Diving in Sodwana Bay

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Sodwana bay located on the east coast of south Africa is one of the best dive sites in the country. Warm waters nearly all year round (low of 17 deg C and highs of 28 deg C) and 90% of the time good viz. Sometimes the sea is more flat like a lake than the ocean. Sodwana Bay has a reef complex of about 50 km’s and has more than 1200 species of fish with depths varying between 8 and 40 meters. Travelling to Sodwana Bay should take about 7 hours from Jhb. 

We left at about midday on the 27th of November. My friend Kerry and I started our trip all excited for the dives and a break from work. Kerry likes to take “the road less travelled” and took me on a detour to Amersfoort.  I know, I’ve never heard of it either but made the trip an extra 2 hours longer but……. now I’ve seen the little “Dorp” of Amersfoort (nothing there BTW).

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Arriving at Reef Teach at about 21:30 (after the detour) we unpacked the car and were notified that the wind is howling and the next day would bring some big swells and rough seas.  we met up with the rest of the group we were diving with and booked a dive for 11 am (if the conditions were good enough).  Since there was some “fare weather divers” with us, we erred on the side of “no sea sick” diving.

Up early the next day and it was overcast and very windy!  Alas no diving for today, so we did what any dive group would do when there is no diving – went to the shops in Mbazwana a little town just north of Sodwana, visited the bottle store, went to the butchery, and prepared for a day of leisure.

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Reef Teach beach set-up

During the day we had lunch at “the light house”.  Great for pizza and cocktails, definitely a place to have lunch or dinner.

On Saturday the weather had calmed down a bit, but it was still overcast with a bit of drizzle every now and then, but the dives were on for the day.  Arriving at the beach (about 13kms from Reef Teach) having a look at the ocean, if you can see the waves out at sea breaking, it could be a rough ride.   It actually wasn’t too bad. We kitted up our gear and started the briefing.

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Reef Teach is one of the best dive charters to dive with if the underwater world interests you, especially the fish life.  Brian Ring, the owner of Reef Teach gave an in-depth talk on fish life and how fish change sex, yes if you were a Finding Nemo fan, they got it wrong.  Nemo would have changed into a girl …..Sorry don’t tell your kids. In the aquatic reef systems most fish have one dominant male with a few females, this keeps the “ species” going.  This is the best way – one guy lots of chicks (yes I know it’s a pity it’s not like that with humans unless you are our president). If the male dies or gets eaten the most dominant female changes sex over the next week or so and carries on with the “blood line” and funny enough if that male returns (maybe got stuck at the pub with his mates) the newly changed male will turn back to a female.

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Blue-spotted Stingray

This is why Reef Teach is great for interesting facts.  On each dive you do, they show you what you’re (hopefully) going to see and some quirky comments on where, who, and how. The first dive was out 7 miles with a maximum depth of 25 meters and average of 18 meters. This is one of best dives you can get in Sodwana (although not my favourite) with the north wall and mushroom rocks in the south being the most beautiful area.  The reef is located about 11 kms from Jesser Point (where you get into the boat).  Great dive, and lots of fish.  Our dive was about 50 mins, at this point I had a few things going through my mind.  First, it’s great to be diving and second why on earth did I only bring a shorty 3mm wetsuit as the water temp was 24 and it was starting to get about ‘This” cold.  Once we got back into the boat it was cold and I was shaking like a dog shitting out bones, and it felt like a long drive back.

Once back on the beach it started to warm up a bit and the drizzle had subsided. Bit of SIT time and we were ready for the next dive to caves and over hangs, a great dive site just north of Anton’s (another dive site) with spectacular coral formations, amazing staghorn and plate coral and very alive with fish including honeycomb eels and more fish than I could mention.  It has a rocky substrate with lots of small caves and swim through, almost everything can be seen on this dive.

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Leaf Scorpionfish

The following day was Sunday and the last day of diving.  The weather was still miserable and my shorty was not looking forward to the water temperature.  On this day we did one of my favourite dive Roonies (yes that guy that cannot score a goal & plays for some arb team in the UK), the maximum depth is about 32 meters on the sand but you need to be deep/advanced qualified for this dive and try to use a 15lt tank (depending on your air consumption).  The more time you’re down the better, as you know you cannot have enough air underwater, but watch your no deco time. The hunt for a sea horse was on with lots of sea horse “virgins” on the dive. It was, as always superb diving but you have to look for the little critters, juvenile (baby) porcupine fish , Durban dancing shrimp that will clean your dead skin off your nails if you’re lucky, eels, blue spotted sting rays, clown fish, garden eels and lots more including some paper fish and a big potato bass. As you can see it was earth shattering, BUT no sea horse….. On the way back from the dive was another cold trip with drizzle and the 3mm shorty was not happy. Normally a 3mm shorty in summer months is great but not this weekend.

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White Spot Anemone Shrimp

We finished off the last dive to Ribbon. It was a relaxed dive. Two small reef systems where you might find ribbon eels, devil fire-fish and if you are lucky some barracuda and the odd shark might show up and say ‘howzit’.

Later that afternoon was a trip to Lake Sibaya, one of the best places in South Africa to have a sundowner, listen to the hippos clear their noses and watch the sun go down. The surface area used to be about 64 square kilometers and home to as many as 279 bird species. Unfortunately due to the drought it’s a bit empty but still beautiful.

Monday, the day to travel home, we got up early to pack the gear and its was sun and no wind (perfect for diving) about 29 deg C at 8 am but it’s was time to hit the road.  Said our goodbyes and off we went!  Luckily this time I avoided the “road less travelled and it only took 7hrs to get home, including a stop for lunch.

So in a nutshell: Reef-Teach is great (all rooms have AC and bathroom en-suite) friendly and informative, self-catering and comfy. Always take a thicker wet suit J.I.C.  In my opinion Sodwana is probable the best dive site in the world.

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