Exactly a year after the Dive Durban team explored the wonders of Sodwana Bay, I returned to – hopefully – relive the magical underwater experience. I was not disappointed. While most locals think diving is a summer sport, the KZN East Coast is arguably at its best over the winter months from May to July, before the winds pick up.
Day time temperatures at Sodwana reach around 26 deg C and underwater, with a sea temperature of around 22 deg C, you’ll do fine with the addition of a rash vest and hoodie or, for the claustrophobic types, the relatively new and very comfortable Scubapro “beanies”.
Thanks to our famed Sardine Run, Raggie (Ragged Tooth shark) breeding season, the annual whale migration and near perfect sea conditions, July is definitely the month to experience the huge diversity of marine life in our sacred slice of the Indian Ocean.
From Durban it’s an easy four-hour drive, with the last hour taking your through some of the province’s top game reserves and into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage site and home to the protected Sodwana Bay coral reefs.
There is plenty of accommodation in the quirky Sodwana village, but my favourite is one of only two concessions inside the park, namely Coral Divers resort which offers everything from budget tented accommodation to air conditioned en-suite cabins.
Constantly being upgraded, the latest addition is a stunning new communal kitchen for the self-catering crew with all the modern amenities aspiring master chefs might need.
But while food – whether it be from the restaurant, a braai or your own potjie on the firepit – is very much part of the overall experience, it’s the diving that deserves applause.
For starters you can’t beat the spectacular 7-Mile Reef. Listed as one of the world’s top dive sites with a maximum depth of 24m, divers need an Advanced qualification.
On our dive we were blessed with schools of blue banded snappers, yellow back fusiliers and slingers. Also spotted among the diverse corals were rock cod, octopus, coachman, porcupine fish, moray eel, boxfish, angelfish and trigger fish.
For our second dive of the day we chose Bikini on 2-Mile Reef and, again, we were in luck - clownfish playing in a glowing red anemone, emperors, triggerfish, morays and blue spotted ribbon tail rays, among schools of juvenile reef fish.
Our third dive on day two was to Roonies, just north of Bikini, on 2-Mile where we hoped to spot the elusive sea horse which lives in the area. No luck there, but we did enjoy the sight of game fish hunting in the big blue, schools of reef fish, a paper fish and nudibranchs.
Our last dive to Simon’s Cave, also on 2-Mile, was one of those jaw-dropping moments which will forever be etched in our most memorable dive logs. With just six divers on the boat we had stopped to take off our life jackets after our surf launch when skipper Gerry spotted dolphins.
As the “dolphins” approached Gerry went ballistic, shouting “Orca! Orca!”. Our immediate response of “no ways” was soon replaced by awe as a mother killer whale and her baby glided past us.
Resisting the temptation to jump in the water to get a closer view, we dropped off on Simon’s Cave and were one again in raptures at the wonders that live in the ocean so many of us take for granted.
With kingfish hunting in the background, we swam through an overhang with porcupine fish and big eyes, emerging into a school of white barred rubber lips, morays, three blue spotted ribbon tail rays, emperor angelfish, boxfish, parrot fish, butterfly fish and, the cherry on top as we surfaced, a leatherback turtle.
It doesn’t get much better than that ~ Debbie Reynolds