variety of shell fish, star fish and some crayfish hide around the wreck. Many shy sharks and jelly fish can also be seen in the area The surrounding reef is mainly granite outcrops and boulders.
The swim out to the wreck is more than 50m, the average depth here is around 7m reaching a max depth of 15m at this dive site. Visibility is usually 5-10 meters but can exceed 20 meters.
Boat Dives on the Atlantic Side of Cape Point
Boat dives launch from Hout Bay and there are spectacular wrecks and nice reefs, blinders and pinnacles to dive here on the Western Seaboard of the Cape Peninsula.
The Maori is a great wreck dive on the Atlantic side of Cape Town lying at a depth from 13m to a maximum depth of 21m. Jacques Cousteau labelled it the best preserved wreck of it’s vintage when he dived here. This 5317 ton cargo ship went down carrying explosives, pipes and crockery from London to New Zealand in 1909. Points of interest on the wreck include the steam engines, the railway lines for cargo and lots more. Stranded on a rocky reef with an overall length of 122 m
Boat dive, located about 7.5 km from Hout Bay Harbour. Close inshore in the middle of the bay between Duiker Point and Oude Schip, but not easily accessible from the shore as there are no roads in this area.
The Aster was a 27 m long Motor Fishing Vessel registered in South Africa as a lobster fishing vessel. The ship was was scuttled in Hout Bay near the wreck of the MV Katzu Maru on 9 August 1997 to form a dive site. The position was well chosen and the wreck is well protected from the south easterly wind. The ship was prepared to be a diver-friendly artificial reef by making large openings into the structure. Most compartments have some sort of opening to the outside. It is a nice wreck for training wreck penetration. The vessel is upright on the bottom and is beginning to break up. This is a deep dive with a maximum depth of 28m and an average depth of about 20m. There are lots of feather stars, sponges and mussels on the wreck, keep an eye out for big crayfish. Visibility likely to be about 10m, but I have dived here in over 20m visibility, but it was a very cold day with water temperatures below 10C!
MV Katsu Maru
The Katsu Maru was Japanese trawler, it struck an unidentified object at sea in August 1978. It flooded and sank while it was being towed to Hout Bay. The wreck lies on its starboard side on the sand bottom. It is a nice wreck to dive in good visibility. You can not really penetrate this one without special training. The top of the hull lies at a depth of about 16m and the maximum depth is 28m.
Vulcan rock is a large pinnacle about about 2km to sea from Hout Bay. It is a beautiful colorful dive, the granite reef is covered in hard and soft cold coral. At low tide the pinnacle breaks the surface, the reef drops to a maximum depth of 40m. There are some swim throughs deeper on the reef. Vulcan rock is a biodiverse reef hosting a variety of nudibranchs, crayfish, hottentot, galjoen and you sometimes find seals around the reef.
This is the tallest and longest wall dive in the Cape Town area. A huge continuous granite wall with a vertical drop of about 25m and the reef has a south face of about 100 m. Diverse and colorful soft corals and invertebrates cover the wall.
Accommodation Hout Bay
- Budget – Hout Bay Backpackers
- Mid Range – Hout & About Guest House
- Five Star Luxury – Kronendal Heritage
Alpha Dive Centre
Alpha Dive Centre is a great Dive Center. Located in Strand, but dives everywhere in False Bay. I did my training with Alpha. Ettienne, the owner, is a great guy with 20 years+ of experience. Good dive masters for shore dives, does boat dives with Blue Flash, an excellent charter company. Pop in for a cup of coffee and discus any diving ideas you might have.
Full Scuba gear rental R480 ($33) per day, R150 ($10) Divemaster fee.
This is a very good deal if you rent a set and refill the cylinder for 2 or 3 dives!
Boat fee Simon’s Town R380 ($26), so with gear rental (Scuba set) you are looking at about R860 ($60) for a dive.
PADI Openwater Course – R4600 ($320)
SSI Openwater Course – R4600 ($320)
- Includes 4 shore dives, Scuba Gear (must have/buy your own mask, snorkel, fins)
Pisces Divers is an excellent dive center ran by owner Mike Nortje. Location is great on Long Beach, Simonstown the most popular training beach. Swimming Pool on site. Nice Coffee Shop in the dive center.
R1300 ($87) – 2 dives
Daily Shorediving package with full equipment, two guided shore dives, lunch and transport from dive centre to dive sites.
Pisces have their own boat, you will pack your stuff at the shop in Simonstown. They have various packages available such as ‘Wreck and Reef’ and ‘Seal and Kelp’.
R2200 ($147)-2 dives
Guided boat dive package includes full equipment for your two dives
PADI Openwater Course – R6800 ($455)
- Includes 2 boat dives, 2 shore dives, all gear
- bit more pricey, but nice that your course includes some boat dives
Blue Flash owner Grant Whitford is a very experienced skipper. Grant runs dive charters and caters for experienced, adventurous divers. A charter dive costs R450, this does not include dive gear or a dive leader. Call him if you need gear or guided dive and he will organize this for you.
More Awesome Things to Do Around Cape Town
The Mother City is a dream destination for coffee lovers, with plenty of top quality artisan coffee shops spread out through the city. See our favorite coffee shops in Cape Town.
South Africa is famous for wild love, one of the best ‘off the beaten track’ national parks in the Kgalagadi National Park.
If you can not make it to Kgalagadi or Kruger you can see the Big 5 on a safari at Aquila Game Reserve, only about 2 hours drive from Cape Town, get picked up at your hotel in Cape Town.
Kitesurfing in Cape Town is world-famous, check it out we went for an introduction in Langebaan.
South Africa is home to some fantastic wines, go and check out the famous wine farms in Stellenbosch or go and see where winemaking started in South Africa on the wine farms of Constantia. Wine tasting and some interesting food and wine pairing in Durbanville is also a fantastic day to learn and enjoy.
Thinking of things that can go wrong too much can put a damper on your trip, but there are obvious risks. Accidents do happen, be prepared. Get a online quote in seconds. Have your trip, your health and your gear covered, read the small print. World Nomads Diving Insurance
About Author – Campbell
The strong half of Stingy Nomads, a nomadic aquaman that would be happy to spend all his life in the water diving, surfing and spearfishing but often has to compromise with Alya and go hiking instead. Campbell is responsible for all our marine adventures and following them with write-ups. He loves traveling, braai (BBQ in South Africa), red wine and spending the day in a wetsuit.
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