The dive sites at North Lion's Paw or just North Paw are in the Clifton area on the Atlantic seaboard of the Cape Peninsula, near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The sites include North Lion's Paw, North Paw Cave Rock, Monty's Pinnacles, Barry's Pinnacles, the Northern Pinnacles and Eastern Pinnacle.
This can be a spectacular site in good conditions. It is an extensive area of granite reef, marked by exposed rocks identified on the charts as North Lion's Paw. A popular part of the site is the Cave Rock, a large arched granite boulder, which is slightly offshore from the exposed rocks. Monty's Pinnacles is a pair of pinnacles on an east-west ridge slightly to the north, Northern Pinnacles are further north and a bit east of Monty's, and the Eastern Pinnacle is to the east and a bit north of the main reef.
1 North Lion's Paw: Exposed rocks: S33°55.854’ E018°21.849’ — about 1 km offshore of the headland between Bantry Bay and Clifton
This site is in the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area since 2004. A permit is required.
The name "North Lion's Paw" is an allusion to the mountain "Lion's Head" directly above Clifton. The mountain is likened to the head of a reclining lion, whose back is Signal Hill, and whose paws are the two groups of rocks to the south and north of Clifton. Monty's Pinnacles are named for the diver who found them on a scooter excursion from the Cave Rock in 2010. The Northern and Eastern pinnacles were found on echo sounder by Blue Flash charters during dives in the area, and are also identifiable on recent sidescan surveys of the region made by the Council for Geoscience for the South African Ecological Observation Network (SAEON) as part of the Fish and Invertebrate (FIN) reef monitoring project. Barry's Pinnacles were reported by Dive Action charters.
The main reef extends from above the surface to about 25 m in the immediate vicinity, while the other points of interest may extend a bit deeper to a depth of about 27 m, but do not reach the surface. Dives are likely to average about 15 to 20 m.
The whole area is an extensive granite reef. There are occasional sand patches in the bottom of gullies and other local low points, but most of the bottom is rock.
Geology: Granite of the late Pre-Cambrian Peninsula pluton
The site is exposed to the south west swell, so should be dived in low swell, and is more likely to be good after south east wind. The site is reasonably protected from south east winds, and there is not enough fetch to push up much of a chop, but if the wind is strong the boat trip may be very bumpy and wet.
The site is usually at it's best in summer but there may be occasional opportunities in autumn and early winter.
This is an area which sometimes has upwellings, caused by the south east wind, resulting in cold clear water, which may develop a plankton bloom over a few days which will reduce the visibility again. However, the surface layer of "red tide" may overlay clearer water below, and for example, you may descend through 3 m of murky green water with orange flecks to about 10 m and into a relatively dark but clear bottom layer with visibility exceeding 15 m. It will still be cold — the temperature may drop by up to 3° at the thermocline
There may be a slight surface current, which can be inconvenient if you delay after entering the water, as you may then miss the shotline and end up on a different part of the reef.
Look for forecasts of several days of strong south easterly winds and low south west component to the swell. The waters off Clifton are relatively protected from the south easterly wind, particularly closer inshore, and the surface conditions in this area may be more pleasant that at sites further to the north or south if the wind is strong.
This is a boat dive. The site is about 7.2 km from Oceana Power Boat Club slipway, Granger Bay, or a bit further from Cape Town Harbour V&A Waterfront.
Dive at one of the listed drop points and explore the vicinity.
1 North Lion's Paw: Exposed rocks: S33°55.854’ E018°21.849’ — about 1 km offshore of the headland between Bantry Bay and Clifton. Maximum depth is about 25 m, and the top of the reef is exposed. The main reef is a cluster of huge granite corestone boulders, on a base of low granite reef. Some of the boulders have swim-throughs between or under them, and there are several very large overhangs, The side exposed to the south west swell has strong surge in the shallower parts, even when the swell is quite low and there is little surge at other parts of the reef. This is largely due to the varied heights of the tops of the boulders, which create gaps which accelerate the water flow. The leeward side is far less turbulent, and a more relaxed dive. Some of the swim-throughs are said to be quite large. The highest pinnacle extends above the water at all states of the tide.
2 Cave Rock: S33°55.847’ E018°21.789’ — about 75 m to the west of the exposed rocks. Maximum depth is about 23 m, and the top of the rock over the cave is about 15 m. Average depth is likely to be about 18 m. The bottom is large flattish outcrops of granite, with a huge corestone boulder about 20 m long N-S and 10m E-W (magnetic) with a deeply concave underside resting on 3 points to form a cavernous swim-through arch, possibly 4 to 5 m high in the middle, where the roof will trap air bubbles. the north side has a small entry arch, but those to the east and west are large flat arches, probably over 10 m long in each case. The East and West arches are much higher than the north entry, and quite impressive. The rock surface this boulder stands on is fairly flat, sloping down slightly to the north, then quite steeply right at the north exit. The top of the rock is at about 15 m and the floor of the cave at about 22 m at the low point. There is another fairly large boulder to the north of it and another to the north west, both quite close and not nearly as large. The exposed rocks of North Paw are about 75 m inshore of this cave rock. This is a spectacular site in good visibility, and would make a very interesting night dive.
3 Monty's Pinnacles (East): S33°55.797' E018°21.808' — about 100 m due north (magnetic) from the exposed rocks. Maximum depth at the base of the ridge is about 28 m, and the tops of the pinnacles are at 10 m and 12 m. This section of the reef is to the north west of the main reef, and comprises a long granite ridge rising from the bottom at about 25 to 28 m depth to the north and south, to a depth of about 19 m on top to the west, with two pinnacles at 10 m and 12 m. The 10 m pinnacle is at the east end of the ridge, which lies approximately east/west. The reef to the west slopes gradually down to about 32 m and is relatively flat. The eastern pinnacle is very sheer sided and only a few metres wide. The top is rounded and the north side slightly overhangs the bottom which is at about 20 m. The western pinnacle is wider and flat topped and also has very sheer sides to the north and west. The ridge between these pinnacles is jointed relatively closely, and has a grooved appearance. Beyond this relatively high section, the reef to the west is generally lower, at about 19 m on top, and there are a pair of outliers to the north of this ridge which are shallower than 18 m on top (probably 14 to 16 m). The bottom between these outliers and the main ridge is at about 25 m.
The ridge has several interesting topographical features, including the pinnacles already mentioned, several cracks, and at least two swim-throughs, one of which is triangular in section and goes through the ridge from north to south, and is big enough to drive a scooter through at full speed without risk of touching the sides. The walls of this swim-through are covered with pink Noble corals. The triangular swim-through is to the west of the two pinnacles. The swim-through is reported to be about 30 m west of the pinnacles, at a depth of about 24 m, but this is not yet confirmed by survey.
There are sand patches immediately adjacent to the west side of the ridge both to the north and south, at estimated depths of about 27 m. The extent of these patches is not known, but they don't look very big.
4 Northern Pinnacles: S33°55.745' E018°21.879' — about 200 m due 037°(magnetic} from the exposed rocks. Maximum depth is probably about 24 m. Extensive areas to the north are about 21 m or slightly less. The top of the high pinnacle is about 5.5 m, and the lower pinnacle to the north is about 14 m. The Northern Pinnacles are about 140 m bearing 071°magnetic from Monty's pinnacle. A pinnacle rising from a relatively flat bottom of low reef at around 20 to 24 m depth, to roughly 6 m on the top. The pinnacle is steep and precipitous on most of the sides, and is surrounded by a number of lower but fairly rugged and steep rocks. The pinnacle is fairly flat-topped, and is about 25 m long and 8 m wide. The walls are indented by a number of shallow and deep vertical crevices, and the whole formation is covered by rather colourful benthic invertebrates, mostly sponges, sea cucumbers, strawberry anemones and ascidians. The top has a covering of large red-bait pods and some short kelp. Shoals of Hottentot seabream may be seen, and possibly shoals of Maasbanker. A short distance to the north there is a lower but wider pinnacle, rising to a bit less than 14 m. The adjacent reef further to the north and east is mostly moderate to low profile.
5 Eastern Pinnacle: S33°55.807' E018°22.019' — about 270 m due 099°(magnetic} from the exposed rocks, and is about 240 m due 143°(magnetic) from Northern Pinnacles. Maximum depth about 24 m, and top of the pinnacles at about 10 m. The Eastern Pinnacle is about 45 m wide east to west and 40 m north to south at the 18 m contour. This is a compact pinnacle area with 3 peaks rising above the 12 m contour, and separated by deep, narrow gaps running roughly north-south. The central peak is the largest and it is nearly split by a deep crack running from south to north. The sides are quite steep, and the benthic cover is similar to that on the Northern Pinnacles at similar depth, but with fewer warty yellow sponges.
6 Barry's Pinnacles: S33°55.841' E018°21.647' — about 300 m due 299°(magnetic) from the exposed rocks. Maximum depth about 27 m, and top of the big pinnacle at about 17 m. The two lesser pinnacles to the east reach up to about 20 m. Pinnacles rising to about 17 m depth were reported about 300 m directly offshore from North Paw main reef by Dive Action charters. There are at least 3 pinnacles running in a line from the highest in the west to east. Maximum depth reported is 27 m, but there should be 30 m within 100m of the pinnacle to the south west. The area is mostly low flat granite outcrops at 24 to 27 m, with occasional small sand patches, and quite a large area of low boulders to the south. The main pinnacle rises from a slightly undercut base at about 25 to 26 m, up to about 17 m on top. The sides are very sheer, and there is a lower boulder of considerable size just to the north. To the east there is a gap of several metres before reaching the second pinnacle, which rises from about 25 m to about 20 m, and a fairly narrow gap to the third pinnacle, which is of similar size.
Other parts of the reef
- There is a tall narrow round topped isolated rock near to Monty's Pinnacles, and a sandy bottomed gully to the south of them, on the way to the Cave Rock. The positions of these are not recorded.
- The area between Eastern pinnacle and Northern pinnacle appears to have a number of fairly large outcrops rising several metres off the bottom, but nothing as big as the two pinnacles mentioned. This information is based on sonar data from Blue Flash charters, and the area has not been dived.
The site is too large to see everything on one dive.
Main reef: — Drop in to the west of the exposed rock, dive to the bottom and work your way around the reef back to the west side. Take care if the surge is strong that you are not washed through a gap or over the top of the reef. This can usually be avoided by keeping deep on the south side if the surge is strong. The lee side is safer, and you can swim shallower here to extend dive time or just look at the shallower areas. Surface away from the reef so the boat can pick you up safely. This can be conveniently done by swimming north or west away from the reef at the safety stop.
Cave Rock: — There is a great deal to see by circling the rock and swimming through the cavern, then starting the ascent by working your way up to the top of the rock. If you have enough air, you can swim east from the east end of the arch to the main reef, where there is a huge amount to see. Follow the reef around to the leeward side (north side) if the swell is strong, and do not surface close to the reef on the south side, or you may find yourself unintentionally on the north side anyway. The boat will not be able to approach the reef closely from the south to pick you up.
Monty's Pinnacles: — Drop off the boat at the east pinnacle, and swim west along the ridge past the lower pinnacle to the triangular section swimthrough, through this, and back east to the pinnacle for your ascent. If you have enough air, explore the ridge further west before turning back east.
If you start at the main reef you could visit the northern pinnacles by swimming about 40 m due north magnetic from the northern extreme of the main reef, or about 80 m at 030°magnetic from the cave. The northern ridge is big enough to be an easy target.
Northern Pinnacles: — This would probably be a specific planned dive, with a shotline at the pinnacle, and divers dedicating the dive to the local area, but it could quite easily be reached from Monty's pinnacles on a compass swim. The course is 071°magnetic for 140 m. The pinnacle is a reasonably large target and should not be too difficult to find.
Barry's Pinnacles: — This would be a specifically planned dive, probably with a shotline at the pinnacle, particularly if there is a current running. The area is large and generally very open and flat except for the pinnacles, which are the main feature, The big pinnacle to the west will probably occupy your attention for most of the dive, but if you want to explore further, the two minor pinnacles to the east are worth a visit. Either return to the shot to ascend, or shoot a DSMB where it suits you best.
Main Reef: —
Noble corals and sponge
Violet spotted anemone
Cave Rock: — Spectacular encrustation of noble coral, soft corals, colonial ascidians, sea fans and particularly sponges on the lower sides and underside of the rock, with large red-bait pods on the upper areas. The low flat rocks are mostly covered with encrusting sponges, urchins, grey sea cucumbers and a few low growing split-fan kelp.
Life under the arch
Monty's Pinnacles: — The tops of the pinnacles have small split-fan kelp forests with anemones and red bait pods, and the sheer walls are heavily encrusted with hard and soft corals, bushy hydroid colonies, anemones, black sea cucumbers, and large areas of sponges. The flatter areas of deep reef have the usual sea urchins. Large West coast rock lobster may be seen anywhere on this reef.
Kelp crab hiding in a sponge
Seal visiting diver at the safety stop
North-eastern Pinnacle— Small split-fan kelp forest with red bait on top of the pinnacle, and the walls are covered with brightly coloured sponges, soft corals, occasional sea fans, bryozoans, noble corals, anemones and grey sea cucumbers. Large aggregations of medium sized West coast rock lobster have been observed clustering on the walls, but this is probably not a common occurrence, and may be connected with the conditions, which were cold and dark, with visibility about 3 m.
Barry's Pinnacle — Small split fan kelp forest on top of pinnacles
Sponge with crab sheltering in a hole at Barry's Pinnacles
Brown false coral with brittle stars and noble coral
Soft and noble corals
A good site for macro and wide angle photography. External flash will usually be necessary for wide angle work.
Cold water, Strong surge, and white water around the top of the main reef. Sea urchins. Strong offshore winds may develop over a short time. South easterly winds can cause a surface drift which can take you away from the place you want to be if you hang around at the surface, and swimming back to the shotline can be quite tiring.
No special skills required, though the ability to deploy a DSMB is useful in case you are separated from the group or need to surface away from the shot line. The site is generally a bit deep for beginners as surge in the shallow parts tends to be quite strong, and is only suitable for divers certified for depths over 20 m.
A shot line and/or DSMB is recommended to control ascent rate and allow the boat to keep track of independent groups. A light will allow the full colour of the underside of the rock in overhangs and swimthroughs to be appreciated. A dry suit is recommended if you have the option as it is likely to be cold. This is a good site for photography, particularly under the cave rock. Nitrox can significantly increase no stop time. A compass will help if you want to visit different sections of the reef on one dive, and to swim away from the reef during the safety stop, so that you can surface in a convenient place to be picked up by the boat.
- 1 Three Anchor Bay
- 2 Sea Point Ridge Pinnacles
- 3 Bantry Bay
- 4 South Lion’s Paw
- 5 Clifton Rocks
- 6 Cleeve's Tunnel
- 7 Bakoven Rock
Back to the Alphabetical list of sites, or list of dive sites in the Clifton area
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