Leg 7: Ponto Malongane – Sodwana Bay

From one ocean paradise, straight to another! More soft sand and warm sunshine; I consider Sodwana to be the best diving spot in South Africa. Actually, even after diving in parts of Southeast Asia I maintain that Sodwana has the best diving, ever! Oh yes… you think Mozambique sounds and looks amazing? Sodwana is by far #1 on my list and I’m not alone: Wikipedia insists that 35 000 people flock here every year to ogle at Indian Oceanic marine creatures who are making big fish-eyes right back at them. Bearing in mind that this exact number is not verified and probably made more unreliable by the sheer number of other websites that recklessly quote this same number without proof, it gives you a rough picture of the Sodwana’s appeal. There are beautifully technicolor reefs and coral, and they stay this way because of strict conservation practices.

Picture by Matt Kieffer licensed under Creative Commons

Picture by Matt Kieffer licensed under Creative Commons

Sodwana Bay is a national park, inside the iSinangaliso Wetland Park [1] which means you’ll have to pay a permit fee to be able to dive there (they check every permit!) and on entry to the nature reserve you pay another R10 per vehicle. The permit is R85 and can be bought at Post Offices; it's valid for a full year (as far as I remember; this may have changed recently). On individual level the permit fee isn't super high, and it funds nature reserve facilities and infrastructure, as well as the personnel. Reefs are further protected by limited group sizes, strict no-touch rules etc. If you've seen what devastating effects big crowds of uncaring, uneducated, protection-insensitive divers can have, you fully appreciate these efforts in Sodwana, even if it costs a bit. 

Marine life in Sodwana is plentiful and incredibly varied… Another quotable number that crops up is “1200 fish species” 😉 though from my own experience I can tell you there are eels, stonefish, pipefish, turtles, sharks, stingrays, schools and shoals of brightly coloured little fish, triggerfish; the list continues ad infinitum!
Despite being completely entranced by the fluorescence and extremely textured landscape on the ocean floor (coral, seaweed, little organisms), I also managed to glimpse my first reef shark here :). I was also totally overwhelmed by the sheer size of a VW Beetle-sized sea turtle! Not an exaggeration.
I remember warm, enveloping water – even when it rains is the water still comfortable. Visibility is great and according to Coral Divers there are 24 major dive spots to drop into [2]. Sodwana Bay Lodge gives a concise run down of the reefs themselves. Certain times of the year schools of ragged-toothed sharks hang around for mating season; dolphins are not an irregular sight either. Along with dolphins, common sightings include octopus and rare puffer fish species.

Picture by Derek Keats licensed under Creative Commons

Picture by Derek Keats licensed under Creative Commons

Typically you would choose a dive operator, stay at their dive camp and travel the short distance between camp and beach in the morning. So pack some lunch/snacks and stay on the beach the whole day… like you needed convincing 😉 
Try not to go over a long weekend or public holiday, though… those perfect bits of sunny sand will be occupied really quickly by hordes of other people with the same beach holiday in mind.
As with Ponta Malongane, there are probably great places to see around the Bay; you're welcome to try them out while I, by turns lay in the shade to read and gallivant in the sea, trying not to get concussed by the waves.

Expenses: As I've mentioned, there's an R85 permit fee (valid for the whole year if you want to go back for a visit), R10 per vehicle per entry to the nature reserve. The 'real' expenses start with the scuba gear and dives… Though I've never used Sea Escapes as a dive operator before, it seems like their less expensive than others: 3 dives each (both my boyfriend and I), full gear hire for two days plus two nights' accommodation comes out to about R2 300 total. Check out their website for a breakdown, though you’re spoiled for choice: Sea Escapes, Coral Divers, Amoray Diving, Triton Diving and Sodwana Bay Lodge, all of whom I’ve heard good things about by people who have used their services.

Riveting references

[1] http://www.nature-reserve.co.za/sodwana-bay-national-park.html>Nature Reserve SA Accessed 28 October 2014
[2] Coral Divers Dive Spots

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Filed under Itinerary, Obsessions, Travel bug

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