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Sodwana Bay corals and coastal adventures

Sodwana Bay, in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, forms the southern extent of many tropical coral reef species. It is the best place in South Africa to enjoy the beauty of this underwater ecosystem, not forgetting the ancient coelacanth population hiding in its offshore canyons.

Sodwana Bay has become a mecca for SCUBA divers in South Africa, who come to enjoy its warm, clear blue waters and colourful reef environments. Sodwana Bay also offers plenty for the non-diver looking to relax and explore another stretch of beautiful northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline.

Harlequin shrimp and a starfish below, and sunny skies above at Sodwana Bay. Picture: Adventure Mania Sodwana Bay.
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Go diving in Sodwana Bay

Diving in South Africa is a hugely varied experience. The waters along the Cape coast are cold and very productive, and characterized by towering forests of kelp. As one moves north-east along the coastline, cold- to warm-temperate reefs appear with a selection of silvery fishes. If one is looking for blue waters and colourful corals and tropical fishes though there is only one place to go…

Sodwana Bay in northern KwaZulu-Natal is a special place. It forms the southern extent of many tropical coral species, and the diversity of corals that can be found here is unmatched anywhere further south. The reefs fall within a protected area and are well preserved. Their structure and extent is spectacular, as is the amount of life tucked away between the coral forms.

This area of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is special too in that the continental shelf is very close inshore and falls dramatically into a number of canyons just off the coastline. It is in the depths of these underwater canyons that a population of the ancient fish, the coelacanth, was discovered in October 2000. This fascinating fish had been believed to be extinct until 1938 when ichthyologist J.L.B. Smith identified a deceased specimen. The Sodwana Bay coelacanths are the only known population that are shallow enough to be visited on SCUBA, an incredibly special experience indeed.

Beautiful scenes under water and on land. Picture: Adventure Mania Sodwana Bay.

Why choose to dive Sodwana Bay?

  • Enjoy excellent visibility and a blue water dive.
  • A variety of dive sites to suit any level of experience and preference.
  • Marvel at the best coral reefs in South Africa.
  • Pay close attention to the micro forms of life hidden on the reef.
  • The reefs are frequented by colourful sub-tropical fish species, larger rays, turtles and sharks.
  • Dolphins, whale sharks and manta rays are often spotted on your way to the dive site.

Sodwana Bay’s reef complexes

Sodwana Bay has seven main reef complexes, named according to their distance from the launch site. These are Quarter Mile, Two Mile, Five Mile, Six Mile, Seven Mile, Eight Mile and Nine Mile. Seven and Eight Mile reefs are less frequently dived, and diving on Nine Mile requires very good weather conditions. The further reefs incur additional transport costs due to their distance, but the corals are progressively more highly structural and better preserved due to their distance away from shore and reduced number of dives they experience.

Overall, the reefs vary in depth from 12 to 40 m and there is a dive site suitable for every qualification level. There is also something for every diving taste, from hugely varied macro life forms (Two Mile), to gestating sharks (Quarter Mile), topographically varied coral walls (Seven Mile), large schools of tropical fishes (most sites) and the chance to see bigger shark species including tiger and Zambezi sharks (Five Mile).

A friendly moray eel, and a colourful shoal of snapper congregate above the reef. Picture: Adventure Mania Sodwana Bay.

Not a diver? Not a problem!

Whilst Sodwana Bay is typically a destination for bubble blowers, there is plenty to do in and around Sodwana Bay without a SCUBA qualification.

For starters, the beach at Sodwana Bay is spectacular. Explore the rock pools on Jesser Point at low tide or grab a surfboard and head out for a wave if the conditions are right. There is a swimming beach for bathers, but be sure to keep between the lifeguard’s beacons as strong currents can develop at times. Sodwana Bay is also perfect for long walks, or enjoying the sunset from the low dunes that fringe the coastline.

Sunset at Sodwana Bay in northern KwaZulu-Natal
Sunset at Sodwana Bay in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Sodwana Bay teems with ocean life. Shore and boat angling (within designated zones, given that Sodwana Bay forms part of a marine protected area) are popular and rewarding pastimes. Dolphin and whale-watching boat trips are also on offer in the bay. Although sightings are never guaranteed, a close-up view of these magnificent creatures can be an incredible experience. The sandy beaches along the northern stretch of KwaZulu-Natal are also very important nesting sites for loggerhead and leatherback turtles. After-dark turtle tours (November-February) can be arranged with registered guides.

Unforgettable evenings on the beach at Sodwana Bay
Unforgettable evenings on the beach at Sodwana Bay.

Sodwana Bay is ideally positioned as a base to explore some more of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s other gems. The park’s Coastal Forest section is home to Lake Sibaya, and a plethora of unspoiled beaches. Unfortunately, a 4×4 vehicle is required to drive the soft sand roads in this area. Not too far is the Mkhuze Game Reserve, home to the big 5, offering fantastic bird watching in and around Nsumo Pan and the chance to visit Africa’s last ancient indigenous fig forest.

Sycamore Fig tree in uMkhuze
Jill sizing up an enormous Sycamore Fig Tree in the Mkhuze Game Reserve.

Important Information

A large variety of diving courses can be completed during your stay at Sodwana Bay, for those wishing to increase their level of qualification. An introductory SCUBA course can also be completed for those who would like to give diving a try. If you would like to enroll in a course during your stay, it is best to book ahead and also obviously to make sure your stay is longer than the duration of the selected course.

Map of Sodwana Bay and surrounds

Where to stay

Checkout the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife website for information on staying in the campsite or book accommodation in Sodwana Bay now on Booking.com


What to pack

All diving equipment (both hard and soft gear including wetsuits) are available for hire, so it is not necessary to travel with your own equipment. Otherwise, bring along:

  • Hat, sun cream and sunglasses.
  • Beach clothes and warm clothes to change into after diving.
  • Sea sickness medication.
  • Drinking water for your time on the boat.

When to go

Water temperatures vary from 28°C in March and April to 20°C between August and September. The surf launch, and diving trips are weather-dependent but available year-round. KwaZulu-Natal is famous for having some of the best winter weather in South Africa, so the months from April to August are ideal for both beach and diving weather.

Getting there

From the N2, take the R22 to Mbazwana. From here, take the A1108 to Sodwana Bay which is approximately 11 km away. Mbazwana is the best place to stock up on groceries and anything else you may need (camping gas cylinder refills etc.), although bread and milk and a few other things are available within Sodwana Bay.

There is a per person and per vehicle charge to enter the Sodwana Bay section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. For current prices and gate opening times consult iSimangaliso’s website.

Contact details: +27 35 571 0051

Bevan at the pool in Sodwana Bay
Bevan completing his Discover SCUBA course with the guys from Adventure Mania.

Sodwana Bay is a well-stocked town with plenty of restaurants, accommodation and smaller shops to choose from. The town of Mbazwana is approximately 11 km inland of Sodwana Bay and has a wider variety of larger shops and services.

Diving is an extreme sport and is not recommended for people suffering from certain medical conditions including severe asthma, cardiac conditions and back injuries. Make enquiries before booking a trip.

What to do next

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Find a place to stay in Sodwana Bay


Find more things to do in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park