A tiny scoop in the Zululand Coast, SODWANA BAY is the only breach in an almost flawless strand extending 170km from St Lucia to Kosi Bay. It’s the fortuitous convergence of the bay (which makes it easy to launch boats), with the world’s southernmost coral reefs that makes Sodwana the most popular base in the country for scuba diving and the most popular KZN Wildlife resort. Because the continental shelf comes extremely close to shore (near-vertical drops are less than 1km away), it offers very deep waters, much loved by anglers who gather here for some of South Africa’s best deep-sea game fishing, mostly tag and release. The abundance of game fish also makes for some of the best surf fly-fishing in the country.
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When there’s no one around, Sodwana Bay is paradise, with tepid waters, terrific sandy beaches, relaxed diving and snorkelling, and plenty of accommodation. Over weekends and during school holidays, however, fashion-conscious Jo’burgers tear down in their 4WDs, while thick-set anglers from Gauteng, Free State and Mpumalanga come here and drink themselves into a stupor. Thankfully, government regulations now limit the number of 4WDs using the beach as a car park. A gentler presence from mid-November to February are the leatherback and loggerhead turtles, who make their way onto Sodwana’s beaches to reproduce, as they’ve been doing for the last 60,000 years.
The national park takes in the bay itself, while the desultory collection of shops and an upmarket lodge that pass for the town are 8km to the west, back along the Mbazwana road.
Diving and snorkelling in Sodwana Bay
Unless you’re a keen angler, the principal reason to come to Sodwana Bay is for the diving off the coral reefs that thrive here in the warm waters carried down the coast by the Agulhas current. The sea is clear, silt-free and perfect for spotting some of the 1200 varieties of fish that inhabit the waters off northern KwaZulu-Natal, making it second only to the Great Barrier Reef in its richness.
The closest reef to the bay, and consequently the most visited, is Two Mile Reef, 2km long and 900m wide, offering excellent dives. Among the others is Five Mile Reef, which is further north and is known for its miniature staghorn corals, while beyond that, Seven Mile Reef is inhabited by large anemone communities and offers protection to turtles and rays, which may be found resting here.
There’s excellent snorkelling at Jesser Point, a tiny promontory at the southern end of the bay. Just off here is Quarter Mile Reef, which attracts a wide variety of fish, including moray eels and rays. Low tide is the best time to venture out – a sign on the beach indicates daily tide times. You can buy competitively priced snorkels and masks (or rent them for R30 per day) from the dive shop at Sodwana Bay Lodge. Here you’ll also find a dive operation offering various diving courses, diving packages and scuba equipment rental. There is also a dive operator providing similar services at Coral Divers.