Visit these parks and reserves to discover the wonders of the underwater world.
Did you know?
Rock pools are found in the intertidal zone, the part of the shore that lies between low tide and high tide levels. The crashing waves at high tide and the high temperatures that come when the cooling waters retreat make this a tough place to live. How do the plants and creatures that live here survive? Read more about the survival strategies of rock pool residents.
Agulhas National Park
The southernmost tip of Africa is known for its rocky coastline and many ships have been stranded on treacherous reefs that reach out into the ocean. But the rocks along the beach also form intertidal pools where several creatures thrive and when the tide retreats you can get a closer look. The entire coastline from Struisbaai to Skippie is accessible during low tide and you can spend a good few hours rock pooling.
The rock pools around Agulhas are home to seaweeds, tiny marine snails, limpets and barnacles. One of the most interesting marine animals you might see is the prickly sea urchin. Urchins are very sensitive to bright light so they use bits of seaweed, shell and stone to shade themselves during low tide. Sheltered as they are by their sunshades, these spiny creatures can become hard to see. Look where you walk because stepping on an urchin is painful. You’ve been warned!
In Agulhas National Park you can also see stone fish traps built by early Khoi-khoi residents. These functioned much like rock pools, filling with seawater during high tide and trapping fish inside when the tide went out. You can see historic fish traps at Rasperpunt (get a map from the park office). There are also some fish traps near the lighthouse that have been turned into tidal pools for swimming.
De Hoop Nature Reserve
The 48 km long marine protected area of De Hoop is characterised by sheltered bays, countless rock pools and white sandy beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. Take a walk along the shore at low tide when the sand underfoot is firm and the coastal limestone platforms are exposed.
The platforms are covered in mussels, barnacles and reef worms, while the shallow rock pools in between shelter starfish, nudibranches, periwinkles, limpets and klipfish. In deeper rock pools you’ll find bright anemones and sea urchins, and if you’re lucky you might even spot an octopus. It’s also great fun to watch black oystercatchers feed on the rocky platforms. Somehow they know when a wave is going to break and they take off just in time to avoid getting soaked.
De Hoop Collection offers an interpretive marine walk that explores the rock pools near Koppie Alleen. The two-hour walk is led by a qualified guide and costs R100 per person. For a close-up view, pack a snorkel and mask, or even your swimming goggles. On a hot summer’s day the rock pools are the ideal place to cool off.
Video courtesy of CapeNature.
Tsitsikamma National Park
Storms River is a magnet for thrill seekers, with activities like blackwater tubing and the stomach-churning bungee jump off the Bloukrans bridge. It’s also the place to come if you’d like to add an element of adventure to your rock pooling.
Yes, you can potter along the shore and explore intertidal pools without getting your feet too wet – but you can also dive in for a closer look at marine creatures that live below the low tide mark. With a snorkel and mask you can while away the day’s hottest hours in a natural snorkelling pool.
There’s also a snorkelling trail in the sheltered bay near the restaurant. Look for sea urchins, striped and violet-spotted anemones, and fish like strepies and smooth houndsharks. You’ll also see silver and copper-coloured alikreukels – in marine protected areas these shells can grow to 10cm across.
Rock pooling tips
- The best time for rock pooling is at about 10:00 on the day after new or full moon. This is when spring tide is at its lowest.
- You can often find tide tables at park reception. Alternatively, look in the newspaper to find out when low tide will occur.
- Rock pools aren’t usually kind to feet. Wear booties if you can and look where you put your feet – there can be sharp rocks or spiny sea urchins.
- Wear waterproof sunscreen or a rash vest to protect your skin.
- If you pick any creatures up, be sure to put them back exactly where you found them.