11 things that diving the Aliwal Shoal in South Africa teaches you

Huey Ying Dive 1
Fellow divers from four different countries in four different continents

Forget safaris on land, South Africa’s diving will blow your mind. Here is a list of 11 things you will learn when you dive at Aliwal Shoal in the coastal region of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

1. Diving in South Africa is an adventure

Each dive is exciting. On a good reef dive, there will be pelagic fish, sharks, rays, lobsters, turtles and dolphins all in that short hour. Sometimes, you even get surround sound when you hear dolphins singing while watching nudibranchs get it on!

Plus, you can go shark diving, with no cage… No, you read it right, there is no cage involved with shark dives at Blue Ocean Dive Resort.

Huey Ying Dive 2
A tiger shark visits one of the shark dives and hangs around the dive group for an entire hour

So, when you dive with more than 30 Oceanic Blacktip sharks without a cage, or hang out with a 4m tiger shark for an entire hour, or have curious potato bass the size of golden retrievers poke their faces into you… you understand why Aliwal Shoal is rated one of the top 10 dive sites in the world And you learn what an adventure underwater is all about.

Huey Ying Dive 3
Potato bass are huge and love attention

2. For that matter, everything in South Africa is an adventure

DCIM100GOPROWreck diving in South Africa

  • Getting out to the dive site (see point 3)
  • Shark diving (see point 7, 8 and 9)
  • Getting back on the boat (see point 10)

3. Getting to the dive site is half the fun

This video features a RIB (Rubber Inflatable Boat) launch on a very good day.

Forget about seeing videos from yours truly on bad days – both hands and full attention is needed to survive those. RIB diving is not for the faint of heart, and sometimes it isn’t fun until you reach the dive site. But you could get rewarded with hammerhead and dolphin sightings on the way out!

DCIM101GOPRODolphins escorting us to the dive site
Photo by Jean Chatillion

4. How to hang on tight

If you don’t learn how to keep an iron-grip, you don’t get to the dive site.

5. The first and most important rule of diving in South Africa

Look cool.

Because when you dive in foreign places, you follow the rules of the town.

Even when you don’t feel very cool with salt spray slapping you in the face every time the RIB hits a wave. Even when you have a bad case of nerves written all over your face. Even when the idea of swimming with sharks, without a cage, is freaking you out.

Huey Ying Dive 7A worried face with a shark behind you does not qualify as looking cool, but you get the idea

You. Need. To. Look. Cool. Period.

6. You learn how to say “Lekker, bru!”

When someone asks how your dive was, a big grin or an enthusiastic ‘Awesome!’ is not enough. When in South Africa, do as they do and say, ‘Lekker, bru!’

Once you learn this, you are automatically upgraded into the ‘this-traveller-is-cool-because-she-speaks-Afrikaans’ category. Plus, an added bonus is that you are adhering closely to the first and most important rule of diving in South Africa!

7. Sharks do not eat humans

On shark dives, you first have a safety briefing before getting in the water. Once in the water with up to 30 sharks, it takes a while to remember you are alive before you resume breathing.

DCIM100GOPROTry counting the sharks

When you have calmed down, you will realise that the safety briefing was meant both for the safety of the divers and the reputation of the sharks, because sharks eat fish, not humans. But they do like to investigate flashy objects underwater and human flesh does not do well under shark scrutiny. [See point 9.]

Regardless, scuba diving with sharks is nothing like you will have ever experienced – not even petting a lion comes close! It is but a fleeting encounter with an apex predator that does not end with anyone fleeing the scene, or being eaten.

8. You can swim with sharks

Only when you have sufficiently recovered from the overwhelming sense of awe (which takes time), can you then say that you’ve learnt that you can swim with sharks.

Huey Ying Dive 9Sharks have teeth too

9. A shiny selfie stick is not safe for your GoPro

Sharks are efficient (read: lazy) hunters. A shiny metal stick out in the water looks suspiciously close to a dying sardine. And sharks love easy meals like dying sardines…

After the first chomp, you’ll learn to keep your GoPro close and leave the selfie stick on the boat.

10. What “unglam” truly means

An important difference between a RIB and the usual dive boats used in most places is the absence of a ladder at the back. Climbing aboard the RIB is TOUGH. Note: This is the only instance where you are allowed to break the first and most important rule of diving [See point 5].

[Option 1] Watch this poor Singaporean, aka yours truly, get her ass hauled into the boat and flop in like a beached whale. (Disclaimer: I nearly made it up the first time!)

11. The truth of the saying “A journey is best measured in friends rather than in miles.”

DCIM101GOPROYour diving will never again be measured by cool sightings or depth time but rather, the experience of being welcomed into a world that is not your own.

In some places, dive trips feel like underwater tours or aquarium visits, but at Aliwal Shoal, you encounter the creatures that make diving so awesome in the first place. Sharks, big fish, dolphins, fellow divers, dive masters and dive resort owners, they welcome you with open arms and open mouths into their little corner in South Africa. So go explore the underwater world a thousand miles away and make some amazing friends.

FYI, yours truly dived with Blue Ocean Dive Resort and highly recommend that you dive with them too.

  • Ravenous

    Glad you liked our Shoal. Dived that bit of rock many many times and it is different every time. So, going down this saturday to go visit my mates with scales, to say hi and thank them for not eating the visitors. I wish a few more foreign divers can come experience this particular dive site. We can definitely do with the capital influx, the great PR they provide and subsequent environmental awareness. In exchange you will experience something so magic, that will always want to come back.

  • neil

    Can I throw chicken legs to lions in the wild for the benefit of tourists…make a packet…and call it environmentalism? Aliwal shoal used to be wild…now it’s a petting zoo. I reckon the whole industry should be banned.