You may recall that in June last year Carolyn and I went to Lady Elliot Island for our birthdays. During this trip we went to an evening talk on Manta Rays that was presented by Dr. Fabrice Jayne (aka; Dr Hottie). He told us not only about Mantas, but also about an organisation called the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) and their volunteer program Underwater Africa. They conduct research with a main focus on the conservation of Mantas and Whalesharks. MMF’s main base is in Tofo, Mozambique, a very long way from Sydney, however with an upcoming wedding of a good friend in South Africa I was sure I could swing it. Without needing a great deal of encouragement, flights and leave were booked, gear was packed and I was on my way. Unfortunately leaving my trusty dive buddy at behind, so apologies in advance as my photos aren’t quite up to Caro’s standards!
I did 12 dives during my 2 week stint in Tofo with a crew called Peri-Peri Divers. This dive shop is the newest in town and run by a talkative Mancunian named Steve and his South African comrade Nick. I will be the first to admit that I was a little unsure of how the dive standards in Africa were going to compare to Australia or even Asia for that matter, however this operation is very professionally run with as high a standards as I’ve seen anywhere outside of Queensland (FYI – QLD’s standards are ridicules).
I soon understood why. The diving and the ocean conditions here can be difficult, even for experienced divers. There is also no jetty or wharf area, so launching the zodiac from a surf beach involves a tractor, brute force and good timing. The dives are deep and can be subject to currents and surge so all back roll entries are negative, you can get thermoclines that drop 10 degrees in a matter of seconds, and most importantly the marine life you are diving with are vulnerable species that need to be protected from foolish frolickers.
Tofo is one of the few places in the world where mantas (both reef and oceanic) and whalesharks are not seasonal, they are found here all year round. Oh yep, except for that part of that one year that I get to go all the way from Sydney to see them. Zero, zilch, nudda, not one of either of the things I went to see. A really good reason to be awfully disappointed, yet strangely I wasn’t. I haven’t done a great deal of diving the Indian Ocean so there were many things that I haven’t ever seen that I saw on nearly every dive here. New fishy friends!!
The dive sites are split into deep and shallow sites and there isn’t too much middle ground. Deep is 32 meters and shallow is 10 – 14. So your dive time is either 35 minutes or 80, which is fine but inevitably there will always be one person throwing a hissy fit that they were made to surface with 120 bar. Unfortunately the deep sites have no magic gradual inclines at the end of their reef so once the most conservative dive computer hits 2 minutes deco the group starts a slow assent and the dive is up. Again safety first, I like it!
Going deep! The deep sites I got the pleasure of diving were the close laying Giants, Manta Reef and Outback to the south, and Reggies to the far north. The general rule is that the deeper you go the bigger things are, and that was fairly accurate. The deep sites provided schooling trevally (or king fish as they are referred to locally) as well as barracouta, honeycomb morays all over the place, loggerhead and green turtles, guitar fish, yellow mouth morays, potato and African groupers, many large marble rays (blotched fantail rays), red tooth trigger fish and one lonely little mobular ray cruising around above. Obviously the deeper you go the chillier it can get too, with one dive on giants dropping down to just 19 degrees from 28! Very chilly considering I was only in my sharkskin!
The shallower and more colourful sites of salon, mikes (north) and chimney (south) are where you can make up some of the time your deco levels stole on the deep sites. There you will find colourful corals, mantis and harlequin shrimp, giant, tiny and even hairy frogfish, octopus, spotted boxfish, cowfish, crocodile fish, stonefish, juvenile emperor angel fish (cute!) and teams of tiny antheas and fuseilias. The guides (whilst seemingly preferring the deeper sites) are very good finding little critters that you never even knew existed!
I also embarked on a Ocean Safari with Peri-Peri in search of the seemingly elusive Whale Shark. As previously mentioned we were unsuccessful in this hunt yet I did manage to see an amazing pod of humpback dolphins. These are another species that I never knew existed so it was met with the cry ‘look dolphins, wait a sec, they look weird’. Weird indeed, and rather shy. They came close to the boat, but as soon as I excitedly jumped in, camera in hand, they were off.
Getting to Africa from Oz is pretty straight forward, you can get direct flights from Sydney or Perth to Johannesburg, and then the fun starts. The closest airport to Tofo is Inhambane, the only airline that flies to Inhambane is LAM – and here the problem lay. This small government owned airline seem to just make things up as they go along. Whilst you may have booked a direct flight, you will more than likely find out on the day that you are flying via Maputo or Vilankulos prior to getting to Inhambane. So if you have connections allow at least 4 hours for your flight to be delayed, re routed or altogether cancelled. Once you eventually arrive at Inhambane your accommodation will collect you to bring you the 30 minute drive to Tofo.
Tofo above water
Tofo is a cool place and if you are staying more than a week or 2 you will know most of the ex pats in town and the weekly routine of where to go on what nights. The local community are extremely friendly and make you feel welcome from the start. Brancos is the place to go for pizza and hot rocks and seems to be that starting place for most nights out. Then flash forward a few hours and Mozambeat is the place where most nights end. With it’s never ending closing time and swimming pool this joint is the place to be, though a little difficult to get to as it’s on the back streets away from the beach. The more upmarket What U Want is good for Italian and the fish of the day and the Cassa Barry restaurant seem to be where people congregate for lunch.
You can also volunteer whilst you are in Tofo, it’s a great way to learn about the marine environment and also help out the local community.
Check out my gallery here!
Read my volunteering blog here!