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THE CAPE’S DIVE-SCENE

“Are the three buddy teams ready to roll?” asks your dive master. You answer affirmatively by signalling an “O” with thumb and forefinger. The skipper has dropped anchor just beyond the kelp beds in Smitswinkel Bay. It is now time to explore the famous “Rockeater”. It rests at 35 metres on the sandy bed with four other wrecks, forming an artificial reef. There you will find soft corals, sponges, fishes and the spectacular “gas flame” nudibranch. With the coming of winter, the cold (14° C) but calm water has 15m visibility. You wear a 5mm rubber “farmer John” pants/vest combination, hooded jacket and buoyancy compensator. After checking the tank’s air-pressure on your dive computer, you back-roll to gather around the descent line and push aside your snorkel. Breathing comfortably from the regulator, you are now ready to fin down and experience the Cape’s dive- scene.

Welcome to the Cape Peninsula! Although the dive scene at Sodwana in KwaZulu-Natal is arguably the most glamorous in South Africa, the Cape has something special to offer: It has access to some great dive sites without the need of a boat. Furthermore, many of these sites have very different marine fauna and flora. Water temperature ranges from 10°C to 15°C on the Peninsula’s Atlantic Ocean side, which is influenced by the cold - but nutrient-rich - upwelling Benguella current. Here visibility is best from December to March, when the prevailing south-easterly blows offshore.

On the Indian Ocean side, False Bay is influenced by the southerly flowing Agulhas current and can become very warm in summer. However, visibility is usually better from June to October, when the prevailing wind is north-westerly and blows offshore. Although the water temperature drops to between 14°C and 18°C, the weather during winter months is often delightful. Furthermore, the area offers great night diving. Despite the rugged coastline, you can always find sheltered waters with ease of access from its many beaches.

Check it out! There are precisely 100 beaches around Cape Town. On the Atlantic coast, they extend northwards from fabulous Diaz Beach near Cape Point to Yzerfontein. On the False Bay coast, they extend eastward from equally fabulous Buffels Bay to Moonshine Beach at Cape Hangklip. Many are perfect launching points for dives and the mountain scenery is magnificent. Particularly scenic is Smitswinkel Bay and it is from here you begin your tour of the Cape dive-scene.

With its towering cliffs and steep approach, Smitswinkel is not for the faint-hearted. This can also be said of nearby Partridge Point in the False Bay marine reserve, which can only be approached by boat. What fantastic dive sites! No where else in South Africa will you see so many soft corals - and more! Of the 2000 marine species found here, 61% are endemic to our waters and 14% to the Bay itself. If either your spouse or children are not divers, then simply settle them on the M4 Motorway! Its wide verges with tumbling waterfalls are beautifully landscaped and make ideal picnic spots. This is the scene until you reach Miller’s Point and its exciting shore-dive to Castle Rock. Wow! The place is teeming with fish! There are dassies, galjoen, john brown, kraaibek, red stumpnose, roman, steenbras, strepies and the zebra. Just look at those basket stars, feather stars, sea squirts, sponges, strawberry anemones and sunburst corals!

Equally exciting is Caravan Reef, which is situated further north off a superb training site - Miller’s Point. From here to Simon’s Town are the great snorkelling sites. They include Windmill Beach, Boulders, Water’s Edge and Seaforth. Incidentally, Boulders is sheltered from the south-easterly wind and very popular with families in summer. Maps of the area are obtainable from Simon’s Town Publicity Association opposite cobbled Jubilee Square. There are other great dive-sites, but they lie across False Bay between Gordon’s Bay and Cape Hangklip. Here the over 30 shore-dives are best in summer, when the prevailing wind blows offshore.

On the Atlantic coast, the most popular dive-sites are past Camps Bay. Particularly popular is picturesque Oudekraal, with its famous Justin’s Caves. This rocky outcrop is less than a ten-minute swim from the shore and worth exploring. You need only dive to a 15m maximum depth to discover its canyons covered with pink china coral. Nearby are the 1698 wreck of an East Indiaman - the “Huis te Cruyestein” - and Geldkis Rock, where two lost money chests wait to be found.

Just beyond Oudekraal lies Hottentot’s Huisie. Its claim to fame is the Coral Gardens with spectacular drop-offs from a depth of between 10m and 20m. Unfortunately, most divers only notice the china coral and shoals of fish. Should you have a trained eye, you would be amazed at the diversity of invertebrate life. Modern wrecks in this area include the “Antipolis” close to Oudekraal and “Romelia” at Llandudno. However, more exciting are boat-dives closer to Hout Bay. Between Oudeschip and Duiker Point lie turn-of-the-century wrecks - the “Maori” and “Oakburn”. Off Hout Bay, the best boat-dives are at Vulcan Rock and at Duiker Island with its large seal colony. As usual, these mammals steal the show!

The next dive-site is after Hout Bay at Kommetjie. If only to enjoy the magnificent scenery en route, a visit can make your day! It is quite an experience to skirt the soaring cliffs of Chapman’s Peak and view the rocky Sentinel across the bay. You then skirt the eight kilometre white expanse of Noordhoek Beach, which is over half a kilometre wide in places. Kommetjie’s best dive is in quite deep channels off the Klein-Slangkoppunt rocks at Long Beach, where spiny lobsters can often be found. There is also an interesting dive-site further along the main road at Scarborough. From here, it is only a short journey through Alpine country to Smitswinkel on the False Bay coast. However, it is well worthwhile turning into the huge Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve for some of the best dives on the entire Peninsula.

There are three dive-sites on the Reserve’s Atlantic coast: Maclear, Olifantsbos and Platboom. Of these, Maclear is by far the most spectacular with visibility often in excess of 30m. Abalone, alikreukel and spiny lobsters abound. There are also small pyjama catsharks, which like most sharks off the Cape Peninsula are quite harmless. In fact, one of the most common - the dark shyshark - curls up when disturbed. On the Reserve’s False Bay side is Buffels Bay, which also has excellent diving. Unlike the three other nearby dive-sites, it is best explored in winter. This means that you can have fun in the Reserve virtually any time of the year.

Now having completed our tour of the Cape dive-scene, there are few pointers that need to be mentioned. Obviously, you never dive alone and are welcomed by dive clubs to meet the guys. They can also advise you on local conditions. It is important that you neither disturb the corals nor artifacts, which are home to marine organisms. There are also strict regulations for collecting invertebrates listed in the free pamphlet Marine Conservation: do’s and don’ts. This is available from The Chief Directorate, Marine Development, Department of Environmental Affairs, Private Bag X2, 8012 Roggebaai. Of particular concern is the policing of marine reserves and safe use of off-road vehicles. The aim is to ensure that you and your buddies enjoy the Cape dive scene.

Of course, you cannot spend all your time underwater in the Cape. So how about board-sailing next summer at Big Bay? Here you can ride 1.2m to 1.8m swells under a 45km to 85km per hour wind without danger of hitting any hidden reefs. Enthusiasts from Australia, Hawaii and the United States insist that it is the ultimate venue! Alternatively, how about ogling the “chicks” on one of the world’s most scenic beaches - Clifton? The pure white sand is so fine, that it literally squeaks underfoot and the scenery is spectacular.

If you like high places, take a cable-car ride to the top of Table Mountain. If you prefer to remain at sea level and want to see local colour, then visit a “working” harbour - the historic Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. There you will find traditional pubs, restaurants, speciality shops and an aquarium of international standards. Further afield in the famous Kirstenbosch Gardens, you can enjoy concerts by some of the world’s leading orchestras. Still further afield is “apple country” in one direction, “wine country” in another and “flower country” in yet another. However, to bring you back to Earth, there is also “dive country” up the fabulous west coast. You would be in good company with millions of migrating birds from all over Europe. What an experience!

Bevan Pank

 

 

 

 


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