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Dive Review of Agulhas House/same in
Africa/Aliwal Shoals

Agulhas House/same: "big stuff", Feb, 2019,

by Michael Joest, Kehl, DE (Top Contributor Top Contributor 39 reports with 26 Helpful votes). Report 10860 has 2 Helpful votes.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 4 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 1 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments Aliwal Shoals, Agulhas House + Diver – South Africa
“Last Minute Deal” said the message on facebook. One week Aliwal Shoals, all meals, 10 dives, transfers, no single supplement = 720 GBP – well I just couldn´t resist, as the destination was on my list for 2019. I dove down at Protea Banks in 2004 and there I had already heard of A S + Sodwana Bay, which both were supposed to be good and recommended to me. The travel agent offered an additional week on St. Helena, where whale sharks seem to migrate this time of year. That however was a bit too steep + too far away and not on my list at all. It´s the island where Napoleon was banned, approximately 5 hour flight from Jo-burg straight into the Atlantic. Napoleon couldn´t chose, I did and opted for one more week to Sodwana Bay, to tick off that area on my bucket list. I felt I should check out these two destinations as long as I was still physically in good shape – turning 67 this year. You need some fitness for these type of dives with Zodiacs having to be pushed into the surf and hopped on then. I managed to change the offer into S B and planned and expected 2 weeks with big stuff and adventurous diving. It was definitely a good choice. British Airways have direct service from London Heathrow to Durban, so I just had to connect from Frankfurt.
Aliwal Shoal is a rocky reef which is the remains of an ancient sand dune approximately 5 km off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. It was named after the near-sinking of the 3 master ship "Aliwal", captained by James Anderson, in 1849.
Umkomaas is 1 h drive from Durban to the South, a small town with a lot of guest houses and dive centers right next to the Indian Ocean. Agulhas House was fully booked, some rooms were blocked because they refurbish these, so they put us onto “32 on Harvey” two corners away. I got a lovely big room there, a pool in the garden, three dogs running around, I was happy, as I`m a dog person and these guys soon became my friends.
Briefing certification + gear check at Agulhas. Each morning wakeup call 5:30 at 6 there would be breakfast, at 6:30 you had to be ready and in wet suit at the dive center in the garden for group planning boat procedure and dive briefing. At around 6:45 we sat down in the back of a sort of open air van for the 5 min ride down to the beach. Tanks with BC and reg were already on the Zodiac brought down with Jeep or tractor. They use steel 12 or 15 liter tanks, good for me, so I only needed 2 kilo on my belt. A muddy brownish river brings it´s water into the ocean here. Strange to find, the area where brown and blue water meet is a clearly marked border maybe due to currents, the two doesn´t seem to mix. The river however is good for the boats and us divers. Boarding and checking all things is possible without current or surf hitting on you and the boat. Then the announcement starts, put on your life jacket, put your feet into the straps on the floor, hold tight with one hand inside one outside on ropes. The wild ride through the surf every time is breathtaking and a bit Adrenalin pushing. You never know, are we getting through, will there be a gap in between waves. Well these skippers know their job, sometimes they had to do 3 rounds before they saw a chance. Brian, one of them told me, it´s rather stressful and he already checks the surf in the morning before he comes to the dive center. He did an exquisite job I don´t envy him of. On the way home from diving, it´s the other way round, you get ready, the skipper takes the boat full throttle onto the beach. Only few times due to tide is it possible to get back into the river. So I guess this is nothing for anxious souls. Most days were cloudy in the morning a bit of sunshine later in the day. It took around 15 min to reach the dive site. Often we had dolphins which came along for the ride.
First dive at Raggies Cave brought us 3 loggerhead turtles and 8 bigger sting rays sleeping or hiding in the sand or underneath some ledge. There is not much coral around, there are smaller yellow and purple polyps sitting on the rocks. The whole countryside is bizarre and eerie with many crevices holes canyons overhangs potholes. Vis was around 15 m temperature most times 24 degrees, so it was a good idea to bring my 5 mil with chicken vest and hood. They do two dives in the morning, Nitrox is for free. In between dives they serve hot tea or coffee and you have the chance for some nice chat with your buddies and get a bit acquainted with, it was a group from all over the world. We had Spanish guys on board, which were fun to talk to sometimes more with hands than mouth. Under water they were experts and being their buddy felt absolutely safe.
At South Sand I was lucky to get close up photos of an eagle ray sailing past in slow motion, these animals are so very beautiful and often you will find them in schools, unforgettable moments. A big potato cod hovered above us, I normally call these grouper. Fish life was mediocre, boulders were scattered between sandy patches, you found something of interest around each corner. Again we encountered 3 big turtles. As always well camouflaged fish like scorpion or leaf fish had to be pointed out to me, I´m not good at spotting these. We often found Honeycomb moray eels, bat fish, kauri and some other species of moray around, the better eyes caught sight of colorful nudis. These massive potato cods we nearly found on each dive, wouh animals when they swim right towards you. Rays are everywhere.
There are 2 wrecks in the area, the Norwegian bulk carrier MV Produce which sank in 1974 and the SS Nebo a wooden ship which went to the bottom in 1849. We dove on both. The Produce is slowly breaking up, so no penetration is recommended. There is good action here, Bass, Goldies, Jacks, Kingfish and Salmon cruising around. The Nebo lies on it´s side in nearly 30 meters, where we hit thermoclines which brought the water down to 18 brrrrrr. You can swim through part of the ship at the propeller, when you reach the bow, you will be impressed by the millions of glass fish around, you just see a shade of the wreck behind all these tiny fish. To get there we had to kick through some damn current. A bigger shark swam away from us, I guess it was a bull they name Zambesi here. A bunch of catfish were circling in the destroyed bottom of the wreck. My favorite site was Cathedral not only cause it´s deep, where we at last found two Sandtiger sharks under some archway, the locals lovingly nick name these ragy because of the sharp teeth protruding even from the closed mouth. There is a season where you will see more of them around. Cathedral is breathtaking in it´s structure, funny shaped boulders, gullies, build crater, swim through, ledges, overhangs it could be science fiction scenery. I was awed by it and Uwatec had to remind me where I am.
In my booked package were 2 shark dives. We went out to the place, and Ryan our instructor guide told us exactly what to expect how to react what not to do. They put a punctured big metallic ball on a buoy down to 10 m, this is filled with all kind of smelly fish parts. It´s done 10 min before we jump in, engines are reeved several times, a sign for the sharks. We would then go in and down to 10 m only where we should build a kind of circle around the ball and hover there the whole time. Reason for this is, other sharks like tiger might approach from deeper down and look at things. These guys however are rather shy and when divers don´t hold their positon they swim away. So it was the rule for us, don´t get close let the animals come to you. There was wild shark action for nearly one hour, mostly grey reef and lots of confused remora cruising in this hurly burly looking for their host. Most sharks were good sized 1.5 to 2.5 m and I got some great footage of these lovely animals. One group had a tiger for a short moment, I believe I saw one in the distance but I´m not quite sure on that.
Meals at Agulhas House were yummy. It was nothing fancy but mouthwatering nourishing solid food ideal for hungry divers, more mom style like and perfect for me. They served lovely steak, gluten free pizza, curries, nice salad with olives and Greek cheese, vegies etcetera. The whole Agulhas operation runs smoothly like a well lubricated chain saw. I wonder at what time in the morning they start their work. When I came over to Agulhas at around 10 to 6 all Zodiacs were loaded with our gear ready for departure. Once we finished the diving day it only took minutes for your gear to be washed and waiting for a new day of adventure diving. Kudos to that! The staff and crew are fantastic. They do all the necessary things so that all you have to do is join it. This really means hard work, loading the Zodiak with all gear already on board. They know who is diving with which brand of fins put BC and reg on the right tank size, switch tanks during the surface interval, so you really only touch your gear donning and diving with.
Is the area safe, a difficult question to answer. When I saw the signs “armed response” at nearly every house, noticed the electric security installed at all doors and gates I wondered about it. Even our guest house had a numbered guest code for entry, and they asked you to make sure the gate is closed again before you walk on. Three times I went on a beach walk and hike along the river on my own. One mountain biker stopped to remind me, hey this is Africa, so be careful. Along the beach the guides asked me not to walk more than two km away from town. There then would start a different township and when locals see my watch, more than this will be gone, as violence has no barrier here. They recommend to run into the water if any problems might appear, as all these guys can´t really swim – poor comfort that. South Africa is a amazing country and has so much to offer. With a weak Rand now is the time to fulfill your dreams. Capetown is fabulous, the table mountain an absolute must. I had the chance to see it the first time without clouds on top. One afternoon we did a mini safari to some fenced in area about 1.5 hours away from Umkomaas. They keep no predators there as the place is not big enough for that. But we were delighted to find 2 Rhino with babies, the horn from the mothers was cut off to stop any attempts of poachers to get these, we saw hippo and hundreds of water fowl, a family of giraffes was feeding on some trees, a gnu and some antelopes among them kudus were scattered in the huge fields. Even when it´s fenced in and you might have the impression this is more a zoo than wilderness. Don´t forget, these animals are not tame, they are afraid of humans, run away and you are not allowed to get out of your car to catch some good shots of the wildlife. This you don´t need to do as in the open air trucks which take you all around the place you will get ample opportunity for great footage of Africa wildlife.
Websites Agulhas House   same

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving worldwide more than 100 destinations, mostly South Pacific and Asia, Africa and Caribbean
Closest Airport Durban Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather cloudy Seas calm
Water Temp 23-24°C / 73-75°F Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility 12-15 M / 39-49 Ft

Dive Policy

Dive own profile ?
Enforced diving restrictions no deco
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas None
Dolphins Schools Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 3 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 3 stars Large Fish 4 stars
Large Pelagics 5 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter N/A Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]
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Report currently has 2 Helpful votes

Subscriber's Comments

By peter bernstein in FL, US at Feb 27, 2019 07:34 EST  
Another super report- thanks-fun to read
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