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The dive site Coral Gardens is an inshore rocky reef in the Rooi-els area on the east side of False Bay, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa.


Map of the dive site at Coral Gardens, Rooi-els
Aerial view of the dive site at Coral Gardens, Rooi-Els. (Photo CDS&M)
See also: Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay#Understand

This site has interesting and varied topography and large numbers of colourful sponges, ascidians, soft corals and sea fans.


  • S34°18.144’ E018°48.795’ 1 Coral Gardens (Rooi-els) Entry area
  • S34°18.117’ E018°48.672’ 2 Northern pinnacle 12 m.
  • S34°18.126’ E018°48.684’ 3 Central pinnacle
  • S34°18.136’ E018°48.691’ 4 Southern pinnacle

This site is not in a Marine Protected Area. A permit is not required.


The site is named "Coral Gardens" for the abundant sea fans and soft corals found in the area. The hard "Noble Coral" is also found here. It could just as well have been named Sponge Gardens, but perhaps that doesn't sound so good.


18 m is likely on an ordinary dive, 20 m is conveniently accessible, and it is possible to get 30 m over the sand after a very long swim. This is the point on the east side of False Bay where the 30 m isobath approaches the shore most closely.


This is a site where the visibility is seldom good, though rare days of over 15m have been reported. It is quite common for the visibility to vary considerably with depth. It may be fairly good at the surface, maybe 6 to 8 m, but then drop off to 3 m or less below the thermocline, and on other occasions it may be cloudy with algal bloom near the surface and open up to 6 to 8 m some way down. When it is calm and there is little surge, the fine organic silt settles on the bottom, sometimes in swathes of several centimetres depth, and this is very easily disturbed by finwash, and can destroy the visibility very quickly. Divers without expert trim and buoyancy control are likely to mess up the viz quite rapidly on those rare days when it is good. The up-side is that very few people dive this site, so the viz is usually undisturbed by divers. Unlike the west coast of the Cape Peninsula, where a strong south-easterly wind often precedes an upwelling with good visibility, at this site there is no obvious correlation and a south-easter is often followed by an upwelling with bad visibility.


This view is looking north from the high rocks to the south of the inlet, which is just beyond the fishermen on the rocks to the right of the photo. These gullies are not an alternative entry or exit as the surge is very strong even in good weather. The underwater topography is similar to this, with ridges and gullies following similar direction to those above the surface.

Rocky ridges run approximately north to south. Large outcrops and boulders make rugged relief and provide a habitat for a large variety of invertebrates. Most of the relief is in the range of 1 to 3 metres, with a notable exception at the three pinnacles which rise to about 12 m from a local maximum of about 21 m

The entry gully is quite open towards the mouth, with a bottom of smallish rounded boulders and pebbles at 4 to 6 m. This gully extends out beyond the heads, and is a useful landmark for finding your way around, though it is less clearly defined further out. It appears to be interrupted by a few low ridges. Several small sand patches in the outer gully start quite close to shore, Inshore reef to the north is mostly not very high profile, but there is a long fairly straight ridge a few metres high quite far out beyond the pinnacles. There is another long wall-like ridge closer in, which stops at the low area of the extended gully. The bottom of the low area has fairly large areas of pebbles about fist size and patches of sand. There is high profile reef further north, with long high ridges, gullies, big rocks and boulders, occasional overhangs, small caves and an arch. Probably all Peninsula formation quartzitic sandstones.

Straight out: (True west of the entry point headland) Big rocks, deep gullies until about 20 m, then lower reef with occasional pebble patches. There are three large pinnacles at the south end of a ridge, with the bottom at about 21 m and tops of the pinnacles at about 12 m. They are in a line running approximately north/south about 160 m west from the entry point The south-easternmost of these ridges has an arch feature just south of the high point at a depth of 17 m in a narrow cleft between the big 11m pinnacle and a much smaller one to the south. The northern pinnacle has a cave/swim-through under a big boulder on the eastern side, at about 20 m. This cave is accessible from at least two points at the bottom, and has a chimney against the ridge. The gully between the middle and outer ridges is deep and steep on north, east and west sides and supports a large variety of sponges. Higher up on the ridges are a variety of gorgonians and soft corals. There is another 12 m pinnacle a bit further north-weat, which may be a continuation of the ridge. The reef continues out to about 350 m offshore, where it drops slightly to almost level sand.

North of gully mouth: Close ridges and gullies approximately parallel to shore, mostly not very long, and tending downwards fairly fast. Big boulders and outcrops further out.

South of gully mouth: Big rocks and ridges approximately parallel to overall shore line.

Geology: Ordovician sandstone of the Table Mountain group, probably Peninsula formation. Strike approximately north-east south-west, and dip about 25° south east.


Exposed to south west swell. Only diveable if the swell is low. Usually best after several days of south east wind in summer. Visibility is not often good, even when there is not much surge, as there is a very fine silt that is easily disturbed that deposits in the gullies in the deeper areas. Protected from south easterly wind, which does not produce a swell here as the fetch is too short. It may produce an upwelling of colder water from the bottom of the bay, but this is not often clear, due to the fine silt.


None. Park at the side of Rocklands road where you can find space. Do not park in driveways.

Get in[edit]

View from the road towards the entry point.
The entry gully at Coral Gardens, looking out to sea
The entry area
See also: Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay#Boat dives

Shore dive: Very limited parking at the side of Rocklands road (gravel). Turn off the R44 into Anemone street. Drive to the T-junction at the end and turn left into Rocklands road. The road swings to the right and then turns quite sharply to the left. At this point you should see a sloping rock face several metres high in front and a relatively open area sloping down to a series of small ridges and gullies and then the water on the right. Park as near to this corner as complies with the rules of the road, but not on someones driveway.

The path passes to the left of the boulder in the left foreground, then down between the ridges to the centre of the photo. The route continues between the ridges on the left side of the gap. Walk down between and over rock ridges to the entry/exit point at the side of the main gully. Access is limited to good weather with very low swell, and becomes tricky if south west swell picks up.

The entry point is at the end of this little ridge. The water is quite deep beyond the end of the ridge and it is possible to simply jump off the end of the ridge. Getting out is a bit more of an exercise, as the rock is quite steep and encrusted with barnacles. Watch the sets, choose your moment and scramble up the end of the ridge from the mouth of the gully. Try to get high enough to be out of reach of the next wave before attempting to remove kit. Reinforced kneepads and gloves are highly recommended. It is not a good idea to come into the side gullies as you will then be caught by the next wave and thrown against the rock. The alternative exit at a ledge just to seaward (left) of this gully is an easier exit in moderate surge and is suitable for use at high tide. Exit can be hard on the knees if you keep your fins on, but if you take them off in the water it can be difficult to control your position for a clean exit. Keeping one fin on may be a workable compromise, but try not to lose the other. You will need to use both hands. A buddy can be helpful here.

There are alternative exits at ledges in the gully depending on tide and sea state. Familiarise yourself before diving, and take time before attempting an exit to judge timing and strength of the surge, and choose an exit point according to conditions. Not a site for the novice or a diver unfamiliar with local conditions unless you have a guide. The little side gullies are generally unsuitable for entry or exit as the surge in them is strong.

Boat dive: The site may be dived from a boat from the local slip if you have the required permit, or from Hangklip or Gordon’s Bay, but this is quite a long ride.


Coral Gardens has a large variety of sponges
The natural arch at the first pinnacle

Marine life[edit]

See also: Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay#The marine ecology

There are kelp forests inshore and in the gully. The reef is encrusted by a large variety of interesting invertebrates, including many kinds of sponges and colonial ascidians, often under slight overhangs, or in the darker depths.

See the Gallery for more images, particularly of the variety of sponges at this site


Pinnacles, overhangs and ridges, with a few small cavern swimthroughs and a stone arch


This is a good site for close-up photography of invertebrates, particularly sponges and colonial ascidians. The generally poor visibility means that the site is usually relatively dark, so artificial light will almost always be essential, and the suspended particles will cause backscatter if internal flash is used except for close up work. Macro equipment will almost always produce good results, but close-up wide angle equipment is also likely to be suitable, as many of the more colourful subjects are in the order of 100 to 500mm across.


Enter and swim out to the mouth of the gully. There is good diving in all directions, deeper straight out.

  1. Three pinnacles tour: Swim out due west over the boulder bottom of the entry gully, keeping to the left wall, through the kelp and over the ridges beyond the mouth, down onto the wide gully which has a flattish bottom and patches of pebbles at about 10.5 m depth. Swim along near the gully bottom with the higher rocks on your right hand side. At 13 m depth you should pass a small sand patch, followed by a low, broken ridge across the gully. At 15 m depth, pass a big patch of pebbles, followed by a low smooth rock, which looks as if it gas been worn by abrasion with stones. Continue past a large rock at 17 m depth on the right hand side of the gully with an orange wall sponge to the north, and a small gully branching off about north west. Continue along the side of the wide gully a short distance past a sand patch at 18 m depth to a fairly smooth ridge crossing the gully. The ridge is a couple of metres high and tapers down from north to south and has a notch in the north side of the crest. Turn right and follow this ridge a short distance to the north, where it rises up and becomes the first pinnacle. Just over the ridge at the base of this pinnacle is the Arch, with a pothole to the right of it. Keep the pinnacle to the right and swim past it over a patch of sand bottom at about 21 m depth. On the seaward side of the pinnacle are some fairly high rocks which you keep on your right until the second pinnacle. Swim around the south side of this second pinnacle and then round to the west, to a gap between two high ridges, with a large rock in the gap. Keep this rock and the next ridge to the right and you will soon come to a large overhang with a silty bottom and a small cavern a few metres off the bottom. This ridge is the third pinnacle. Continue with the high rocks to the right, past another lower overhang, to a large boulder which has a swim-through under it with about three entries at the bottom and a chimney against the pinnacle. Proceed round the pinnacle clockwise, passing another large overhang at about 18 m depth on the seaward side. There is another lower ridge visible to seaward of this pinnacle. Continue round the pinnacle to the gap and then move to the next ridge to the east. Follow the ridges clockwise and you should end up back at the arch. Head approximately south east through a gap to return to the wide gully at the rock with the wall sponge, then keep the high rocks to the left to return to the entry gully. There is a sudden rise at the end of the low open area, where the heavy kelp starts. Keep on a course due east magnetic to get back to the entry gully, which is recognizable by the round boulder bottom and lack of kelp in the middle. Follow the southern wall of the gully until the kelp starts again and surface near the exit point. This is quite a long dive and is best done on Nitrox if you want to spend time looking at things.
  2. For a 30 m shore dive, swim out approximately 600 m on the surface on 290° magnetic, dive and attempt to find your desired depth of 30 m. This is best done at high tide, as the sand slopes very gradually away from the reef. The depth decreases gradually towards the shore, and to avoid decompression (on air) it will be necessary to swim part of the way back in mid-water. Alternatively this dive can be done on Nitrox on open circuit or a rebreather, which may allow you to stay near the bottom without incurring decompression obligations.

Stay safe[edit]

See also: Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay#Stay safe


Shore access requires a scramble over rocks. Exit can be tricky in larger swells.


No special skills required. Ability to navigate by compass is useful if diving further out, and the ability to deploy a DSMB is useful for boat dives.


See also: Diving the Cape Peninsula and False Bay#Equipment

A flashlight is useful for illuminating under overhangs. Nitrox is useful for the deeper areas and a reel and DSMB is suggested for boat dives. This is a site where a compass is particularly useful for keeping track of where you are.


Coral Gardens (Rooi-els) and nearby dive sites

Back to the Alphabetical list of sites, or list of dive sites in the Rooi-els area

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