Best for: Reef diving ranging in depth from 6m to 100m.
Dive sites: Situated within the World Heritage Site of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, you’ll find 2 mile, 5 mile, 6 mile, 7 mile and 9 mile reefs, supporting 1 200 fish species, compared to the Great Barrier Reef’s 1 800, but in only one tenth of the area.
Best time of the year: All-year round excellent diving, but seasonal sightings of whale sharks (December to February), humpback whales (June to October), ragged-tooth sharks and nesting turtles (December to February.)
Average water temperature: 22 deg C (winter), 26 deg C (summer)
Dive centres: Adventure Mania, Amoray Diving, Coral Divers, Da Blue Juice, Pisces Dive Charters, Reefteach, Sea Escapes, Sodwana Bay Lodge, Triton Dive Lodge
Coral Divers: Specifically catering for divers’ every need, this is a relaxed, but well organised resort which makes the diving experience exceptional.
Accommodation ranges from budget safari tents with shared ablutions to more up-market air conditioned chalets, with en-suite bathrooms, open-air showers and private decks set in a shady forest.
The only dive resort within the iSimangaliso Park, you’ll encounter duiker, guinea fowl, mongoose, samango monkeys and a huge variety of birds while walking from your room to the communal area, which includes a kitchen (for self-catering guests), TV lounge, bar, restaurant, pool and pool deck, dining area and a boma with braai facilities.
The buffet meal options are simple but hearty and the restaurant offers everything from health breakfasts to pizzas, burgers, salads, snack baskets and fish dishes.
The dive centre is right next to the communal area so it’s easy in the morning to grab a breakfast or coffee, kit up and be ready for the tractor shuttle which takes guests to and from the beach site.
Dive planning is done in the lounge in the evening, so you know exactly what time to hop on the shuttle the next morning. At the beach site, your tanks will be filled and ready and, for a small fee, you can make use of the beach assistants to help you with your kit.
After the dive brief, it’s a short walk along the beach to the boat which will take you to one of the many pristine reefs that Sodwana is famous for. We dived 7 Mile and 2 Mile with knowledgeable but relaxed DM Brandon and were treated to 20m viz and abundant sea life, including turtles, morays, surgeons, porcupine fish, a blue-spotted stingray, ignoblis, titan triggerfish, giant puffers fish, clams, turtles and white tip reef sharks.
When you’re not diving or just relaxing, they can organise activities such as quad biking, surfing and kite boarding or trips to surrounding games reserves.
Coral Divers is great for families as you can organise baby sitters for the kids while you dive, but also perfect for couples or singles as you can choose between getting involved in the fun at the bar or chilling out in your chalet.
Mseni Beach Lodge: Situated within a lush dune forest, ten minutes from the main Sodwana Bay gate, the “beach meets bush” lodge offers two, three and four-sleeper units, as well as a 10-sleeper house overlooking the ocean.
The spacious and cosy wood cabins, which have been recently renovated, blend beautifully into the vegetation and guests can choose self catering or bed and breakfast options.
All cabins have a master en-suite bedroom, ceiling fans, tea and coffee making facilities and the self-catering cabins have a kitchenette and outside braai area.
The resort has a lovely private swimming pool and an excellent fully licensed restaurant with views of the Indian Ocean. The food is top notch and the service from the friendly staff is equally as good.
Start off with a cocktail (the Ginger Snap comes highly recommended!) and make sure to try the line fish of the day and Prego roll. Open from 6.15am to 9pm, breakfast is served until 11am to accommodate divers.
Mseni is a good option for couples and groups who prefer a little more privacy.
Mseni is affiliated with Amoray Diving which offers a shuttle from the lodge to Amoray’s beach gazebo. Here you can relax under the shade while kitting up and enjoying your dive brief. Freelance beach helpers are also available to help you with your kit.
Priding themselves on their highly experienced and enthusiastic dive masters, Amoray delivers great diving. Our first dive at Roonies with Piet revealed big eyes, snapper, stingrays, a honeycomb moray, a green coral tree with banded hawkish, heaps of surgeon, parrot, porcupine and unicorn fish, rainbow wrasse and Natal knife jaw.
Next up it was Neville’s turn to show us Anton’s, one of my favorite Sodwana reefs because of its topography and ability to surprise, where we swam with schooling yellow snapper and slinger, parrot fish and wrasse, moray eels, juvenile trigger fish and a huge porcupine fish.
Sodwana Bay Lodge Dive and Fishing Resort: Situated in the heart of the village, the Lodge offers accommodation in comfortable full-board cabins with en-suite bathrooms, air conditioning, bar fridge, DSTV, tea and coffee making facilities and private balconies.
Make sure to ask someone to show you to your room as it is a large resort and the sign posting is a little confusing.
The Leatherbacks Restaurant is where you’ll have your meals. It’s a vibe restaurant with a large varied menu and really good, well-priced food. The calamari, ribs, burgers and eisben are excellent and the staff is friendly and helpful.
It is fully licensed and there is also an upstairs bar for those wanting a little after-dark activity.
The resort has two swimming pools and they can organise activities from micro lighting and deep-sea fishing, to canoeing, bird tours, whale watching and scuba diving.
If you’re diving, it’s important to check in with the on-site dive centre to book dives in advance.
The dive centre is well stocked and staff are eager to assist you with dive planning to suit your particular needs and requirements. We dived with dive master Ben Zikhane, who having led more than 22 000 dives in his career, is a wealth of information.
He took us to Six Mile Reef which was teaming with marine life – crocodile fish, paperfish, eels, potato bass, nudibranchs, kingfish and heaps of schooling fish. On the way back to the beach we were treated to a magnificent display by a pod of playful humpback whales.
If you are doing two dives, you can chill under their beach gazebo between dives. The centre has well trained beach staff who, for a small fee, will help you load and unload your kit, organise your tank fills and wash your kit after diving.
Best for shallow dives, peace and quiet away from any crowds.
Rocktail Bay Lodge: If you love nature and getting away from the rat race, this Wilderness Safaris beach camp is the spot. The full-board five-star lodge offers double and family accommodation in 17 luxury safari tents with en-suite bathrooms. Rooms have ceiling fans and their own private balconies, but don’t expect television, loud music or wifi connections.
Guests, who do not have their own 4X4 vehicles, are collected from Coastal Cashews, where you can safely leave your car, for the 40-minute drive to the Lodge, which is situated in the northern tip of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
While your luggage is taken to your rooms, you are welcomed with warm cloths and a fruit cocktail, followed by an orientation briefing and a guide to the activities on offer. These include diving, sea excursions, snorkeling, a guided forest walk, a scorpion-spotting night walk, village cultural tour and a morning safari to Tembe Elephant Park.
In the summer season (October to March) a highlight is watching the loggerhead and leatherback turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs
There is a stylish and comfortable communal lounge, dining area, bar, swimming pool and children’s play room. Dinner is a choice of two starters, three mains and two desserts, while breakfast is buffet style and lunch is a choice of light meals.
During dinner the dive team will meet you and discuss a dive plan for the next day.
The attention to detail includes your complimentary drink and briefing on arrival, bed turn-down service complete with an African bed-time story, a hand-written welcome letter, environmentally friendly toiletries and insect spray, filter coffee, cold water, torches and your own water bottle. Since it was chilly during our stay we really appreciated the hot water bottle placed in our beds after dinner.
Our French guest loved the international charging adaptor (one of only two provided on our entire 28-day trip).
In the morning it’s a short walk to the dive centre where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while kitting up, often with the company of owner Daryl’s friendly pet mongoose.
The drive to the beach for the launch is about ten minutes, from where you’ll be transported through the surf to the 14 exclusive dive sites.
The dive centre is run by Mokorran Dive Charters, which promises that guests will be the only divers at any given site and the only guests on the pristine golden beach.
Our first dive with DM Kyle was to Gogo’s, named after old woman angelfish which frequent the area. We were treated to rays, paperfish, nudibranchs, porcupine and puffer fish, clownfish, rubber lips and lots of different rock cods.
Breakfast was served in the coastal forest on the beach and we voted it number one of the trip. Besides the perfect location, the buffet spread included juice, coffee, home-made muesli, fruit, pies, quiche, boiled eggs, pastries and crunchies.
After soaking up some sun, it was time for the second dive at Pineapple where we spotted yellow banded snapper, more nudibranchs, shrimp, lots of honeycomb eels, angel and butterfly fish, potato bass, more rock cod, a scorpion fish and honeycomb stingray.
There was so much life and the fish were so relaxed - a perfect end to a glorious three-week dive safari.
Contacts: Accommodation: www.wilderness-safaris.com
Other rated excursions on the North Coast
Overnight at St Lucia: Our non-diving day started at the WowZulu Marketplace, just 6km outside the St Lucia town. After a fun insight into the local African culture, we hopped on bicycles for a tour around Khula Village.
Our guide explained how the locals live and some of the challenges in the area and we were able to experience firsthand this traditional way of life, stopping at a “tuck shop” for vetkoek and visiting a local furniture manufacturer.
Back at WowZulu, we enjoyed a traditional lunch of chicken and spinach and the chance to shop for quality souvenirs.
St Lucia Eco Lodge: Situated in the heart of this popular coastal town, the recently renovated four-star lodge set in a lush tropical gardens offers self-catering or bed and breakfast options.
The units are large and spacious and include en-suite bathroom, lounge area, fully equipped kitchenette, air conditioning and balcony.
The communal area includes a bar, lounge, swimming pool and dining room overlooking the St Lucia wetlands. The breakfast menu included continental and full English options, as well as a variety of egg options – from poached to a delicious frittata.
The lodge is quiet and peaceful but within walking distance of the main shopping streets and restaurants.
Sundowners Eastern Shores Excursion: Shaka Barker tours fetched us from the lodge at 3pm for the short drive to the World Heritage iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s Eastern shores.
Boasting an abundance of game from hippos and elephants to leopard and rhino, as well as over 500 bird species and 50 frog species, the park never fails to excite and inspire.
Our expert and passionate guide, scientist Kian Barker, knows it like the back of his hand and gave us an exciting in-depth exploration of the wetlands and its inhabitants, history and beauty. We stopped at Catalina Bay just in time for a spectacular sunset accompanied by sundowners (gin and tonic, coffee or hot chocolate) and snacks
As night arrived, the spotlights came out, as did the hippos and elephants and a variety of creatures, like the rare dwarf chameleon which Kian somehow managed to spot. A stop to gaze at the stars was a highlight.
A note: If you are going in summer, make sure to protect yourself against mosquitoes and if you are going in winter, dress warmly as the night drive gets rather chilly.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and Emzemvelo Hilltop camp: Within 200m of entering the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa we spotted a family of warthog and a lone elephant shooting the breeze on the side of the road. The rest of the 20-minute drive to the Emzemvelo Hilltop camp revealed a rhino finishing his mud bath, baboons, various antelope species, zebra and buffalo.
The next morning we were up early watching the sun burn the mist off the valley. While we just missed a lion sighting, we were quite happy with up-close-and-personal encounters with buffalo, rhino, impala, kudu, wildebeest, vultures and a rare African pygmy kingfisher.
The Hilltop camp, one of two in the park, offers self-catering and dinner bed and breakfast accommodation in two and four-bed units, with en-suite bathrooms, or two-bed rondavels with shared ablutions. The rooms are large and very comfortable and include DSTV, bar fridge, air conditioning, tea and coffee making facilities and a private balcony.
Perched on a hill with sweeping views of the park, the camp is well appointed offering a lounge (where afternoon tea is served), a bar, swimming pool, curio shop, swimming pool, large outside deck, kids playground and swimming pool.
Meals, which are served buffet style, are hearty with a choice of soups, salads, main dishes, dessert and a cheeseboard. If it’s on the menu, the chicken curry is a must and if you’re there for the traditional “braai” night, the grilled venison is superb.
The breakfast spread is equally as good with a choice of fruit, cereals, juices, eggs, bacon, sausages and all the usual accompaniments.
You can book game drives in open game viewing vehicles, or you can drive yourself, but private vehicles are not allowed on the roads before sunrise or after sunset.