80, 000 years ago, the area around the Aliwal Shoal consisted of a bed of sand dunes. The result of heavy rainfalls caused sand and shell to dissolve, forming a compound of calcium carbonate, which formed the core of the shoal, which became dune rock. Shifting of the continental plates caused the sea level of the Indian Ocean to rise and the dune was flooded and submerged.
The deposits of sand and shells, over time, caused an elaborate sandstone structure. The topography was very rugged with pinnacles, gullies and caves. Coral polyps formed large colonies on the sandstone, and Aliwal Shoal was born approximately 5km off the coast of Umkomass.
Aliwal Shoal was named after the sinking of the 3-mast vessel “Aliwal”, Captained by James Anderson in 1849. Now, Aliwal Shoal has an abundance of soft corals, sponges, and hiding places. These have combined to attract over 1200 species of fish, as well as turtles, rays, sharks and Hump Back Whales.
The Nebo was a 2000 ton steamship that sank on its maiden voyage on May 20, 1884, just north of the Aliwal Shoal. She was traveling from Sunderland to Durban, carrying the Amanzimtoti railway bridge. It was officially reported that she had struck an uncharted pinnacle but there has been much speculation and doubt about this theory. This pinnacle which sank the ship has never been chartered since and some experts believe that the weight of the railway bridge upon the deck may have caused her to be capsized by a large wave. There is more credibility to this story, as the Nebo is lying upside down, 28 metres below sea level.
The 15 000 ton Norwegian bulk carrier, The Produce, sank on August 11, 1974 when she hit the northern pinnacles which ripped her hull open. The crew made a brave attempt to get to shore and were all rescued, but the ship sank shortly afterwards. The rusted framework now provides an established residence for varied fish species including the huge Brindle Bass with makes for very good diving. The bridge of the vessel lies 12 metres under the surface, and the ship lies on a sand bed at approximately 35 metres.
Baited Tiger shark diving (No Cage)
Before the Tiger Shark Dive, you will receive a full briefing to help you to understand the Tiger Sharks behaviour and how to behave in return. Tiger Sharks are very shy, they are also very inquisitive and intelligent animals which is why they are one of the ocean’s apex predators and deserve the highest respect. The Tiger Shark dive is rated as one of the top-5 dives you will ever do.
The dive takes place on the southern end of the Aliwal Shoal only a 20 minute boat ride from Umkomass. On arrival the crew will create an odour corridor working with the currents to attract the sharks to the boat. Almost immediately sharks will be spotted around the boat but these will be black tip sharks which are fantastic to dive with and close encounters are common with very low risk. Time is spent on the surface waiting for the arrival of the Tiger Sharks and this normally takes from 45 minutes to an hour before divers enter the water. Once the Tiger sharks arrive divers will quietly slip into the water. As soon as you look under the surface you will see dozens of sharks close by. This is a thrill in itself as these Black Tip Sharks are beautiful and very curious and sometimes bold. These is minimal risk with diving with the Black Tip Sharks and divers will get very used to them passing close by from behind, underneath and overhead. Once settled down and drifting at 5 metres neutrally bouyant divers will be able to relax and enjoy being surrounded with the sharks.
Divers must always remember why they are there though and that is for the Tiger sharks. Alertness is essential at all times and care must be taken with regards to the positioning around the baited drum and depth. There are safety divers watching from above at all times and should a Tiger Shark advance towards a diver then the safety diver will be there to assist.
Diving with Ragged Tooth Sharks
The Ragged Tooth Shark dives take place on the Aliwal Shoal and the reefs to the south of the Shoal. The main dive sites inhabited by the sharks are Cathedral, Chunnel & Raggies Cave. The sharks are there in most concentration but they can be found all over the Aliwal Shoal and to the reefs to the south of the Aliwal Shoal as well as the wreck of the Nebo. These dives are non baited and very natural and divers are given the opportunity to get very close to wild Ragged Tooth Sharks which are favourite for aquarium exhibitions due to their fierce appearance. These sharks are non-aggressive unless cornered like any other animal so are a pleasure to dive with.
Umkomaas is a small sea side town which serves as the gateway to the Aliwal Shoal. Many of the boats that dive the Aliwal Shoal launch from the Umkomanzi river. The Zulu name is Umkomanzi, which was given by King Shaka Zulu himself in 1928 on one of his royal processions with his ‘Impi’ (warriors). During a hunting expedition he saw a number of cow whales and calves which were basking in the shallows a short distance out to sea from the river mouth. The name Umkomanzi, literally translated means ‘The watering place of the whales’.
Umkomass has a small selection of shops and a few restaurants as well as a selection of Guesthouses.
Scottburgh is a very nice coastal town with safe swimming beach and selection of very nice restaurants. King Shaka of the Zulu’s, and his entourage were early visitors to this area stopping to rest and drink from a nearby spring, he was distracted by the myriad of birds at the mouth of the river beside which the town was later to be built. He wondered how on earth each bird would know to which nest it should return and named the river “Mpanbonyoni” which translates to “Confuser of Birds”. A plaque, commemorating this event, was erected at the site of the spring.
During 1860, Scottburgh was the first town to be laid out south of Durban and was named after Sir John Scott, the Lieutenant-Governor of Natal.
Scottburgh’s main appeal lies with it’s sheltered bathing beach. The beach has a lovely terraced lawn with long stretches of sandy beaches is geared for families and has a tidal and paddling pool as well as a Supertube and miniature railway.
The beach is popular for surfing and Kite boarding. The Green Point Lighthouse is a national monument, erected in 1905 is situated on a hilltop opposite Blamey’s Bay. This beams out a powerful warning to passing ships of the perils of the Aliwal Shoal.