Diving in Mozambique

by Rob Tiller

Heading to Africa week before last, my dream was to dive with some really big creatures, including manta rays, whale sharks, and humpback whales. My research indicated that these and other species should all be present in October (spring) in southeastern Mozambique. The diving didn’t turn out as well as hoped, but I was not sorry we tried. We saw some amazing sights, and learned some things.

Our first dive destination was Zavorra, in Inhambane province. We stayed at Zavorra Lodge, a somewhat rustic hotel at the end of a long sandy road. It was very windy when we arrived, and we were warned that the wind was making the waters rough and murky. It was less windy when we went out early the next morning, but visibility was quite poor. And it was chilly (65 Farenheit). We saw medium and small fish, including a large group of barracudas, but no giants.

This was basically the story for the following two days – cold and dark. I had some suspicion that unregulated fishing had reduced the fish populations, based on some of the locals’ comments about government corruption and Chinese factory ships, but who knows? There could have been a lot of creatures that we didn’t see, since we didn’t often see more than 10 feet.

One afternoon we took a short walk to a nearby village, where there was a shaman who for cash purported to tell fortunes. We were surprised that most of our group of mostly Dutch tourists paid up and sat still for quite a bit of this nonsense. But it was interesting to see the local people, the grass roofed dwellings, goats, and chickens.

Our last afternoon we went horse riding on the beach. It was many years since I’d been on a horse, and my mount, a handsome white horse named Obsession, may have noticed this. We were behind Sally, and Obsession kept wanting to pass her, and I kept having to apply the brakes.

But it was lovely riding on the beach. For a bit. Then, when we were moving just inside the backwash of the waves, Obsession unexpectedly flopped onto his side. Happily, I got my bottom leg out from under him in time and didn’t get crushed, though I did get wet. Obsession went straight out into the breakers for a dip. Our guide finally got him to come out, and we found he’d lost one stirrup in the water. The guide gave me one of his, and we finished the ride.

Next we went to Tofo. This place has the widest white sand beach I’ve ever seen, and a lively little town. Here we learned how to launch a pontoon boat into the waves (push when they say push, and then hoist yourself up and in). The ride out on the little boat (30-45 minutes) was generally bumpy. Once at the dive site, we got into the water by rolling backwards on the count of three. At the end of the dive, we took off your heavy equipment and hand it up, then hoisted ourselves up into the boat.

That's Caso do Mar in the background, and Sally with a young woman who rushed over to be photographed

That’s Caso do Mar in the background, and Sally with a young woman who rushed over to be photographed

Our first day out, the dive was down to about 100 feet. The current was quite strong, and we had to fight it to stay near the reef. Here, too, it was dark and chilly, with visibility less than 10 feet. We enjoyed seeing some pretty small tropicals. But this is not diving for the timid or out of shape.

We liked our hotel, the Caso do Mar, and we liked the dive outfit, Peri Peri. Our main divemaster, Frieda, was unfailingly cheerful, and consistently safety minded. We had some good talks with her about great dives past, and ones we hoped to make. We liked walking on the beach as the young men played soccer and the young families played with their babies.

We saw a good number of humpback whales during our boat rides, and heard them singing when we were under water. We saw one white tipped shark, but no others, and a honey-combed moray eel. We never did see a manta.

But I finally realized my dream of swimming with a whale shark. Our skipper spotted the enormous animal near the surface, and we all slipped off the pontoon boat with snorkel gear. I found myself over the creature, just off its right side and perhaps 6 feet above. Even with murky water, I could see it clearly from tip to tail. My fellow snorkelers were not within view. The whale shark and I swam together for perhaps two minutes, and then it began to pull away. Soon all I could see was the tail, and then just dark water.

I spent a fair bit of money and energy getting ready to photograph the sea creatures of Mozambique, and it didn’t work out so well. There were various equipment problems (the strobes wouldn’t work, then the zoom wouldn’t work, etc.), but the biggest problem was the very limited visibility. So it goes; sometimes nature is uncooperative. I will surely be more appreciative the next time I’m in clearer waters.