Sodwana Bay, Northern Natal
It was time to escape the still somewhat chilly Cape spring and enjoy the warmer waters for a week. As diving is always more fun being shared, we organised a dive trip for 11 more scuba enthusiasts and what a blast it was! Sodwana Bay never disappoints and a week jam-packed with great diving, sunny beach weather, warm seas and lots of laughter and new friendships lay ahead of us.
It was finally the day we had been so impatiently waiting for as it was time to board the plane that would bring us to Durban on Sunday morning. From there we still had a good four-hour drive ahead of us, but a bus packed with excited students on recess is a guarantee for an eventful drive up the KwaZulu Natal coast. For the next five days there was nothing else to worry about except what awesome marine creatures we would find on our dives, how much time we could spend on the beach or at the pool, and what to make for dinner. And so the trip was officially on its way.
The next morning at 06:45 sharp, everyone was wetsuit-ed up and on the tractor, ready to make our way to the beach for our first two dives. The first day always requires some room for adjustments and getting into the swing of things, but assisted by the well-oiled crew of Coral Divers things went smoothly this morning and off we went for our first dives to Stringer and Coral Gardens. Where we absolutely love Cape Town diving with its stunning kelp forests and epic wrecks, we have to secretly admit that falling off the boat and dipping in pleasant 24-degree water is not an unwelcome change.
As Sodwana Bay is not unfamiliar territory for us anymore, it being one of our favourite diving locations in South Africa and close to Matt’s home town we get to visit at least four times a year. Due to diving this area relatively often we have been able to discover a lot more of the reefs lately, especially appreciating the small and juvenile life. Our favourite reefs – Bikini for its juvenile life and 7 Mile for its stunning structures – could of course not be skipped on this trip either. Again, we were not disappointed. With two dives on Bikini – with a max depth of 22 metres – there was plenty to discover. With an abundance of juvenile life as well as multiple cleaning stations, this reef is a Walhalla for underwater photographers. If possible, it is worth it to spend almost your entire dive getting a close up of the two amphitheatres on Bikini, and when you are lucky you will be able to get a cleaning shrimp manicure too. It does need saying that caution is advised, the many eels and mantis shrimps are well hidden in the little holes in the reef and will not shy away from doing a little exploring themselves!
On the last day of diving during our trip we were treated well by the sea Gods and we were able to make our way to 7 Mile reef, one of the most stunning coral reefs in this area due to its mind-blowing profile. On the 30-minute boat ride to the reef we were already entertained by Spinner and Bottlenose dolphin-action as well as some Humpback whales splashing in the background. This all just increased our already present excitement for the dive. However, it is when dropping down on this reef that the diver-blood really goes flowing. Descending on this reefs is best described as jumping into a massive aquarium booming with fish life. There are few words that can describe the experience of diving 7 Mile and the air in your tank will never be enough in order see it all. From the abundance of schooling fish, the colours and shapes of the coral, from the smallest nudibranchs to the larger game fish, and most importantly the dramatic structures of the reef are enough to overwhelm any well-travelled diver. This being topped with a close encounter of a jumping Humpback whale on the boat ride back is a guarantee for dreamy smiles for the rest of the day.
Unfortunately, on all good things come an end and also to this trip. The last day was fully spent on the beach, while swimming, snorkelling and soaking up as much appreciated sunshine and warmth to get through the last few weeks of chill back in the Cape. For us, we can look back on wrapping up a successful trip: with an amazing week of diving, baking lots and lots of pancakes, enjoying a well-deserved beer at the pool in the afternoon, and getting to know an awesome bunch of sparkling Maties students to share our passion for the ocean with. Overall, we are immensely grateful to add this trip to our already long list of unforgettable diving memories.