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Named after the HMS Thunderbolt that wrecked in 1847 on the reefs off Port Elizabeth, Thunderbolt Reef has become a desirable dive site with divers of all skills attracted to the wrecks, drop-offs and deep ravines. Accessing the reef is via Cape Recife, a splendidly scenic nature reserve along the coast that looks out onto the warm Indian Ocean. Thunderbolt Reef has been the cause of a number of shipwrecks over the years and the warm water, bright sunlight and fast moving currents are ideal breeding grounds for coral. The wrecks are gradually being covered by hard and soft coral and are frequented by brightly coloured fish, effervescent nudibranchs (sea slugs) and large predator fish. A great location to explore is the Greek ship Kapodistrias that wrecked here in 1985 and rests at a depth of around 12m. At the time of the calamity, the ship was carrying 28000 tons of sugar.
Spear fishermen visit in October when musselcracker fish form large shoals around the reef and why they congregate at this time of the year is somewhat of a mystery.
It’s not uncommon to see sand tiger sharks, dolphins and the occasional lone great white shark patrolling the area so make sure you have your GoPro at the ready.
Care must be taken when diving alone due to strong surge caused by fast moving currents, always use a DSMB (deployable surface marker buoy) to advertise your location to vessels.
Port Elizabeth has hosted the Wildside Dive Festival since 1996 and it’s the largest diving event on the calendar. Several dive sites are earmarked, including Thunderbolt Reef, for visiting divers to explore, while on the beach there are food stalls, live music and various locations to fill cylinders.