Why the Sardine Run should be on every diver’s bucket list

Posted on 20 May 2024

While summer is the best time to visit seaside, winter is the best time to dive on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, as the cooler water brings the #greatestshoalonearth – the annual Sardine Run! The planet’s largest biomass migration and the ocean spectacle should be on every diver’s bucket list, and for those who’ve yet to experience this diving phenomenon, make 2024 your year.

Picture: Ryan Daly

‘With two of the world’s top dive sites at Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks, the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast has long been an attractive destination for divers worldwide, but the Sardine Run is undoubtedly one of the most exciting times to experience this beautiful part of the world as the ocean is alive with action,’ commented Phelisa Mangcu, CEO of South Coast Tourism and Investment Enterprise (SCTIE). ‘We have several highly experienced dive operators ready to assist with scuba training and equipment hire, catering to everyone from novice to experienced.’

At this annual event, shoals of silver fish head northwards close to the shoreline, attracting a host of marine life looking to feast. Cape gannets can dive into the water while dolphins, game fish and even Brydes whales pursue the tasty shoals. Sharks, from copper and dusky to blacktip and spinners, join the feast. Seine netters also enter the waters to get their share, with sardines one of many delicious local delicacies.

Roland Mauz of African Dive Adventures has been taking keen divers on the Sardine Run experience since the operation started in 1996. The Shelly Beach-based diver operation takes divers to the incredible Protea Banks and Aliwal Shoal dive sites – both Marine Protected Areas – and wherever the Sardine Run action is happening.

‘Diving on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, let alone during sardine season, is a highlight in every diver’s logbook,’ explained Mauz. ‘Protea Banks is one of Africa’s best shark diving sites, delivering shark sightings on almost every dive at any time of the year. At different times we see different shark species, and experienced shark enthusiasts can be 100% certain they will find what they are looking for.’

He said Aliwal Shoal is another well-known local reef ideal for all levels of diving experience: ‘The reef is full of intricate caves, crevasses, and ridges home to marine life of all sizes and colours. During our winter months, divers find raggies everywhere on the reef. The shipwreck, The Produce, is a great attraction for divers fascinated by sunken ships and their remnants.’

Aliwal Shoal

Commenting on the Sardine Run, Mauz said this is a world-renowned natural phenomenon: ‘To experience this spectacle is a privilege not to be missed. Along the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, the best places to view the Sardine Run are around Port Edward, where visitors who book packages have an incredible adventure in the wild. Boats are in the fray of marine animal action from morning to late afternoon. Visitors can snorkel, free dive and scuba dive on a sardine bait ball, watching the entire marine food chain at work. Divers find themselves in super-pods of thousands of dolphins and can see hundreds of humpback whales from near and far!’

Among the many services African Dive Adventures provides is the Sardine Run tour, which runs from around June to July, depending on the migration. Visitors can also enjoy the Sardine Run from the beautiful beaches – the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast is home to the most Blue Flag beaches in the province – from seaside restaurants, whale watching decks, in the water or from the skies.

You can go here to view Port St. Johns’ rates on the 7 day packages.

To find out more about the Sardine Run and other tourism events and sites, simply download the free ‘Explore KZN South Coast’ app from Google Play and Apple stores.

ALSO READ: On the brink: bringing us closer to sharks and rays on Oceans Day

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