,Diving Africa is varied where ever you go. From the Red Sea in the north to the cape in the south it holds a vast beauty. Africa is an extensive continent and I only spent 6 months there and although I managed to get around a fair bit of it, I only managed to dive in a just a few places on the East coast, my favourite being Mozambique.
Mozambique – Tofo
Diving in Africa is not for the faint hearted. Just getting out to the dive site is an adventure in itself. The dive boats themselves have to endure some ferocious waves for the first 50m or so. After that its plain sailing, you just have to get past the big waves first! So first off, all the women are told to get into the boat, here its a mans job to push the boat into the surf. On the boat you have hand and feet straps and it is heavily advised you use both and hang on for your life!
Everything is tied down very securely and the last checks are made. After quite a bit of pushing into waist-high water the men eagerly jump aboard the rig. The captain then floors it as fast as he can to make the first waves. Once passed these waves the dives sites are all within 20 mins or so of the beach. Strong Currents and deep sites are the priority here and with that comes the big stuff – Whale Sharks & Mantas and in the colder months Whales.
We had specifically come to see Mantas and Whale Sharks. Our only problem was it was a little out of season, as we arrivd in the winter of May 2012. We saw around 4 Mantas in total but the best time to go is in the summer – Nov – April where there are plenty. We dived with Diversity Scuba a well established dive centre on the beach. They gave us a really good 10 dive package deal and were great with us all the way. Tofo not only boast the big stuff but has an array of different macro subjects, big schools of fish, big groupers, rays and morays. Most dives are best done on Nitrox so you can take better advantage of being deeper for longer.
One organisation you must visit if you go to Tofo is Marine Megafauna Foundation. They do some amazing research work with Whale sharks (Simon Pearce) and Mantas (Andrea Marshall). They are dedicated to research, protection and conservation of the Mantas and Whale Sharks of the East coast of Africa. Weekly presentations are given in a nearby hotel every week, which are some of the most fascinating talks I have been to.
Vilanculos – Mozambique
A little bit further up the coast from Tofo is Vilanculos. It offers similar diving to Tofo but here they mainly dive for Whalesharks. It is a great little stop off if you are heading further up north. Mozambique is a tough place to travel if you are doing it by road, be prepared for long waits, cramped buses, potholes and a lot of dust. The diving however makes up for the pain of getting around! Vilanculos offers some really beautiful sites where only a handful of people get to dive at a time. It is a main attraction point for divers from South Africa.
Much further up the coast in Tanzania is the gorgeous island of Zanzibar where you can dive in some of the most beautiful and clear waters I have even been in. The water was so clear you can see unto 40 – 50m. The colours are breathtaking and everything seems to be bathed in an idyllic aquamarine colour. Sometimes it was so bright underwater you feel yopu might need shades. For me Zanzibar holds some of the best beaches in the world and the diving is pretty good too. Schooling barracuda, morays, nudis, turtles, sweetlips and a tons of antheas make for the dive sites to be very colourful and beautiful it is hard to leave the water.
Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get to dive the more famous places in SA like Sodwana Bay, Aliwal Shoal or Protea Banks. I manage to do something just as exhilarating – Cage Diving with Great Whites. Most people’s fear of sharks probably comes from the likes of the film Jaws. They are an apex predator and although we are not food to them we do look like food. They don’t like our taste and it’s us humans that are pushing them further into our coastal areas to hunt for food as we over fish the oceans. You have to remember that its their habitat and Ocean and we have to be mindful of that.
Peter Benchley, the man who wrote Jaws spent most of his later life campaigning for the protection of sharks. This is after he had seen how much damage the film had done to the species. I find them the most formidable of species. Not the most prettiest of the species, but the one with a bad ass reputation. Like it or not the main in way to see these beasts is to chum the water and hope they come in. Most operators say this is for environmental studying, i.e. recording sizes etc and sexes.
We had a Marine Biologist on board who was studying at a local Uni. Technically this is not diving but it one of the biggest thrills I have ever had in the ocean. The vis is pretty terrible which makes it even more frightening when they come so close out of nowhere! You can read more about this in my South Africa Blog. An epic experience to get up close and personal!