Shelly Beach, Protea Banks - not for the faint hearted

By Amilda Boshoff
Photos By Johan Boshoff & Afican Dive Adventures

ImageAmilda Boshoff visited Shelly Beach and its surrounds to bring to you the jewels of our rich south coast along with great, thrilling dive experiences.

The south coast of KwaZulu-Natal is a land of golden beaches, forests, rolling hills and almost all year round sunshine, making it one of the prime holiday destinations in southern Africa. Situated approximately 160km from Durban is a town called Shelly Beach which is perhaps better known for its well appointed shopping centre, the National Sea Rescue Institute base and for being the home of a very successful, well patronised ski boat club rather than for being a beach resort. Because of its close proximity to the Protea Banks and the ski boat launch from the small craft harbour, Shelly Beach has become a thriving dive centre. This site is renowned as one of the finest shark dive sites in the world with many shark species, including Ragged-tooth, Zambezi, Hammerheads, Tigers, Black Tips and the occasional Great White to name a few.

The people on the coast are very friendly and laid back, a huge change from those caught up in the rat race in Gauteng. Planning a getaway or a holiday for the whole family needn’t be a headache because there is lots to see and do. From abseiling at Oribi Gorge to sipping something cool in the sun on the beach, Shelly has something for everyone.

In the accommodation department, there are a variety of options, including self-catering accommodation, luxury apartments, B&B’s, country lodges, beachfront hotels and caravan and camping sites. The emphasis is on a laid back, outdoor lifestyle, designed to take maximum advantage of the wonderful natural surroundings and the beautiful blue ocean.

Entertainment, restaurants, health services and fuel are all readily available in and around the Shelly Beach area, but power cuts are now an integral part of every day life in South Africa. So now planning a dive asks for a little bit of extra planning – cylinder fills will just have to wait if the power is out, or be prepared and fill two cylinders beforehand!


If you always want to see the bigger things that the ocean has to offer, this site is for you. Protea Banks is situated 7,5km straight out to sea off Shelly Beach and is a fossilised sand dune reef that lies in an east to west direction along the coast between 27m and 40m. It is approximately 6km long and 800m in width. There are two distinct areas on which all the dive charters focus – Southern and Northern Pinnacles. Ranked amongst the top shark and game fish dives in the world, Protea Banks offers you a variety of sharks and pelagic fish on almost every dive.

ImageDuring the summer months the Zambezi shark makes the banks its home. Hammerheads are often seen overhead – not just one or two, but in their hundreds. Guitar sharks, Coppers and Black tips frequent this reef, while a fortunate few get the privilege of seeing the elusive Tiger shark. In the winter months the Ragged-tooth Sharks congregate on Protea to mate. Aside from the sharks, a vast number of game fish such as Barracuda, Snappers, Tuna, Yellowtail, Kingfish and Potato bass to name but a few, can be spotted on the dives. Other different species that you can encounter on the dive are the Humpback whale, Spotted eagle ray, Manta ray, Devil ray, Whale shark and Bridle bass.

ImageProtea Banks offers an exceptionally exciting specialty shark dive for locals and international visitors called Baited Shark diving, where divers can encounter sharks on scuba like never before. It is done safely and every effort is made not to feed sharks but only to lure them into an area where divers can observe them much closer than on other dives done at Protea Banks.

There are two dive operators in the area bit only one that does the new Baited Shark diving. For more information about the Baited Shark diving, visit

Northern Pinnacles

Depth: 33-40m

This is an ideal area for Nitrox diving and it has a magnificent topography. This part of the reef is only dived in winter during the Raggie season. The reef is virtually untouched and undamaged and has two large cave systems which are used by the Ragged-tooth sharks as resting zones on their annual migration and congregation route. On a good day, divers can encounter up to 200 sharks in an area smaller than half a rugby field. The dive starts at the large cave, looking in from the top and observing Raggies interacting peacefully with each other. Often the caves are so full of sharks that one can hardly see the bottom. Divers then pass the tunnel, past the coral garden, and get to the second cave. This cave is also open on top and features several chambers, each one with a wide opening at the top ceiling. If there are no ImageRaggies in the caves, it is great fun exploring the chambers and looking for shark’s teeth which are generally plentiful. These are the only souvenirs that divers are allowed to remove from the reef. As spring morphs into summer, large shoals of Hammerhead sharks frequent this part of the reef. The best time to dive the Northern Pinnacles is between June and November. It truly is one of the best dives on earth.

Southern Pinnacles

Depth: 26-40m

The dive starts at the Southern Cave which hosts all sorts of game and reef fish, often so thick that it is hard to see your buddy. Then you reach Kingfish Gully, an overhanging rock which is home to large shoals of Kingfish, Yellowtail, Kaakap, Sea Pike Tunny, Potato bass and many more species. The current then takes you to a large sandy patch called Sand Shark Gully. It lies at exactly 40m and is home to the Giant guitar shark. At times 50 to 60 of these magnificent creatures are seen lined up like planes at an airport. The best months to see Tiger sharks are April and May, although they are sighted right throughout the year. This area is home to the Zambezi shark (Bull shark), which is what Protea Banks initially became famous for. From October to May, some very large specimens can be encountered here. In the beginning of the Zambezi season, they tend to keep a safe distance from the divers, though this distance gets reduced as time goes by. Scalloped hammerhead sharks are also seen shoaling at this time and they can come past in several hundreds at a time. Hunting packs of Great hammerheads and Blacktips are also a common site.

Things to do

  • For those not diving the whole holiday through or those not diving at all, the south coast has a number of very interesting things to do and places to see.
  • Inkwazi River Resort – Home to a Fish Eagle family plus many other species. Port Shepstone area – 039-682-1928.
  • Uvongo Bird Park – An amazing variety of exotic and indigenous birds in walk-through aviaries with a tea garden off the R680 just south of Uvongo – 039-317-4086.
  • Butterflies of the Lost World – Guided tours through a special butterfly dome with a tea garden, curio shop and a nursery. Fascadale Road, Ramsgate – 039-314-9307/084-724-7488.
  • Beaver Creek Coffee Estate – Come and sample the taste of farm-fresh coffee. Beaver Creek offers daily ‘crop-to-cup’ tours, demonstrating the distinctive flavours of the world’s coffee regions and the production skills required in creating the perfect cup. You can also lunch at the Estate restaurant – 039-311-2347 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
  • Riverbend Crocodile Farm – Hundreds of crocodiles and numerous bird species with a curio shop, art gallery and the famous Crocpot Restaurant. Just off the R620 near the Southbroom turnoff – This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
  • Coastal Treasures Museum – Jo Arkell's Pottery Studio. Old Pont Road, Port Edward – 039-311-1672 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
  • Margate Art Museum – The largest art museum in KwaZulu-Natal. Vikings Road, Margate – 039-312-8392.
  • Port Shepstone Maritime Museum - A graphic history of the trials and tribulations of the old Port Shepstone harbour – 039-682-2195.
  • Wild West Museum – A whole herd of surprises awaits you at Ramsgate's Pistols Saloon – 039-316-8463.
  • Mpenjati Public Resort Nature Reserve – Hugging the coastline between Trafalgar and Palm Beach, this great little reserve comprises an interesting blend of marked walking trails amongst wetlands, beaches, sand dunes, lagoon, grassland and lush coastal forest. Birdlife abounds and there are picnic spots with ablution facilities along both sides of the lagoon – 039-313-0531 or KZN Wildlife on 033-845-1000.
  • Oribi Gorge Game Reserve – See giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, rock art and 250 recorded bird species. Take N2 Oribi Gorge turnoff and follow signs – 039-679-1644/083-257-9468.
  • Petrified Fossil Forest – A never-to-be-forgotten prehistoric experience. Port Edward area – 039-311-1211.
  • River Valley Nature Reserve – Scenic walks through grasslands and coastal forests with abundant birdlife and small game. Includes riverside picnic spots, camping, climbing and horse riding. Follow sign off Seaslopes Road just after Margate Country Club – 039-317-3474/072-623-8568.
  • Pure Venom Snake & Reptile Farm – South Africa’s largest educational reptile farm which includes a restaurant and a curio shop. Port Shepstone area – 039-685-0704/082-492-8256.
  • Wild 5 Oribi Gorge Swing – For the adrenaline junkie! Abseil, swing, hike and river raft – 039- 687-0253/ 082-337-3746 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Author: Amilda Boshoff