HSASA 50hr Dive-A-Thon 2017

HSASA 50hr Dive-A-Thon 2017

Handicapped Scuba Association South Africa is located in Centurion, Gauteng and is a non-profit company that specializes in training people with disabilities, on how to scuba dive.

Our NPC number is: 2014/027833/08. The directors of Handicapped Scuba Association SA are: Vic Hugo, Euvrard Geldenhuys and Melissa Leonard.  HSASA is busy planning and organizing a “HSASA 50hr Dive-A-Thon” for next year, 10-12th March 2017.

In short, our vision and mission of this fundraising event, is to organize and plan, dive trips for- and the training of new disabled divers for 2017 – so that they can too share in the experience of diving.  We need everyone’s support to come on board with this project. Our goal is to get as many dive schools and divers of all institutes, involved. Therefore we would like to ask every diver, to participate in this event and help us make it a HUGE success through buying dive-slots.

We have created a Facebook event and would like to invite everyone to join. https://www.facebook.com/events/1614728932163335/?active_tab=discussion

We are going to have two special events taking place on Saturday the 11th March 2017.
They are:
1.  “Sinking the Obstacle to Freedom” – illustrating that HSA’s are free at last and they have no limitations anymore…but more about this later….
2.  Lighting the cross with glowsticks on one night dive (Saturday night 19:00-20:00 dive slot). It’s going be so much fun, an experience and quite a sight to see. So be sure to book one of your slots on this hour.

We are going to have food stalls, great prizes to be won, a boma fire at night, jumping castle for the kiddies, etc…

Demo gear will be available and DAN will also be joining us.

The weather will still be nice and warm and we are going to have so much fun!! We are looking forward- and would love to have you all there with us…

How it works:
There have to be at least two people in the water at all times – for the duration of the dive-a-thon.  People can book their one hour slot and choose any hour between Friday 10:00 – Sunday 13:00, to do a dive. They can also book more than one slot.  The first dive will start on the Friday, 10th at 10:00 and the last dive will end on Sunday, 12th at 13:00. The cost is R150 per person, per dive-slot hour (even sponsors of dive-slots are welcome). We aim to book 750 dive-slots and more.  There will be a Rescue diver or higher qualified, at all times, to ensure the safety of everyone.

So, what if you don’t have the time to join us in person and do your slot, but want to contribute? Well, you can sponsor your R150, and we will find a diver to do your slot of your behalf.

We need you to make this event a great success !!!

Time of Dive-A-Thon:
Start : 10th Fri 2017 at 10:00
End : 12th Sun 2017 at 13:00

Place:
Miracle Waters, North West

So, how do you book your slot?  You can book your dive slot, by making a payment into the following account:
Handicapped Scuba Association SA
Bank : Absa
Type of account : Cheque
Account nr : 4083663706
Branch : Mall@reds Wierdapark
Branch code : 336-346
Reference : “name” and “dive-slot/s”
Please email your details and proof of payment to: melissa@hsa-sa.co.za

About HSASA: Scuba Diving has a great rehabilitative effect on people living with disabilities – so great, that it restores their self-confidence and human dignity, as well as gives them a new perspective in life. After being trained on how to scuba dive, they do not only gain new skills in recreational diving, but they also meet new long-lasting friends and have a sense of belonging. Scuba diving opens up a new world to disabled people, who thought that their lives are over. After being trained, the disabled divers start to live more adventurously and live their lives to the full.

When diving (and with the help of their dive buddies), the physically challenged and wheelchair bound people, get the opportunity to be free from gravity for approximately 50 minutes (duration of a dive) and are able to move as freely as they like. These disabled people’s outlook on life, are permanently changed.
People with various disabilities, ranging from: spina bifida, hearing loss, amputees, paraplegics, quadriplegics, muscular dystrophy, sight impairment, hemiplegics, cerebral palsy, cognitive disability and locked-in syndrome, are all trained and are known as HSA Divers.

We at Handicapped Scuba Association South Africa are dedicated and aim to change and improve the physical and social well-being of people living with disabilities, through the recreational sport of Scuba Diving. We are dedicated to ensure, that the disabled people whom we train, are given the same opportunity to receive quality training, certification and dive adventures – just like the able-bodied divers do.
We not merely just aim to train disabled people and to let them have a once off experience – NO!, it is also our desire and focus to assist these disabled divers, to continue to dive and also experience ocean dives, as well as to get them socially involved.

Therefore your contribution is not in vain.

Bookings are now open!

Our website is: www.hsa-sa.co.za

Our Facebook page: Handicapped Scuba Association SA:
https://www.facebook.com/HandicappedScubaAssociationSA?ref=br_tf

For any queries, please contact Melissa at: 083 545 8295 / melissa@hsa-sa.co.za

A fun weekend awaits all divers.

Alphonse Island

Alphonse Island

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Alphonse Group The Alphonse Group of islands are situated 7 degrees South of the Equator and 400 kilometers South-West of Mahe. This magnificent island threesome comprising of Alphonse, Bijoutier and St Francois, lie in the very heart of the Indian Ocean and form part of the Seychelles’ outer island group.

Getting There – Guests are required to fly into Mahe Island, Seychelles at least 4 hours before the weekly charter flight is scheduled to depart. A standard package includes the hour-long return charter flights between Mahe and Alphonse.

Flight Times – The flights leave Mahe at 11:00 from domestic departures on a Saturday and arrives on Alphonse at 12:00. It then departs Alphonse at 12:30 arriving back at the Mahe domestic terminal at 13:30.

Accommodation & Amenities – The rustic and comfortable accommodation is situated on the shoreline of the Eastern side of Alphonse Island. The main hotel complex consists of a reception area, beach bar, dining area, swimming pool, tennis court and main office. Guests stay in one of 15 privately spaced air conditioned bungalows or 4 one bedroom villas, offering every kind of comfort. The bar area, pool and lounge area provides the ideal venue to relax in the evening breeze after a day out in the sun and houses the restaurant serving freshly caught sea food of the highest quality.

Arrival Day On arrival you will be met by the Alphonse Island management team and transported to the hotel by golf cart. Indemnities will be signed followed by a comprehensive briefing on what to expect during your stay. Everyone will then be shown to his or her accommodation to settle in and unpack. Dinner is served at 19h30.

Normal Day – Breakfast is served from 6:00 – 9:00 am or on request. Lunch is served at 1pm.

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Diving – Alphonse Island Dive Centre and its team of professional international diving staff will make your experience at Alphonse resort a personal, safe and unforgettable one. The sheer drop offs, rich currents and abundant sea life that surrounds the Alphonse Group makes it one of the most exciting and diverse dive destinations in Seychelles. The pristine sites around both Alphonse and St Francois are famous for warm crystal clear waters, high coral cover, great visibility and a diverse range of fish species comprising of reef, pelagic and shark species. Daily encounters with Stingrays, Turtles, Moray Eels, Barracuda, Wahoo, Sharks, Tuna, Grouper, Snapper, Trevally make the dives extremely memorable. Alphonse’s range of dive sites are suitable for all categories of divers, which makes the area an exciting experience for both beginners and advanced who will enjoy our drift dives. Dive sites are easily accessible with typical boat travel taking ten to thirty minutes. The dive center also offers PADI Bubble Maker, Discover scuba, Open Water, Advanced and Specialty scuba courses.

Diving Rates

  • Per Dive USD 120
  • Double Tank USD 220 5
  • Dive Package USD 550 10
  • Dive Package USD 1000
  • Includes all diving equipment

Diving Course Rates

  • Bubble Maker USD 110
  • Discover Scuba Diving USD 210
  • Scuba Diver / Open Water Diver USD 900
  • Advanced Open Water Diver USD 750
  • Speciality Courses USD 290 (2 dives) or 490 (4 dives)
  • Alphonse Island Eco Diver Package USD 1400 (10 dives + certification in 5 Specialties)
  • Includes all diving equipment

Additional Activities – The snorkeling around the coral heads within the safety of the lagoon is simply out of this world. Snorkeling equipment is available for hire at the dive centre. The kayaking along the edge of the island on a high tide gives guests the opportunity to see the magnificent bounty of turtles, rays, fish, and various other sea creatures, which call Alphonse their home. The cycling tracks around the island pass through coconut groves and lead to the various private and secluded beaches. You may wish to join our local experts on a nature tour or for watching the multitude of seabirds that can be seen about the atolls. You may spot dolphins when out on the water but specific trips can be also arranged and, if you are lucky, you may see several of the different whale species that frequent these waters.

Snorkeling Equipment Rental Rates

  • USD 10 per day
  • USD 50 per week
  • Loss of gear will be charged per item

Alphonse Guided Snorkeling Trip Rates

  • USD 45 per person, children under 11 free (min 2 paying guests)
  • 1 hour 30 min, includes snorkeling equipment (Children under 11 years must be accompanied by 1 adult per child)

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St Francois Guided Snorkeling Trip Rates

  • USD 85 per person, children under 11 free (min 4 paying guests)
  • 1 hour 30 min, includes snorkeling equipment (Children under 11 years must be accompanied by 1 adult per child)
  • Loss/damages of gear will be charged per item

Park Fee – There is a compulsory St Francois fly fishing park fee of USD 175 per week (USD25 per day) for anglers and USD 70 per week (USD 10per day) for non-anglers and divers, which is payable in cash when on the island. All packages exclude this park fee and these funds are given to the Island Conservation Society for the preservation of nature in the Seychelles.

Spa – There is a small spa situated in close proximity to the main swimming pool that offers massages and various other treatments. All massages can be booked in the bar area the night before.

Head Lamp – Although the roads between the accommodation and hotel are lit, it’s wise to have a headlamp for when you are riding your bike at night.

Casual Wear – Everything is informal on the island and guests should dress casually at all times and feel free to attend dinner in casual clothing.

Weather – The Seychelles is typically hot and somewhat humid with the midday temperature hovering at 35 degrees Celsius. Evenings are also invariably warm with the exception of the first and last few weeks of the season, when there may be a strong, cooling breeze. Water temperature ranges from 27 – 29 degrees Celsius.

The Fishing and Diving Season at Alphonse – The main diving season runs from early October to the end of May.

Hours of Daylight – Due to its proximity to the equator, there is no real twilight in the Seychelles. The sun rises quickly at around 6:15 a.m. and sets with equal swiftness at about 6:30 p.m. This varies by only minutes throughout the year, giving nearly a full 12 hours of daylight for 365 days a year.

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From Scene of Accident Medevac Insurance – All guests are required to obtain “From Scene of Accident Medevac Insurance”. Details will be requested prior to arrival on the Island. Alphonse Island and agents cannot assume any financial responsibility for consequences incurred if this has not been obtained.

Travel Insurance – All guests are required to obtain travel insurance that will cover any costs incurred due to flight delays for any reason. Any guests planning to dive will be asked to provide their travel insurance details as proof of cover for diving activities. This is often included in general travel insurance policies but should you wish to dive deep, please check any depth restrictions.

Indemnity Form – All guests are required to sign an indemnity form once on location. Divers booked on courses must complete the Medical Statement prior to diving, this is provided prior to arrival in case you need to arrange medical clearance for diving from your physician.

Inoculations & Health – No inoculations are legally required for entry. However, you may want to check with your local immunization and inoculation clinic for their recommendations on health precautions for travel to the Seychelles. Some travelers elect to protect themselves against hepatitis A with an immunoglobulin injection (short- term protection) or the longer lasting vaccine. Other inoculations may be required if you are planning a trip extension to parts of Africa.

Water Consumption – There is a desalination plant on Alphonse, and water from the faucets is safe to drink. We do not stock mineral water to reduce plastic waste and will only supply it when specifically requested prior to arrival.

Luggage Restrictions – Check in luggage is strictly limited to 15 kg or 33 pounds per person, and 5kg or 12 pounds carry-on luggage. Remember, that all diving equipment is provided so you will only need to pack cameras for diving. It is not possible to load extra luggage, it will have to be repacked and left on Mahe until your return. Please adhere to the limits. It is suggested that lighter soft-shell luggage is used. Pack a separate bag with excess equipment to avoid having to repack at the airport. There is left luggage storage at the airport and you can arrange for your tour operator in Mahe to store excess luggage while you are on Alphonse Island.

Communication on Alphonse – Each chalet has a phone service, operated via satellite.

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Internet Connection – There is a wireless connection in the bar area and a network cable connection in the Internet room. There is no charge for their use.

Electricity Supply – The Island has 24-hour electrical current (240 volt, 50 cycles AC) with British plug points. A European electrical current adapter (3-point, square-pin) is necessary.

Contact telephone Number – Alphonse Island: +248-4-22-90-30 (GMT+04:00). When dialing internationally, precede with appropriate access code.

Gratuities – Tipping is never mandatory and if you wish to show appreciation to the staff and require a suggested amount based on an average which guests normally tip then please use the below amounts as an indication.
General hotel staff approximately USD 250 per person per week or USD 35 per day as a guideline. This is to be left at reception upon departure for equal distribution. The diving staff has a slightly varied amount, which can be suggested by the manager of that activity when on location. We suggest a USD 20 per dive guideline for the diving team, which is given to the respective manager at the end of the week and will be divided up by the dive team and skippers. Any gratuities will be much appreciated by the staff and we thank you for your generosity.

Currency – You do not need to change your € (Euros) or US$ (US Dollars) into the local currency. The hotel accepts US Dollars and all major credit cards except American Express. Credit cards carry an additional 5% bank fee, which will be added to the total bill.

Duty Free Allowance – 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars, 1 liter of spirits and 2 liters wine.

Cancellation Policy

  • A 10% fee shall be levied if cancellation is made more than 180 days prior to arrival.
  • A 10% fee shall be levied if the reservation is moved to an alternative date within the same season.
  • A fee of 50% shall be levied if cancellation is between 180 and 90 days prior to arrival. A fee of 100% shall be levied if cancellation is 90 days or less prior to arrival.
  • All cancellations & provisional bookings must be confirmed in writing.

We hope the above information helps to enhance your trip to Alphonse Island. Should there be any further assistance you require, please do not hesitate to contact us info@alphonse-island.com

A new diving experience in Seychelles

A new diving experience in Seychelles

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A new ‘unique’ diving experience is now available in Seychelles as Alphonse Island makes its debut into the luxury travel sector, offering guests experiences that can’t be found anywhere else in Seychelles.

The island, known as one of the best fly fishing destinations in the world, has made significant modifications to appeal to the lucrative luxury diving travel market. One of these modifications is the opening of a brand new dive centre.

The islands feature exceptional turtle sightings with very healthy breeding populations covering both atolls. Divers can expect huge schools of Bluelined Snapper, Humpback Snapper, Bigeye Trevally and even Batfish to join them on their diving experience.

The reefs are still untouched, pristine and teeming with activity with many species of Moray, as well as small macro such as nudibranchs and shrimp species. Divers will be able to marvel at dramatic drop off walls covered in forests of gorgonian sea fans, while the plateaus feature a high percentage of hard coral cover. Drift dives are common with reef hooks used for divers to stay in the right spot.

Have you always dreamed of swimming with dolphins? These beautiful creatures often grace divers with their presence on the excursions. But, the activity doesn’t stop there: the islands’ Giant and Bluefin Trevally populations are very healthy with a ‘wolf pack’ often attacking reef fish with nurse sharks. Also Hammerhead, Silvertip, Bull Shark and Grey Reef sharks can often be seen during the dives.

Courses offered at the new dive centre include the full PADI suite from Open Water to Divemaster as well as the ‘Discover Scuba’ Diving course. All the courses are focussed around underwater appreciation and conservation. Later this year, the dive centre will also start featuring Nitrox dives as well as the opportunity to go on an overnight trip to the far South of the Seychelles.

Besides the diving centre, the island also has a great number of other ‘unique’ experiences on offer.  The Alphonse Group of Islands comprising St Francois, Bijoutier and Alphonse islands, are considered the most remote, pristine and unspoilt group of islands in the Seychelles. Travellers will be able to embark on nature conservation walks to the uninhabited islands of Bijoutier and St Francois. They’ll be able to have a unique experience by overnighting on A’Manni – a Catamaran yacht in the St Francoise lagoon, or discover the expansive flats surrounding the Alphonse atolls as well as participate in conservation-related activities.

 “We are offering something exceptional. In today’s travel industry, people want more than a private plunge pool and butler. They want to explore, discover and create memories that will last a lifetime and that’s exactly what Alphonse Island offers,” says Keith Rose Innes, Managing Director of Alphonse Island.

Alphonse Island taps into the ‘Real Seychelles’ where everything is still raw, flawless and untouched, says also Amanda Lang, Marketing Manager Alphonse Island.  “Alphonse Island is not just another Island resort; it is a destination where the real luxury lies in the experience.”

Even though the real luxury of the island is expressed in the uniqueness of the experiences on offer, the island has also heavily invested in the upgrading of its facilities. All twenty-one Beach Bungalows and five spacious Beach Suites on the island have been extensively refurbished to create a more ‘barefoot luxury’ feel with new colours and new furnishings. Also the beach bar and the restaurant have been entirely revamped.

Rates for the forthcoming 2016/2017 season can be obtained by contacting marketing@alphonse-island.com

For more information about The Seychelles, visit http://www.seychelles.travel/

Mike Fraser

Mike Fraser
Mike Fraser

I grew up on the KZN coast and salt water runs in my family’s veins.  Tales of the ones that were landed and the leviathans that got away, echo in my childhood memories. My parents gave me a green Champion mask for my 6th birthday and when I put my head under water I knew for sure that this was my realm.  The allure of the last great wilderness still beckons me and I have planned my life around it ever since.

In my teens I enjoyed spear fishing and first experienced scuba diving when I went to university.  In those days BC’s were a rarity, contents gauges had not prevailed over j-valves and dive computers were a distant dream. Any form of underwater photographic equipment was way beyond my reach and I stuck to spear fishing until the floods of 1988 put a halt to my predation. Friends persuaded Valda and me to join them on a scuba diving course. After the qualifying dives at Sodwana, the hook was set beyond extraction, spear guns gathered dust in the garage and we began to make lasting friends in the deep. Big creatures – potato bass, sharks, morays – are my passion while Valda fancies the macro stuff. This makes dive planning, let’s say, interesting.

Our first venture into underwater photography was in the early ‘90’s, when we managed to buy a 2nd hand Nikonos V and Ikelite strobe. Those were the days of extension tubes and framers for macro and guesswork for wide angle. I moved into video in the days when we were pioneering shark diving on Protea Banks. While the picture quality was not much better than on our current cell phones, it was great to let others share the dive at home on the TV set. I think it’s the instant gratification that does it for me.

My interest in stills photography blossomed with the advent of the digital SLR. We started out with a D70 late in 2004 and the ability to see underwater what I had bagged, appealed to me. I must say, it was quite a steep learning curve in the transition from video, where you have numerous frames to weave a story. Freezing an instant in time so that it makes a clear and appealing statement, can be quite a task. I’ve never been particularly motivated by competitions. As I’ve progressed I’ve become more discerning and demanding of myself. The challenge is like a staircase spiralling upward forever.

We love to explore un-dived reefs and fortunately there are many in our wilderness. We have recently acquired re-breathers and this adds a new dimension to exploration and photography. You get that smug feeling when bubble-blowing buddies head for the surface with a heap of deco, while the re-breather’s computer gives you several hours of additional quiet time. There’s still so much to experience and learn, so it’s time to load the gear and go diving again.

Sean Sequeira

Sean Sequeira
Sean Sequeira
Sean Sequeira

A silly snorkelling accident encouraged me to undertake a scuba diving course. I presumed that by gaining knowledge of the discipline of diving, I would learn more about the sea. As with most of us, this curiosity elevated me to diving instructor status 5 years later. However, struggling to remember the fish I admired, after each dive, I acquired a secondhand Nikonos 5. This was my ticket to being eternally shackled by debt for an ever increasing jungle of photographical accessories. I have progressed from a Nikonos to a Nikon F100 and now have embraced a digital camera.

I have dived myself into specialised underwater photographic fields and have a particular attraction for photographing sharks. My annual pilgrimage to Seal Island in False Bay has yielded better results with each time I return. Increased exposure to an opportunity in the Bazaruto Archipelago, has given me the chance to build my portfolio from the area. While spending a day on the beach in an area called BD, I witnessed fishermen dump Reef Shark carcasses de-finned on the beach without even moving an eyelid at our presence. Shark deprivation exists in even the most innocent and remote parts of our continent.

My photos are regularly published in Submerge and Alert diver and I have also won accolades at various competitions. I reside in Krugersdorp with my wife and two daughters.

Jean Tresfon

Jean Tresfon
Jean Tresfon
Jean Tresfon

Jean Tresfon is an underwater photographer by inclination if not by profession. Born and bred in Cape Town, he started diving in 1990, completing a 1-star certification through SAUU. Diving quickly became an all consuming passion and in 1995 he became a PADI certified instructor and ran a dive charter boat for a number of years. In 1998 he gave up the charter business and joined the world of commerce, but continued to spend every spare moment underwater. For the next five years he concentrated his efforts on the shipwrecks of the West Coast area, researching and diving on as many wrecks as possible. Then in 2002 he bought his first digital camera in a waterproof housing and was completely hooked.

Jean has travelled extensively, having dived in the Carribean, the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Kenya, Zanzibar, Pemba, Mauritius, the Maldives, the Red Sea, Indonesia and West Papua, as well as the Philippines and Micronesia to name but a few. However he still prefers the cold waters of the Cape to any other dive destination, and believes it to be one of the world’s finest venues for underwater photography with a truly astounding variety of subjects.

Anthony Grote

Anthony Grote

For me photography has always been about capturing that special shot that stands out from the rest. The challenge in the beginning was always more special as there were fewer people doing it, especially when we consider underwater photography. With the advent of digital camera, and not only that, but the rapid advance in this technology, giving access to more and more people, the challenge had to be shifted somewhat, and for me that has involved taking the available technology and playing.

I started out photographing birds and wildlife while working on game farms in the Lowveld, until I was shown someone’s underwater portfolio of their trip to the Red Sea. From that day I was hooked! It took me 5 years to be able to afford my first underwater system, always erring on the housed system as to the Nikonos. My first trip to the Red Sea was straight after getting my first housing and needless to say it was fraught with problems (hence I am desperate to return there someday). Since then, I was lucky enough to spend 2 years working in the Cayman Islands as an underwater photography/videographer. I then returned to SA and started freelancing as a sport/wildlife/architectural photographer, with a passion for underwater and panoramas. As mentioned before, I like playing with technology, creating images using time-lapse technology, 360° imagery and virtual tours and long exposure starscapes are just some examples.

My highlights have been being published in National Geographic magazine in Poland, being involved in a National Geographic production called the ‘Real Serengeti’, where I sent 6 weeks filming the Migrations in the Serengeti, also being published in magazines in the South Africa, UK, USA and New Zealand. I have been fortunate enough to also win a number of Underwater Photo competitions including the Sodwana Shootout (in both the photo and video categories), Pix Magazine Annual Photo Awards, Sony Winter Shootout, and third place in the NCUPS Underwater Photo Competition and High Commended in the ‘Celebrate the Sea’ Underwater Photo Competition.

Stunning Sodwana Bay

Stunning Sodwana Bay
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Launch for a dive in Sodwana

The summer of 2001 was my first dive trip to Sodwana bay. For my first dive, we launched just after 7am and already the African sun was high in the sky. Our dive boat skipped over the calm ocean en route to our dive location – a reef called 7-Mile. After a 30-minute boat ride the skipper brought the boat to a stop and immediately organised chaos broke out as everybody grabbed for fins and masks. One by one, the skipper helped everyone kit-up before maneuvering the boat to the exact location above the reef using landmarks. At first I was not convinced that anybody could locate a reef using landmarks and triangulation but to this day I have never been dropped incorrectly. The skipper then counted down 3-2- 1 and we all rolled backwards off the boat in unison. We were greeted by a kaleidoscope of colour and large schools of goatfish and blue banded snapper which hung in mid-water above the reef.

Text and Images by Paul Hunter

Cresent-tail Bigeye
Cresent-tail Bigeye create great contrast with the blue background

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Lionfish flaring for a great image

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Thousands of Glass fish surround divers

There were so many fish I felt like I was in an aquarium. From that initial moment I knew Sodwana was a special place and have since never been disappointed. That dive went on to be one of those spectacular dives with large moray eels, turtle, nudibranches and much more. To this day, 7-Mile reef is still one of my favorites with its many swim throughs, over- hangs and mushroom rock.

Over the past 6 years I have spent diving holidays in Indonesia (Bali, Wakatobi, Bunaken, Lembeh), the Red Sea (North and South) and Malaysia (Sipadan), and after every trip I realise what Sodwana and South African diving has to offer. I believe diversity is the word I’m looking for. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy diving internationally and will continue to as long as it offers something different. However, for me, these international destinations seem to be lacking something. I call it the “wild factor” which I believe diving in South Africa offers. On any given dive in Sodwana you have a good chance of seeing manta, turtles, whale shark, numerous other shark species and dolphin plus an abundance of macro subjects. And that’s just underwater. The entire bay is surrounded by a massive sand dune covered in a dense coastal forest which offers plenty other animal life.

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Leopard shark on the sand

I believe diving in Sodwana can compare with any top dive destination in the world due to its variety of coral reefs, phenomenal sea life and all year round good visibility. The reefs of Sodwana are regarded as the southern most coral reefs in the world and the only tropical dive site in South Africa. Divers are exposed to more than 1200 species of fish on the many reefs. The point I’m trying to make is reinforced every year at the Sodwana Shootout. Each
year, while viewing the images of all the contestants I’m blown away at what is available right here on my doorstep. I ask myself the same question every year: “why do I do international trips when I have all this diversity right here in the country I live in”.

My favorite Sodwana dive spots

9 Mile Reef is the furthest and takes about 40 minutes, depending on the conditions. The great thing about this trip is that there is a good chance of seeing and possibly swimming with dolphin and whale shark, and in season humpback and southern right whales. The dive site comprises some small walls, caves, overhangs and pinnacles. This reef is best known for the “Green Tree”; a coral tree that stands tall, surrounded by goldies and other fish. The maximum depth is 22 meters on the sand
and average depth about 18 meters. Due to its distance from the launch site, the reef is not dived often so is in pristine condition. The marine life is diverse and includes most of the tropical fauna typical of the region as well as big schools of passing game fish.
7 Mile Reef, just 25 minutes from the beach, to me, the most scenic reef in Sodwana. The maximum depth is 24 metres and the average around 18 metres. This reef is in immaculate condition and is populated by every type of fish imaginable. There are large schools of snapper and goatfish that hang in mid-water. Their yellow bodies contrast against the blue water making for unbelievable visuals. The reef is well known for the amphitheatre and mushroom rock. Also have a look out for turtles, rays, kingfish and much, much more. This is definitely not a dive spot to be missed.
• About 20 minutes from the beach lies 5 Mile reef. This reef is well known for ‘pothole’ which is an amazing spot for macro photography opportunities and it never disappoints. Also have a look around the top of pothole and on the sand around it. I have come upon numerous surprises here. 5 Mile is a flattish reef with spectacular plate and stag horn corals. Just inshore from 5 Mile at a depth of approx 20 metres is Ribbon reef. This a also a great reef for macro sea life and is named after the ribbon eels that reside here.
2 Mile Reef is only about 5 minutes by boat from the beach. It is a very large reef with numerous places to dive. The reef ’s depth ranges from 8–10 metres to 16–18 metres with an average of 12 metres. Some of the spots you can dive are: Chain, Pinnacles, Caves and Overhangs, Coral gardens, Four Bouy and my favorite, Antons. This reef has many gullies, ledges, pinnacles and outcrops. I have seen everything from turtles, schooling jacks, reef shark and many more. The thing I like about 2 Mile is the diversity of the coral and fish life.
Quarter Mile Reef is basically just behind the breakers and about 12 metres deep. In the summer months this reef is home to ragged tooth sharks that come here to gestate. This dive can only be done when the conditions are right. So if the conditions and season are right I would highly recommend it.

Whaleshark
Plenty of Whale sharks can be spotted in Sodwana during the correct season

Two other reefs that I have to mention are Stringer and Bikini as they are both awesome dives. Stringer lies between quarter and 2-mile reef. It consists of 2 reefs – small stringer and big stringer. Small Stringer is a round piece of coral which attracts a lot of juvenile fish. Big Stringer is more of an elongated reef. It is normally dived on the shore side and when conditions are calm. The other reef I want to tell you about is Bikini. It runs parallel to 2 Mile and is mainly flat . My favorite location on this reef is the Ledge, which is a fair-sized cleaning station. The macro photography opportunities here are world-class. It’s a deep dive and therefore more suited to an advanced diver.

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Let me tell you a little about Sodwana now. Sodwana Bay or, “little one on its own” in Zulu, lies in the heart of Maputaland. It is also situated within the Greater St Lucia Wetland park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. Both Maputoland and the St Lucia Marine Reserve are linked to form a continuous protected area stretching 150 kilometres on land and 3 nautical miles out to sea. Sodwana is easily accessible by a 4 hour dive from Durban and 7 hours from Johannesburg.

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Conditions are generally good throughout the year with the best diving from April to September. Visibility can be up to 30 metres on a good day and the average is around 14 metres. The weather is typically subtropical with water temperature above 20°C reaching as high as 29°C in summer.

All the dive sites of Sodwana Bay are named according to the distance from the launch site. The majority of the dive sites are shallow, with an average of around 18 metres. There are however several deeper sites available for those qualified.

It is not only diving that makes Sodwana an exquisite destination. There is also snorkeling, bird watching, hiking, turtle viewing and much more. With its scenic beauty and close proximity to some world-renowned game reserves, Sodwana Bay is the perfect destination for divers who would like to experience the wilder side of life.

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Sodwana is more than just diving, it can be an adventure. A must do is turtle viewing at Sodwana Bay. Five known species of turtle regularly visit Sodwana. Two of which, the Loggerhead and Leatherback, visit every year during the summer months (November to March) at night to lay their eggs. To experience these creatures coming ashore to nest is an incredible sight. Even more incredible is when you get to experience the hatchlings struggling to survive the furry of predators. This event only takes place in a few places in the world. Maputoland boasts the longest running protected program for turtles in the world. Night turtle tours are provided during December and January. Departure times vary with the tide.

Muzi Pans
Just a short 35 minute drive from Sodwana is Muzi Pans which is an little oasis away from the crowds and easily accessible via a tar road. The pans are situated on the Mkhuze river floodplain between Mkhuze Game Reserve and Lake St Lucia. The pan is home to Nile crocodile, hippos and an abundance of bird species. On a good day up to 100 different species can be seen here. The area does have Zululand Birding Route trained local bird guides who can assist you with birding in the area and a guided canoe trip can also be taken on the pan with trained canoe guides. It is well worth the effort to visit Muzi Pans.

Lake Sibaya – Mabibi
Another great location to visit is Lake Sibaya, with its 100 kilometres of untouched shoreline. It is South Africa’s largest freshwater lake measuring 70 square kilometres. The lake lies within the Isimangaliso Wetland Park and is now a World Heritage Site. It provides a habitat for birds, mammals and marine life. This lake has the second largest population of hippos and crocodile in KwaZulu-Natal and is also an important habitat for many bird species. In dry spells, Lake Sibaya is the only source of water for birds and mammals in the area. The entire wetland also supports many of the rural people who in many cases are totally dependent on the water resources. If you are into bird watching then Lake Sibaya is the place for you with 279 species recorded at the lake alone. This wetland is very important for breeding, roosting and feeding. Some of the species you can expect to see are red and white breasted cormorants; pied, giant and malachite kingfishers; fish eagles and a variety of herons, darters and egrets. Waders include white-fronted sand plover, black-winged stilt, avocent, greenshank and spoonbills. Also recorded at the lake are the much sought-after pel’s fishing owl, pygmy goose, palmnut vulture, flamingo, woodward’s batis and rufousbellied heron.

Game viewing or safaris for our international readers
Another reason I have always thought Sodwana to be an international destination is that it offers visitors the chance to do some world class diving and then also experience some of our country’s best game parks. Just think, you can dive in the morning and in the afternoon be on a game drive viewing the Big 5. It does not get better than that.
There are numerous game parks close to Sodwana.

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Here are some of the better-known ones:
Hluhluwe Game Reserve is one of the oldest reserves in Africa . It is also well known for its role in rhino conservation. The park stretches over 96 000 hectares and is home to the Big Five as well as more elusive animals, such wild dog, giraffe, cheetah and Nyala. The northern section of the park is known for the diverse range of both animal and bird life. Guided walks are also available and best to do early morning or late afternoon.  Numerous types of accommodation are available. Hluhluwe is located in a low risk malaria area so visitors should consult their doctors before visiting.
Thanda Game Reserve is a private reserve and lodge that offers ultimate luxury and world-class service. They offer 9 luxurious villas in the main lodge and 4 large luxurious tents in the tented camp. Thanda offers the Big Five and much more. The game restoration project has been successfully launched and the reserve is witnessing its 4th breeding season since the land was purchased in 2002.
Phinda Private Game Reserve is located in the lush Maputaland region in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Phinda comprises of 23 000 hectares (57 000 acres) of prime conservation land. They offer an abundance of wildlife including Africa’s Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, black and white rhino, buffalo) and over 380 bird species. Guests can look forward to exciting game-drives in open 4×4 safari vehicles led by experienced rangers and Zulu trackers Phinda has seven safari lodges which all offer sophistication and style in the African bush.

Anyone for Sardines?

Anyone for Sardines?
The cliff faced wild coast

Jean Marx took himself off to experience the sardine run this year. This is what he learned.  In a world of countless stories of been there done that, people often go to extremes to find that something special or new. I have been diving for a long time and have been all around the globe in search of that new, special place – from the Galapagos to the Coral Sea, and most places in between. Yet I had often heard about the sardine run, but never got round to experiencing it. As with most things in life – this X file syndrome that it’s out there – we often overlook what is right on our doorstep

Text and images by Jean Marx

Earlier this year, I went on a Tiger Shark weekend to Umkomaas, organized by Prestige Dive School. The operator that we used was Blue Rush. They specialize in shark encounters and the sardine run. The owners, Dietmar and Raffaella, are a very interesting couple. Dietmar is Austrian and able to speak 7 languages while Raffaella (Raffa) is an Italian lady that knows her way around sharks. We had an awesome experience gaining good footage of Tiger and Blacktip sharks. On one dive we saw dolphin and humpback whales and suddenly the conversation started veering towards the sardine run. Raffa said that she would bring some photos to dinner that evening. That night, we were in high spirits after a very exciting day when the photo album came out -images of breaching whales, dolphin surfing waves and frantic bird action. I decided that this year I was going, come hell or high water.

Humpback whale breaching

Unfortunately high water came. Massive torrential floods hit the South Coast. Visibility was down to zero and with 4 meter swells there was no chance of getting out to sea. I was very disappointed but kept on watching the forecasts.

I saw a forecast that showed a potential break in the weather and phoned Dietmar in Port St Johns, where Blue Rush was based for the 2008 run. The Sea was calming down and most importantly the visibility was improving. I was on the plane the next day on my way to the Wild Coast where Dietmar and Raffa were hosting a group of Italians for the week.

Ideally I should have taken 2 cameras. I prepped a Nikon D200 with 10.5mm fisheye for underwater. On the trip I met a famous photographer Carlo Mari who was testing the D3 for Nikon. He kindly lent me his D300 for boat-based shooting. The best lens for this being something in the 70mm-200mm range.

Gannets diving for sardines

Black tip shark

The sardine run happens every year between May and July. There are many theories why the sardines “migrate”, but no scientific proof. One of the accepted theories is that changes in the frontal system, move cold water from the Agulhas Bank northwards and the sardines see this occurrence as an extension of their habitat. The run begins in deep water off the East Coast, or Wild Coast, of South Africa and then moves on to the Kwazulu Natal coastline. The continental shelf defines the sardine run experience to be had. Along the East Coast the continental shelf is very close to shore and it gets deep very quickly. This is where you will find the classic “bait ball” where predators surround a group of sardines. On the Kwazulu Natal coast, where it is very shallow, you will find a lot of shark activity resulting in the “doughnut” formation. This is where a shark is surrounded by sardines and it looks like a doughnut from the air. This is also where the sardines will get pushed up to shore on occasion. This activity is not really dived but promises some opportunity with big schools of game fish also joining the hunt.

Ideal sardine conditions comes with good visibility and calm seas. But the chances to see the sardines improves with colder water and a SW wind that helps blow the sardines closer to shore. Expect a long day at sea, a lot of swimming and getting in and out of the boat numerous times in order to keep up with the ever-moving sardines.

The best indication of sardine action is Cape Gannets circling in the air and then and diving into the water. Just before they reach the water they pull their wings back like a fighter jet. It is quite strange to hear a loud crack and then be suddenly looking at a bird with a sardine in its mouth 10 meters under the water. The truth is, once you get into the water, you don’t know what to expect. There can be absolutely nothing or only sardines that are being targeted by the Gannets. Hopefully there are big predators too, like dolphin or shark. We saw only common dolphin but bottlenose are seen. The sharks that you can encounter are mostly dusky ,copper and blacktip with the occasional Zambezi thrown in for good measure. The dolphin hunt by blowing bubbles and using their sonar to keep the sardines together. They then hit the ball at great speed. Sharks are normally present but will patrol the fringes and bottom of the ball for a snack. The real jackpot is when Bryde’s or Minke Whales start feeding. Penguins and cape fur seals can also make an appearance. There were sightings of sailfish and even false killer whales joining the hunt this year, but these sightings are rare.

So basically your day is spent looking for sardine action. But the activity that you can see from the boat is an action movie in its own right. Humpback Whales breaching, super pods of between 500-1000 dolphin, birds such as cape gannets, cormorants and gulls are abundant with the odd albatross patrolling the skies. If all this activity fails, the scenery of the Wild Coast is wild to say the least. Massive cliffs mark the ragged shoreline where the continuous pounding of the waves has created caves and eerie shapes in the rock. Waterfall Bluff is one of only 4 waterfalls in the world that fall directly into the sea.

I think all divers will agree that diving is like a lucky dip and we gladly take what gift Neptune will show us. The only difference is with the Sardine run, Santa joins the party with a big sleigh of goodies.

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