The Ins and Outs of Diving in Cape Town

29 May 2020

By Danel Wentzel

When you think about scuba diving, usually the first image that comes to mind is diving in warm tropical waters, hovering over coral reefs. But have you considered there might be an even more colourful dive site out there, teaming with life?

Along Cape Town’s shores there lives a world beneath the waves. From the surface, kelp forests just look like floating, slimy plants, but once you submerge underneath, you will see an alien landscape come to life. In these kelp forests live over 14 000 documented species of marine animals (Bolton et al., 2011).

Cape Town | kelp | kelp forest | scuba dive | underwater

Cape Town is one of the largest cities in South Africa and among the most multicultural in the world. Cape Town is uniquely situated on the tip of Southern Africa, surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. The Atlantic Ocean brings cold water upwards from the icy poles where the Indian ocean brings down warm water from the Mozambique channel. The meeting of these warm and cold-water masses has resulted in a huge diversity of life underwater.

Kelp (Ecklonia maxima), also known as sea bamboo, form underwater forests which can extend up to 15m (Living shores of Southern Africa, 1993). They create a unique habitat to explore, acting as a refuge for smaller species of reef fish and shysharks.

What you will see

Cape Town's underwater world is teaming with life. On a single dive you can spot a great diversity of species including octopi, crustaceans, sea fans, sponges, feather stars, brittle stars and interesting fish, like the klipfish (34 species have been described in Cape Town, most of them endemic). The Kelp forest is also home to several small sharks including catshark and shyshark species, which use the kelp as a refugia from larger predators.

Puffader shyshark

scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | seals | fur seals

Cape Fur seals

scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | octopus

Common octopus

scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | cuttlefish



scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | fish | reef fish | roman | red roman

Red Roman

Cape Rock crab

Brittle stars

Over 80 species of nudibranchia have been described in Cape Town (Zsilavecz, 2017).

scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | nudibranch

The Gas Flame

scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | nudibranch

Twin Crown

scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | nudibranch


scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | nudibranch

Cape Dorid

scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | dive gear | wetsuit
scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | dive gear | wetsuit

Cape Town 101

Usually the first response I get when telling people that I dive in Cape Town is “but don’t you get cold?" The answer to that is simple – Yes.

Cape Town’s water is much colder than tropical coral reefs, but you won’t go diving in a shorty. I usually compare diving in cold water to skiing in the snow, you won’t go skiing in a bikini, so why would you go diving in the cold without the proper exposure protection? The most important thing when planning to dive in Cape Town is having the correct wetsuit (We usually dive with 7mm, gloves and a hood), and when the temperature gets to single digits (like the Atlantic side in winter) you might want to consider a dry-suit.

Cape Town has dive sites for all diver levels', from shallow shore dives to deeper wreck dives and swim throughs. So if you are a beginner, a guided shore dive would be recommended, where you will walk straight from the beach into the ocean to go explore the kelp forests. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous Cape Town's shoreline hosts numerous shipwrecks and large rocky reefs you can explore by boat.

When to dive

Despite the cold water Cape Town has a Mediteranean climate with hot summers and rainy winters. Diving is possible all year round, but you can expect colder temperatures during winter months (May-July).

Summer Diving - Atlantic Seaboard (October to February)

  • an average water temperature of about 13°C

  • average visibility of about 10m

  • beautiful reefs, kelp forests and shipwreck dives, both shore and boat-based

When the south-easterly wind has been blowing the visibility can reach up to 20m, but then the temperatures tend to drop to about 10°C.

Winter Diving - False Bay (March to September)

  • average water temperatures - between 12°C and 18°C

  • average visibility of about 6m

  • excellent shore dive sites, deeper reefs and wreck dives accessed by boat

As with surfing in False Bay, scuba diving is best in the winter when the northwester blows, which improves the visibility (up to 15m).

scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | beach | dive site
scuba | dive | Cape Town | kelp forest | underwater | beach | dive gear | bikini

In a seashell

  • You can dive in Cape Town without losing any fingers or toes - as long as you wear the appropriate exposure protection.

  • You don’t have to be a pro to dive in the kelp forest – although if you are a beginner or new to diving in Cape Town, having a local guide would be advised.

  • Diving is all year around. The Atlantic seaboard is dived mainly in summer months where False Bay is dived during winter.

  • You likely won't encounter jaws - so you can keep calm and enjoy your diving experience.


  • Bolton, J., Anderson, R., Smit, A. and Rothman, M., 2012. South African kelp moving eastwards: the discovery ofEcklonia maxima(Osbeck) Papenfuss at De Hoop Nature Reserve on the south coast of South Africa. African Journal of Marine Science, 34(1), pp.147-151.

  • Branch, G., Branch, M. and Bannister, A., 1993. The Living Shores Of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik.

  • Zsilavecz, G., 2007. Nudibranchs Of The Cape Peninsula And False Bay. Cape Town: Southern Underwater Research Group.