Port Elizabeth lies to the west of Algoa Bay and Cape Padrone to the east. Although the coastline is mostly made up of sandy stretches of beach, west of Cape Recife is rocky and rugged, lending itself to some incredible dive sites, including Thunderbolt Reef.

Did you know?

Cape Recife Lighthouse was built in 1851 to warn ships approaching Algoa Bay of the shallow reefs that lie offshore.

Named after the HMS Thunderbolt, which struck the shallow reef in 1847, Thunderbolt Reef attracts divers to this and numerous other wrecks, including that of a Greek freighter which sank in 1985, settling at around 14m.

While many divers are keen to enjoy the marine life found here – brightly coloured anemones, red palmate sea fans and patterned nudibranchs – spear fishermen are set on seeking out the edible fish that have made this shallow reef their home. Here you’ll find the likes of elf, garrick, Hottentot, blacktail, yellowtail and many other fish suitable for the table.

Port Elizabeth, also known as the Windy City, enjoys a subtropical climate with cool, mild winters and warm summers minus the humidity found further up South Africa’s East Coast. Wetsuits or semi-dry suits are generally adequate for diving here, but if you’re keen to do longer dives or multiple dives, rather use a dry suit.

The water temperature is approx. 27ºC in summer and 22ºC in winter. Visibility varies between 5m and 30m, depending on weather conditions.

In terms of structure, the reef is bounded by a series of pinnacles that vary in depth from 14m to 30m. Flora and fauna include a predominance of soft and hard corals, starfish, gorgonians and rock cod, horsefish, leopard dogfish, bream, whale sharks, dolphins, ragged-tooth sharks, pyjama sharks and hammerheads.

Safety is always paramount when diving, so remember that if you intend diving independently, a delayed/deployable surface marker buoy and reel are recommended to keep you safe from passing traffic. The wildside of the reef is famous for its rock formations, caves, gullies and steep drop offs, all of which mean it’s for experienced divers only.

Thunderbolt Reef falls within the environs of the 366ha Cape Recife Nature Reserve, which was proclaimed in 1973. Apart from the reef, the reserve offers unspoilt beaches, dune vegetation and rocky outcrops.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism
Tel: +27 (0) 41 582 2575
Email: info@nmbt.co.za

How to get here

Thunderbolt Reef is in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve, next to the Pine Lodge Holiday Resort off Marine Drive, Summerstrand. Having your own transport may be the most convenient option.

Best time to visit

Best times to visit are between 8am and 4pm.

Around the area

A variety of lovely beaches – King’s Beach, Hobie Beach, Pollock Beach – where surfing, swimming, jet skiing, scuba diving and sailing may be enjoyed.

Tours to do

There are a host of wildlife reserves and game parks under an hour from Port Elizabeth that are home to elephant, rhino, buffalo and lion. Penguin safari tours are also a great option, or you could take to the sea to spot great white sharks and whales.

What to pack

You can bring all your own diving equipment, but everything you need is available for hire.