Most of Cape Town’s popular dive sites are rocky reef systems or wrecks. Sea bamboo is usually found in the kelp forests in or surrounding reef dive sites.
The water temperature varies from 8 to 16 degrees on the Atlantic side of the Cape peninsula, but it averages about 12 degrees throughout the year. On the False Bay side the temperature varies from 13 to 19 degrees and in summer may even go over 20 degrees. Regardless, a good 5mm wetsuit with hood is essential all year round and so too are gloves and neoprene socks.
The water visibility is usually good on the Atlantic side during summer months when the SE wind blows. False Bay usually cleans up in the winter months when the NW wind blows.
Justin’s Caves is in the same general area of the Oudekraal MPA as Strawberry Rocks. Looking out to sea, Justin’s Caves is the southern group of rocks. The rocks are clusters of granite boulders with amazing swim-throughs, walls and caves beneath them. When water visibility is good, the colourful reef life makes this an unforgettable dive.
The numerous swim-throughs is the biggest drawcard for this site. However, as this means entering overhead environments with the possibility of surge on rougher days, strict buddy diving is essential!
The site can be reached from shore in 5 minutes, but requires swimming over thick kelp. In places you might need to pull yourself over the top of the sea bamboo. The depth ranges from 8 to 13m and 15m can be found on the flat reef to the north of the dive site. The visibility on a good day will be around 8 to 10m, but can be as good as 20m on ideal summer days. Justin’s Caves is best suited for intermediate or advanced freedivers. Some of the swim-throughs are suitable for beginner freedivers, but they should be accompanied by a more experienced freediver.
If you want to see sharks and lots of them, then Shark Alley in the Castle Rock MPA is the place to freedive! Resident cow sharks, also known as 7-gill sharks, can be found most of the year, swimming in channels that weave through the kelp forests. You are almost guaranteed to encounter at least one cow shark on a dive, but you’ll usually see several of varying sizes. They do tend to decrease in numbers between September and December though. However, if you are unlucky enough not to see a cow shark, then there are several other species of shark to be found here including spotted-gully sharks, pyjama sharks and puffadder shysharks.
For this freedive you’ll definitely want to take along a camera or make sure one of your dive buddies has a camera. The photos of you freediving alongside a 3m shark will have your friends green with envy and thinking that you are incredibly brave. Ironically cow sharks are very placid and attacks on divers are almost unheard of. The only reported incidents of cow sharks being aggressive have come from spearfishermen who have lost catches to them.
The site is easily reached from shore, but the entry and exit point can be tricky in rougher conditions. The deeper parts of Shark Alley are around 8m while the thicker kelp forest closer to shore where you’ll find spotted gully sharks is about 3-4m deep. It is suitable for freedivers of all levels. If the visibility is good then snorkelers will also enjoy watching the sharks swimming below them.
Strawberry Rocks is located in the Oudekraal Marine Protected Area (MPA) on the Atlantic seaboard. It consists of two exposed rocks used by a small number of Cape fur seals as a colony. The much larger rock formation next to Strawberry Rocks, known as “Geldkis”, is also home to a few seals. Not surprisingly then, this is a great place to freedive and interact with seals.
For freedivers, this is a good alternative to Duiker Island. Strawberry Rocks offers more depth, stunning bolder strewn topography and a few swim-throughs, but the small number of seals can be both a positive and a negative. If the visibility is decent and the seals are playful then you are almost guaranteed a very playful and intimate dive. However the downside is that if the visibility is poor or the seals are not in the mood for games, then you will have to take pleasure from the smaller marine life in the area.
The site can be reached from shore, but requires a 10 minute swim with long fins. The depth ranges from 8 to 15m on the seaward side of the rocks. The shallower kelp forest on the landward side of the rocks ranges from 1 to 5m in depth. The water temperature varies from 8 to 16 degrees, but averages around 12 degrees. It is suitable for freedivers of all levels and even strong snorkelers.
Blue Rock Quarry
Blue Rock Quarry is the primary depth training site in Cape Town. Ironically it isn’t in the ocean, it’s a flooded quarry. In terms of flooded quarries, Blue Rock is as good as it gets. The visibility ranges between 4m – 9m and about 1m at the bottom (-40m below the surface). It’s ideal for freediving training as it is deep, with calm water and can be freedived almost any day of the year.
It is located just off the N2 highway below Sir Lowry’s Pass near Gordon’s Bay. Entry and diving for the day is R130 for freedivers. There is a restaurant, shop, toilets and changing rooms, but they are located away from the diving area.
The maximum depth is a very dark 46m. In summer months the surface temperature is reasonably warm in the high 20s, but with a cold thermocline at around 15m. In winter the surface temperature matches the cold air temperature getting down to 13-14 degrees, but fortunately there is no thermocline.
Cape Town Swimming Pools
There are many public and private pools in and around Cape Town that can be used for freediving. Three public swimming pools are used the most: Sea Point, Long Street and Strand public pools.
Sea Point is an outdoor venue and has a 50m salt water pool as well as a 5m deep diving pool. Neither are heated and the pool closes at 5pm in winter, so this is mainly a summer training venue.
Long Street is an indoor, heated (sometimes) 25m pool open all year round until 7pm. In winter however the swim clubs make use of half the pool from about 6pm so things can get a bit cramped in the evenings.
Strand pool is a beautiful indoor, heated, 50m pool, but is unfortunately 50km away from Cape Town. This venue is therefore only used for competitions.
The variety of fish species and invertebrates found here makes Castle Rock a pleasurable and educational freedive. You will see Red Roman, Jan Bruin, Galjoen, Zebra, Knifejaw, Hottentots, Red Stumpnose, Red Steenbras, White Steenbras, Butterfish, abalone and octopus. The interesting underwater topography adds to the experience with a few small swim-throughs, caves and crevices amongst the big boulders found in the area.
This is another freedive on which you will want to have a camera. The number and variety of fish will give you the feeling that you are diving in the Two Oceans Aquarium.
This is a shore dive, which starts in shallow water over a sandy patch and then drops to a rocky 10m on the seaward side of the big boulders. The reef stretches out seawards and 18m sections can be found, but the deeper sections are best freedived from a boat. Patches of sea bamboo can be found around the dive site. Castle Rock should be freedived in good visibility and is suitable for freedivers of all levels.