Oh, we divers take quite a lot on ourselves to get wonderful experiences under water. At the beginning of December 2018, I was drawn to the 'Indian Ocean' for the second time, and this time even more southerly than the Maldives: To South Africa to the south-east coast near Durban, to Umkomaas and Shelly Beach.
I got this tip from Timo Dersch at the "Boat Show Düsseldorf". Timo is a journalist and underwater photographer and is often founded under the surface. And ever since he raved to me about South Africa, I couldn't get this idea out of my head to dive there once in a while.
This destination is not exactly around the corner, and I also had a few doubts about flying to South Africa alone, so I followed Timo's advice and booked my trip with "Nautilus Tauchreisen". After sending the travel documents there was not a single question left unanswered and I was able to start my journey deeply relaxed:
I flew with 'Turkish Airlines' via Istanbul to Durban, South Africa. On this route the aircraft stops in Johannesburg, I had to wait one hour in the airplane, before it continues then to Durban. In total I was on the road for 14 hours, and from Durban I took a rental car on the left 100 km south to Umkomaas, where I spent the first week of my stay:
Hard to miss and right by the sea in Umkomaas was my home for the coming week: "Aliwal Shoal Scuba". After a warm welcome I checked in, brought my staff to the room and stowed my diving equipment in the dive center.
A room with sea view, I missed the ocean so much. And here it almost makes noise! The waves are quite violent, even if it doesn't look like it right away! The sky is cloudy and everything is sooo real. Just as I imagined it to be. Rough Diving! I am happy!
When I went back to the dive center to meet the other staff members and checked out the beach, we spoke about my first day of diving: Baited Shark Dive (OMG). The attempt to camouflage my insecurity went long way wrong and Travis told me
that this would be the best dive for the check dive as it is not deep and with good visibility to orient yourself and get used to it. Afterwards a relaxed reef dive with Raggies (sand tiger sharks). And if the pressure equalization should not work cause of my slight cold, I could return to the boat at any time.
And even if I have a lot of experience thanks to different waters, lakes and oceans and I am much safer in the water: I was really nervous and excited. Not least because of the rough access via Zodiac into the sea.
If the river in Umkomaas has enough water, the Zodiac drives over it into the sea. If the river has no water, the boat is brought into the ocean at the beach, at the end only with manpower. Somehow everything went well, the skippers knew exactly what they were doing and "safety first" is simply a top priority here, whether on land, in the boat or under water.
I summarized my first day in the ocean in two clips for you, and yes, afterwards I was not only relieved and smarter, but also deeply relaxed, happy and firmly convinced: It's a magical place where I'm more at home than I could have imagined:
I spent more than a week in the water, exploring the different reefs and finding wonderful animals. Most of the guests are always on a short journey and a little more seldom - like me - one guest stays for a whole week. But this is my kind of holiday to get to know the place where I dive intensively. And so everyone took the greatest effort to show me the best reefs of Aliwal Shoal, even those where divers rarely dive. I especially liked the fact that other diving instructors are often guests here with their students and dive with us.
After a wonderful week in Aliwal Shoal I moved further south and checked in with Kym Pollard at her Aqua Planet Dive Center at the famous Protea Banks in Shelly Beach. Their top modern dive center is located right on the main street of Shelly Beach.
I have lived less than 200m away in "Emerald Cove", a small secured complex with several apartments, beautiful garden and a pool:
Here I have largely self-catered too, but still there were wonderful restaurants with really good food in the surrounding area and also in direct beach location:
My research in advance made me consciously travel first to Aliwal Shoal and then to Protea Banks. What seems to be incomprehensible in the Aliwal Shoal is topped if the conditions in the Protea Banks are good. And even more so during my travel time. Deeper dives, hammerhead shark schools of often more than 100 animals, tiger sharks, bull sharks, reef sharks, everything a diver's heart desires.
And so I have to tell you unfortunately that my dreams and desires, which I wanted to fulfill in Protea Banks, were not allowed to experience from Mother Nature. Bad weather conditions, wind, currents, only let me into the Protea Banks for one day. On all other days diving was forbidden. Even trying to bridge a day in Aliwal Shoal didn't help. And so I left prematurely and spent my last dives in the Aliwal Shoal again.
Of course South Africa gives a lot more than diving. It is not without reason that the country is so popular at the moment and a very busy destination. And on the days when I wasn't allowed to dive, I also looked for some sights and found some:
Thanks to my pre-installed app "Here", which I had connected via the smartphone in the car and which I can really recommend, I found all my destinations easily and directly, including the "Lake Eland Game Reserve".
Here you can not only find a few vegetarians of the Big 5 of South Africa like many giraffes and zebras, here you also get a little feeling of freedom and adventure. The views are unbelievable
when the weather is fine and the park seems endless.
Of course you can't compare this park with other big national parks, but it was just right for me. Because of my tight diving program, I had hardly any time for trips lasting several days, and Lake Eland can be enjoyed in one day and there are wonderful opportunities for unique "pictures above the surface" in the photo album. My recommendation: Treat yourself to a day break from the ocean and grab a picnic basket and enjoy the view of the lake.
On the way back from Shelly Beach to Umkomaas I also stopped at the Croc World to get an impression. As it was
raining there were not many guests and I was picked up by a ranger who put a baby crocodile in my hand and mentioned immediately that he always gets a tip. Let him have it! But I refused him my
phone number and address. We don't want to overdo it, do we?
What could I see there? Crocodiles, turtles, a few monkeys, exotic and tropical birds: All in all a normal zoo with a focus on reptiles and unfortunately not my case, but I say that about all zoos. For children it is certainly a nice experience to meet the oldest crocodile Henry at the age of 140, but I wasn't there for two hours and drove back to the dive center, because there are more adventures waiting for me in the water.
I had already announced myself on the phone because my luck hadn't travelled to Shelly Beach with me. And so I checked back into Umkomaas in Aliwal Shoal Scuba. The weather conditions seem to be simply better here and we continued to dive the last days of my vacation as before. With beautiful shark dives, and when I think back: There was not a single dive without sharks. I have explored the wrecks "MV Produce" and "SS Nebo" and have sunk into huge schools of fish. But my absolute highlight was also the company of the whole crew in the evening hours: We heard music, cooked together, some danced, we laughed loud and just had a really good time. Family!
As much luck as I had in Aliwal Shoal, as much bad luck as I had in Shelly Beach. It's Mother Nature and somehow I think it's fate, because I'm so shocked in love with South Africa that I
definitely want to come back. Not only to the Sardine Run, where there should be more action in the water, but also once more to see bigger parks and other dive sites.
Some of my friends were a bit disappointed about too few pictures from the land side, and they tried to make me feel guilty about how to travel to such a great country without visiting national parks. But what shall I say? My heart beats under the surface. I am grateful for a few days on land that I have used effectively and even more grateful for every hour under water.
Never before have I been able to feel and hear humpback whale singing live over an entire dive, never before I have seen so many big and curious "Oceanic Blacktips", and I look forward to the next time I start in Shelly Beach and try to find hammerhead sharks, tiger sharks and bull sharks.
1 Roland Norris Drive
Umkomaas, KZN 4170
Phone: +27 (0) 82 800 4668
The Emporium, Corner of Marine Drive & Kings Road
Shelly Beach 4265
Phone: +27 (0) 82 877 3966