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Bucket list experience:

tiger shark underwater on Aliwal Shoal with diver behind

Last updated: 31 March, 2022

A face-to-face encounter with 5m-long sharks is a thrill for even the bravest. The Aliwal Shoals, a 5km long pristine reef is one of the best, and only, places to dive with the enigmatic tiger shark – either in a cage, or without.

Bait is placed in the water and oceanic black tip sharks are quick to arrive, followed by the awe-inspiring tiger sharks. Divers enter the water in small groups of 8-10, with experienced safety divers, for up to an hour. Water visibility averages 15m, but varies from 5m to 30m depending on the prevailing weather conditions.

The Sardine Run

In June and July, millions of sardines migrate up South Africa’s coast, providing a feast for whales, dolphins, sailfish, seals, orcas and millions of seabirds. The Aliwal Shoals is a great place to dive in and watch.

Price from: £120
Minimum age: 18
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: 5-6 hours

Getting there & doing it

The Aliwal Shoals area 20-minute boat ride offshore from the town of Umkomaas, 30 minutes south of Durban.

You can opt for a day dive, or sign up for a multi-day package that includes several days of dives and accommodation.

Dive operators provide all the equipment you need, but you must hold a dive qualification from a recognized training agency (a PADI Open Water or equivalent is sufficient).

Most dives take place in the morning, when the sea conditions are calmer, but the 20-minute trip out to the dive site can still be bumpy so take precautions if you’re susceptible to seasickness.

Remember, these are wild animals that look upon humans as food, so there are risks and accidents have happened. Your travel insurance probably won’t cover this one – so check first.

When to do it

Dives operate all year round, but given the distance offshore, the dive is dependent on the weather.

August and September are the windiest months – if the wind is strong, waves can be too big for diving.

The greatest numbers of tiger sharks are seen in the summer months, from November to April, when the weather is also more accommodating and pleasant. Visibility is also at its peak.

Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with

Aliwal Dive Centre logo

Aliwal Dive Centre

Umkomass, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

The biggest of the local dive operators, offering diving on the Aliwal Shoal with tiger sharks, ragged-tooth sharks, manta rays, dolphins and whale sharks, and special dive packages to witness the great ‘sardine run’. They cater to all levels of experience.

Our writer’s recommendations of other bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination, closest first

dolphin underwater on reef background looking at you inside a school of sardine fish

Swim with dolphins on the Aliwal Shoals

Umkomass, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Dolphins are ever-present at this incredible reef just off the coast of Durban year round, but May to July is the time to go to witness them gorging on the ‘Sardine Run’.

Best for ages: 18+ | £40 | Half day

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Sardine Run

Umkomass, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

One of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles – billions of sardines migrating along the South African coast, followed by countless denizens of the deep.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free | 7 months

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Overview >

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