Diving in Port Elizabeth

This article is intended to provide the already qualified Scuba diver with information which will help to plan dives in the waters around Port Elizabeth, whether as a local resident or a visitor. Information is provided without prejudice, and is not guaranteed accurate or complete. Use it at your own risk.

Understand

General Topography

Port Elizabeth is situated on the west side of Algoa Bay, which is a wide indentation on the South African east coast, some 683 km east of the Cape of Good Hope. The bay is bounded in the west by Cape Recife and in the east by Cape Padrone, and much of the shoreline is sandy beaches. The greter metropolitan area extends some distance to the west of Cape Recife, and this rocky part of the coastline includes a number of the most popular dive sites.

Climate, Weather and Sea conditions

"The Windy City" has a subtropical climate with light rain throughout the year. The area lies between the winter rainfall, Mediterranean climate zones of the Western Cape and the summer rainfall regions of eastern South Africa. The proximity to the ocean has a moderating effect on the climate, so winters are cool but mild and summers are warm but considerably less humid and hot than more northerly parts of South Africa's east coast. Jan Max: 25 °C, Min: 18 °C; Jul Max: 20 °C, Min: 9 °C

The Marine Ecology

Port Elizabeth is within the warm temperate Agulhas bioregion, which extends from Cape Point to the Mbashe River. It is some 360km from Mbashe mouth and 660km from Cape Point, so is somewhat towards the warmer side of the region. Upwelling on the south coast of South Africa is largely driven by the Agulhas current and the continental shelf. This form of upwelling forces cold deep water up onto the continental shelf, but not necessarily above the thermocline. In the region east of the Agulhas bank, wind enhanced upwelling, occurring mainly in summer, augments the current driven upwelling bringing the colder deeper waters to the surface. This enhances biological productivity by supply of nutrients to the euphotic zone (where plants have sufficient light to flourish) which fuels phytoplankton production, and rocky shores that are supplied with the nutrient rich water support rich algal biomass. The annual chokka spawning takes place largely in this region.

Equipment

No special equipment is required for most of the sites. Wet or semi-dry suits will be adequate for most divers most of the time, though for those who wish to do multiple dives of longer duration, or are sensitive to the cold, a dry suit is recommended. If you intend to dive autonomously, rather than follow thr divemaster, a DSMB (Delayed/deployable Surface Marker Buoy) and reel or spool is recommended, so the boat will know where you are surfacing, particularly if there is a current running. This will also help alert other vessels of your proximity to the surface so they can avoid you in time.

Nitrox is available at some filling stations, but your choice of mix may be limited.

Get help

Emergency services

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Rent

Do

Annual Noordhoek Wildside Dive Festival

The Noordhoek Dive Festival is held every June at the Noordhoek dive and boating club on Marine drive, which has a slipway a short distance to the east of Cape Recife, just outside of Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth, towards Schoenmakerskop.

Divers from all over South Africa gather for a three-day festival of Scuba diving. Several boats make strictly scheduled launches several times per day depending on conditions, and dives are generally limited to 30 minutes to allow schedules to be kept.

Dive operators and other sponsors from Port Elizabeth and surrounding areas support this festival of diving which was started in 1999 and has grown to be the best known and probably largest event of its kind in South Africa. The organisors and crew are all unpaid volunteers, and the takings go to charities: deposits are not refundable.

The festival is well organised, but can be disrupted by adverse weather conditions.

Features offered include:

The rest of the year

Fix

Service details

Dive Sites

Map of some of the dive sites of Port Elizabeth
Map of the dive sites near Wildside slipway in the Noordhoek area

Avalanche

Understand

Position: S34°03.682' E25°38.792'
Depth: 17 to 26m
Topography: A large area of rocky reef with a gorge and a sheer wall
Conditions: A Wildside dive, viz may be better than in the bay.

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life: Hard coral, sea fans and brittle stars, Red bait on top of the wall, and Pyjama catsharks

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended. Suitable for advanced divers only due to the depth
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Bell Buoy

Understand

Popular dive site with the dive shops and local divers.

Position: S33°58.934' E25°41.631'
Depth: 12 to 18m
Topography: Overhangs, arches and pinnacles and a rocky bottom.

Get in

Boat dive ten minutes from the harbour or five minutes from Hobie beach

See

Quite a large area to explore.

Marine life: Colourful soft coral and sea fans, nudibranchs, hydroids and anemones. Large pods of red bait in the shallower areas. A common resting place for seals. Ragged tooth sharks often seen in the gullies. Reef fish residents and occasional pelagic visitors.

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Chelsea

Understand

Position: S34°03.640' E25°38.229'
Depth:
Topography:

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life:

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Cracker

Position: S34°03.248' E25°37.260'
Depth: 10-18 m
Topography: Noted for its pinnacle.

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life: Known for sightings of mussel cracker and shoals of other large fish. Soft corals on the reef.

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Crossroads

Understand

Position:
Depth: 14-18 m
Topography: Extensive reef of gulleys that cross each other and the pinnacles between them.

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life: The reef is covered with soft corals and seafans. Rays can sometimes be seen on the sandy bottom. Moray eels have been seen but are not common. Resident reef fish include Cape knifejaw, Yellowbelly rock cod, Roman and Red stumpnose, also known as Miss Lucy. Pyjama and Leopard catsharks, and shysharks are fairly common, and Ragged-tooth sharks can occasionally be seen.

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Devil's Reef

Understand

Position: About 100m off the shore opposite the Marine Hotel
Depth: 9m with pinnacles up to 2m
Topography: A few pinnacles rise to just below the surface.
Conditions: Dive at high tide to avoid waves breaking over the reef.

Get in

Shore dive Follow the storm water drain pipe opposite the Marine Hotel straight out to sea.

See

Marine life: Gorganians, soft corals and sponges on the reef and some resident reef fish. Pyjama catsharks are fairly common. Large starfish can be found.

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills required. The site is recommended for snorkeling.
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

The Doddington

Understand

A historical wreck site. This vessel was wrecked in 1755 with valuable cargo.

Position: Near Bird Island. Landing on the island is prohibited.
Depth: 4 to 6 m
Topography:
Conditions: Visibility is usually good due to the Agulhas current.

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life: Near the Bird Island seal colony and consequently is visited by Cape fur seals and Great White sharks.

Stay safe

Hazards: Great White sharks may be present, and there are usually strong currents at the wreck
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Evans Peak

Understand

Position: S33°50.584' E25°48.995'. Close to St. Croix island
Depth: 14 to 40m
Topography: Large pinnacle with spectacular drop-offs.

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life: Abundant fish life and sharks

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Gasmic Gorge

A juvenile Koester resting in a sponge at Gasmic
A small basket star and noble corals at Gasmic

Understand

Position: Approximately S34°03.48' E025°38.79'. At the north side of a rocky reef shown on the SAN charts about 2.3km south of the Noordhoek/Wildside slipway.
Depth: About 29m on the sand at the base of the reef, about 20m at the top of the reef.
Topography: High profile reef of sedimentary rock, probably hard quartzitic sandstone of the Ordovician Peninsula formation. Steep sided and fairly narrow gulley referred to as the gorge. Coarse shelly white sand bottom in the gorge.
Conditions: Surge can be strong in a large or long period swell, though the bottom of the gorge is to some extent protected. Visibility of more than 5m is considered good for this area.

Get in

Boat dive Approximately 2.5km boat trip from Noordhoek slipway. Significantly further from other launch sites.

See

Marine life: Prolific and very colourful invertebrate cover on the reef. High density of sponges and sea fans. Large numbers of basket stars. Also soft corals, noble corals, false corals, Elegant feather stars, colonial ascidians, nudibranchs, Striped anemones, arborescent bryozoans and hydroids. Fish include Fransmadam, shy sharks and Koester. Horsefish have been seen quite often.
Photography: A good site for macro photography, and if conditons are good, also for wide angle work.
Suggested Routes: The site is quite deep, and the dive can be extended by spending some time on the shallower parts of the reef. However the main attraction is the gorge, which is small but well worth a visit.

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported. Surge over the top of the reef can be strong.
Skills: No special skills required. Good buoyancy control recommended, to avoid damaging the reef cover.
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

The Haerlem

Understand

Navy vessel scuttled in 1987

Position: S33°59.333' E25°41.881'
Depth: 18 to 21m
Topography: The wreck is about 18m long

Get in

Boat dive About ten minutes from the harbour or five minutes from Hobie beach by boat.

See

Marine life: Coral and sponges grow on the wreck. Pajama sharks are often seen inside the wreckage.
Suggested Routes: At times the whole wreck can be seen from the surface. It is a small site and can be comprehensively visited on a single dive.

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Mark 4 Safepoint/Mark 4 Wall

Understand

This site was found by accident when a buoy was being placed to use as a marker for boats approaching and leaving the slipway at Noordhoek.

Position: S34°02.986' E25°38.982'
Depth: 10 to 18 m
Topography: Rocky outcrops, gullies and interesting rock formations. Lots of nooks and crannies for fish to hide and a small swim through.
Conditions: Wildside dive site. Viz can often be better than in the bay area.

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life: Usual reef fish and colourful reef invertebrates.

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills required. The site is recommended for novice divers.
Equipment: A torch is recommended for looking into the holes and cracks.

Moonie

Understand

Position: S34°03.245' E25°38.541'
Depth:
Topography:

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life:

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Orange Reef

Understand

Position: S33°59.941' E25°42.670'
Depth:
Topography:

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life:

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Padi Reef

Position: S33°58.577' E25°40.092'
Depth:
Topography:

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life:

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Parish wreck

Position: S33°55.292' E25°39.724'
Depth:
Topography:

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life:

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

MV Pati

Understand

Position: on Thunderbolt Reef.
Depth:
Topography:

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life:

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Phillip's Reef

Understand

Large area of reef 300 to 500 m long. Suitable for night dives.

Position: S33°58.326' E25°40.748', near Bell Buoy and directly offshore from Pollack beach. The reef is easy to locate.
Depth: 8 to 17 m
Topography:
Conditions: Visibility up to 10m

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life: Usually abundant reef fish. Also sponges, sea fans, sea-squirts and soft corals.
Photography: Good site for macrophotography.

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported.
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Raggie Sands

Understand

Position: S34°04.699' E25°41.577', south-west of Cape Recife.
Depth: 10 to 15 m
Topography: A large open patch of sand with a maze of gullies.

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life: Ragged-tooth sharks of all sizes frequent the gullies, and as many as 40 sharks have been seen on a single dive, though this would not happen often.

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Riy Banks

Understand

This is a popular fishing area for game-fish and sharks.

Position: Large shoal area about 21km east of Cape Recife. One drop point at a pinnacle at S33°59.082' E25°51.704'
Depth: 11 to 40m
Topography: Massive walls and pinnacles rise from deeper than 30 m.
Conditions: Because of the distance offshore the site usually has good visibility.

Get in

Boat dive A long trip each way.

See

Marine life: Coral and game fish, Ragged tooth sharks, rays, pajama sharks and the usual reef fish.

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Roxy's

Understand

Position: S33°59.975' E25°42.536'
Depth:
Topography:

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life:

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended

Thunderbolt Reef

Understand

Position: Large shoal area South of Cape Recife.
Depth: 15 to 30m
Topography:

Get in

Boat dive

See

Marine life: Orange and lilac hard coral

Stay safe

Hazards: No site-specific hazards reported
Skills: No special skills recommended
Equipment: No special equipment recommended
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