While summer is often considered the best time for the seaside, winter on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast is the ultimate diving experience, as the cooler water brings with it the #greatestshoalonearth – the annual Sardine Run!
The planet’s greatest biomass migration and the ocean spectacle should be on every diver’s bucket list, and for those who haven’t experienced this diving phenomenon, then 2023 is the year.
“With two of the world’s top dive sites at Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks, the KZN South Coast has long been an attractive destination for divers from across the globe, but the Sardine Run is undoubtedly one of the most exciting times to experience this beautiful part of the world as the ocean is alive with action,” comments Phelisa Mangcu, CEO of South Coast Tourism & Investment Enterprise (SCTIE). “We have several highly experienced dive operators who are ready to assist with scuba training and equipment hire, catering to everyone from novice to experienced.”
The Sardine Run is an annual event where shoals of silver fish head northward, close to the shoreline, attracting a host of marine life looking to feast. Cape gannets can be seen diving into the waters, while dolphins, game fish and even Bryde’s whales pursue the tasty shoals. Sharks, from copper and dusky to blacktip and spinners, will also join in the feast. Seine netters can also be seen entering the waters to get their share, with sardines added to a number of delicious local delicacies.
Roland Mauz of African Dive Adventures has been taking keen divers on the Sardine Run experience since the start of the operation in 1996. The Shelly Beach–based diving operation takes divers out to the incredible Protea Banks and Aliwal Shoal dive sites – both marine protected areas – as well as wherever the Sardine Run action is happening.
“Diving on the KZN South Coast, let alone during sardine season, is a highlight on every diver’s logbook,” explains Mauz. “Protea Banks is one of the best shark-diving sites in Africa, delivering shark sightings on almost every dive, any time of the year. At different times we see different shark species, and experienced shark enthusiasts can be 100% sure they will find what they are looking for.”
He says Aliwal Shoal is another well-known local reef ideal for all levels of diving experience: “The reef is full of intricate caves, crevasses and ridges, home to a huge variety of marine life of all sizes and colours. During our winter months, divers find raggies everywhere on the reef. The shipwreck, The Produce, is a great attraction for divers who are fascinated by sunken ships and their remnants.”
Commenting on the Sardine Run, Mauz says this is a world-renowned natural phenomenon: “To experience this spectacle is a privilege that should not be missed. Along the KZN South Coast, the best places to view the Sardine Run are around Port Edward, with visitors who book packages treated to an incredible adventure in the wild. Boats are in the fray of the marine animal action from morning to late afternoon. Visitors can snorkel, free-dive, and scuba dive on a sardine bait ball, watching the entire marine food chain at work. Divers find themselves in super pods of literally thousands of dolphins, seeing hundreds of humpback whales from near and far!”
Among the many services provided by African Dive Adventures is the Sardine Run Tour, which runs from around June to July, depending on the migration.
SCTIE has also put together a three-day Sardine Run Tour Package that includes diving, fishing, surfing, ocean safaris, helicopter or microlight flips, as well as hinterland experiences. Visitors can also enjoy the Sardine Run from the beautiful beaches – with the KZN South Coast home to the highest number of Blue Flag beaches in the province – from seaside restaurants, whale-watching decks, in the water, or from the skies.