An overnight bus from Jo’burg to Maputo was the start of an 1800km journey through Mozambique. We were heading for Tofo a well renowned dive destination on the peninsular of Inhambane on the South East Corner of Mozambique. We had a brief overnight stay in Maputo to sample the excellent large prawns and wander round the town centre. Lonely Planet described Maputo as one of the more beautiful cities in Africa. Either the journalist who wrote this was being bribed or was on drugs we are still uncertain. Maputo isn’t pretty and the receptionist at our guesthouse crossed out so many areas on the map she supplied as “no go areas” due to the numerous muggings! We took in all the sights (The Fort and market) within an hour and were back in our guesthouse by nightfall. The next day we headed for Tofo and although only around 350km from Maputo we left early in the morning and arrived late at night! The fact that we got on the bus early we had to wait for it to fill up with other passengers before it left. This took nearly 3 hours and by the end of the trip we were covered in dust, tired and hungry.
We booked into the delightful Fatima’s Nest some 10 mins walk from the centre of Tofo and close to the 3 main dive shops in the area.After a good sleep we used the next day to scout round to find the best shop to dive with as we were eager to get into the water ASAP as reports of regular Whale Sharks and Manta sights were beginning to diminish. Tofo is one of the only places in the world were Whale sharks and mantas are spotted all year round but we were coming to the end of the main season of regular sights every day. We signed up with Diversity scuba not because of the price (they we all priced the same) but mainly because of the enthusiasm they showed when we turned up. We were staying in Tofo for around 8 days so and we had around 10 dives to do so the chances of spotting Whale sharks and Mantas were good we hoped, but the ocean is a big place and you have to rely on a little luck!
On our third day in we finally got into the water. Tofo itself is a 4 km mile of a golden crescent beach and as there are no docks you have to launch out from the beach on the massive zodiac dinghies. It takes quite a bit of effort to push the boat out from the sand and then the impending big surf that attracts many surfers to Tofo. Once out on ocean all main dive sites are well within half an hour from the beach and due to the depth of the dives we used Nitrox for each dive. There is not much coral around Tofo, the main attraction was the big stuff. To get to some of the bigger sites we cruised up and down the windswept and spectacular barren coastlines and dunes of Tofo and Tofofina.
The dives were short due to the depths we were going (30m+) and it was pretty much straight down and 45mins later straight up again. The main dive sites we concentrated on were Manta Point, Galleria, Table top and Arena in the hope of spotting something big. On our first dive we were treated to many lobsters, Cowfish, puffers, morays, Nudibranches, triggerfish and I even got chased by a rather aggressive lion fish. On our second dive of the day we were treated to what we came there for. Whilst diving Manta Reef. We first spotted them whilst snorkelling around the dive site on our surface interval. We kitted up quickly and then headed down to hopefully spot them again. And we did, 4 – 5 m wide from tip to tip, expertly gliding through the water with so little effort it was amazing to see such gentle giants of the ocean. We had around 5 mins with her before she departed from the cleaning stations into the deep blue. The rest of the dive didn’t matter after seeing such splendour, however we had the briefest glimpses of a Whale shark and a a quick swim with the rare small eyed sting ray.
We had to wait another 5 days before we saw another Manta but luckily for us we managed to snorkel with a Whale shark twice in between dives. The diving in Tofo was stunning and each dive site was completely different and exhilarating. Although there was not as much coral as SE Asai there was tons of schools of fish – snappers, groupers, bannerfish, triggerfish, lionfish, surgeonfish to name just a few. Highlights of our diving had to be the Mantas, Whale sharks, large Potoato Cod (3m long), Small eyed Ray, Ribbon eels, Dragon Moray and one of the largest honeycomb Morays I have seen – 2.5 m long and with a head the same size of a small pony. I almost spat my regulator out when i bumped into him hiding in a cave!
The days were taken up diving, the nights were taken chilling and attending some lectures given at nearby resort. Tofo is home to a massive research base that is dedicated to the conservation of Whale sharks and Mantas. Otherwsie known as “the Queens of Mantas” – Andrea Marshall is one of the leading experts on Mantas in the world and is based in Tofo. Every Monday she gives lectures on Mantas to diving tourists which are fascinating and extremely informative. One of her colleagues Simon Peirce gives equally informative and enjoyable lectures on Whale sharks every Wednesday. Both are extremely dedicated to their research and have been based in Tofo for over 10 years, Students from around the world come to study with them to learn and help discover more and more info on both species. To this day both Mantas and Whale sharks have not been seen giving birth and there life in the ocean is greatly unknown. Through recent tagging schemes however, a little more is known. One Manta tag recorded depths dived of near 1000m and similar with Whale Sharks. What they do at these depths is still unknown but through the continued research more and more is known every year due to Megafauna research records (through markings on both species) to see if the same animals come back each year and what they do at Tofo – breed, give birth or just part of a migration route. Been given such incredible and mind blowing info on these animals we were saddened to learn that on our last days there the Megafauna office had been broken into and all computers and research documents had been stolen. Years and years of hard study, students thesis and hardware had been stolen, we hoped that they had learned of their whereabouts as we were leaving.
The experience at Tofo had been incredible. The diving was first class if not some of the best diving I had ever done. Totally different than SE Asia as it was less colourful but rewarding in the deep blues and the big palageic animals we got to see. I recommend any diving enthuast head there anytime between Dec and Feb for some mind boggling diving, expert and informative lectures and in some of the nicest settings along the Mozambique coastline.