Dolphin Operators in Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve called on to find a solution during calving season.

Dolphin Operators in Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve called on to find a solution  during calving season.


Image: Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin named Bo with one of her calves in the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve.

Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique – The first official dedicated marine mammal operators meeting took place at the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR) offices on the 6th October 2017.

The meeting was requested and presented by Miguel Goncalves – the newly appointed warden of the Maputo Special Reserve and Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve. Vincent Matsimbe was present as second in command and will be operators go to man for issues arising within the marine mammal/megafauna tourism sector. 

The meeting was attended by representatives of The White Pearl, Malongane Dive Camp, (Somente Aqua) Dolphin Centre and Dolphin Encountours Research Center – the four official permit holders between Ponta do Ouro and Mamoli. 

Marine Mammal tourism has grown exponentially over the past two decades and as new research emerges we are discovering that activities designed to get tourists close to dolphins and whales do indeed have a large negative impact. A booming ocean safari trade, fishing charters and boats together with fishing jetskis (personal powered water craft) means its busy seas for the local bottlenose dolphins and marine mammals living in and frequenting the reserve’s waters. 

Mozambican biologist Diana Rocha has been monitoring the local dolphins since 2010 and looked at data collected between 2006/12. She identified 46 females with offspring over 6 calving seasons. The 2009/10 season saw a 38.9% mortality rate with predation, natural causes and human impact being listed as probable culprits. Pods with newborns were found to be larger than those without and change of direction increased on approach of the boat, indicating disturbance.

A major concern is that during the summer months of  December and January the local dolphins calve. This coincides with the busiest time of the year making dolphins frequenting the area vulnerable to disturbance by increased boat traffic, noise pollution and harassment. On a good weather day commercial dolphin swim operators and ocean safari tours start at sunrise and run throughout the day. If we take the two dedicated dolphin centers in Ponta do Ouro, as well as the water-sports and adventure centers in Mamoli and Malongane, we can safely say that the dolphins will be afforded little rest or quiet time during the busy times.

It is now clear that the amount of operators is too many and that the recommendations of one permit holder per 20km made by Dr Almeida Guissamulo from the Museu de Historia Natural, Maputo should have been considered when concerns were submitted to governmental departments before the reserve was proclaimed. 

It is within the Reserves Mandate to protect the local dolphins who live in the coastal shallows of the Lubumbo Transfrontier Conservation Area and they have requested operators who have a vested interest in the well being of the local dolphins to urgently address the problems and come up with solutions. 

The harsh truth lies in the consequence of operators not making a plan. With discussions from a complete ban, as is the case in South Africa to the concessioning out of one operator per permitted area, operators will have to look at reducing the amount of time spent with dolphins; the amount of in-water attempts; rest time in between visits; creating further sanctuary zone’s and implementing stricter controls for in-water encounters. 

In July of this year the World Whale Conference  & Whale Heritage Sites (WHS) Summit in Durban was represented by Mozambique with owner-operators Ilha Blue Island Safaris from Ilha de Moçambique and Dolphin Encountours Research Center from Ponta do Ouro. The 5 day conference/summit was arranged by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) and followed the theme of working towards sustainable tourism for cetaceans [dolphins and whales] and whale heritage site initiatives. In a survey undertaken by WCA, thirty three area’s of interest in twenty two countries were surveyed as possible whale heritage sites, most individual replies listed locations in South Africa, with Mozambique receiving the highest nomination. With both populations of wild dolphins and humpback whales that navigate these waters from June to December every year, the  Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve is of great importance for the protection of these species.  

A second meeting has been agreed upon by Marine Mammal Operators before presenting solutions to the reserve. 

 If you would like more information please contact:

Angie Gullan

DolphinCareAfrica t/a DERC

+258 84 330 3859

angie@dolphincare.org

You’re Doing it Wrong: Diving Ponta do Ouro

You’re Doing it Wrong: Diving Ponta do Ouro

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I remember my first dive in Mozambique. The site was called Playground, off of Ponta Mamoli, and the dive lasted just over twenty minutes. The reef looked like a bunch of boulders strewn over sand and through my chattering teeth, I couldn’t grasp what the big deal was. This was supposed to be a great dive site.

Text and Images by Clare Keating-Daly

That was back in 2009. I was diving within the newly declared Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR) that stretched from the border with South Africa north into Maputo Bay. My sorry 3mm excuse of a wetsuit didn’t stand a chance against the late winter water temperatures.

Before coming to Mozambique, I’d been teaching diving in Southeast Asia, Thailand and the Philippines, and travelling to dive in Indonesia and Malaysia. Before that, I’d done my dive master training in Honduras. Not counting the sites affected by dynamite fishing, the reefs in Southeast Asia were stunning – they looked like something out of a glossy travel magazine. The crystalline waters of the Caribbean were taken straight from a tropical daydream. Divers, myself included, thought they were wonderful because of this, because we’d been taught what reefs are supposed to look like.

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Five years ago, on my first dive in Mozambique, I wasn’t impressed because the reef didn’t look like my idea of a classic reef. Where were the colonies of branching coral? Where were the layers of plate coral, and domes of brain coral? And what was with the water temperature? Where was my stereotypical reef? But today, the reefs of Southern Mozambique are, in my mind, some of the best in the world.

So what changed? Anyone can dive a tropical coral reef – they’re basically fool proof and you’re bound to be impressed. But it takes a little more finesse to dive sub-tropical reefs. In short, I was doing it wrong. Once I changed the way I dived (and got a 5mm wetsuit), I never wanted my dives to end; I learned how to dive the reefs of Ponta. In doing so, I have had some of the most remarkable dives of my life.

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If you’ve dived anywhere in the PPMR, that is, in the bays of Ponta do Ouro, Ponta Malongane, Ponta Mamoli, Ponta Techobanine or north, you’ve dived some world class sites. But you probably already know that. If you disagree, or if you’ve never dived the PPMR, maybe you need a little insider knowledge before your next trip.

In this two part series, we’ll start with five open water dives (18m and shallower) this issue and five advanced dives (+20m) in the first issue next year. Yes, we’re going against the rules of diving and doing the shallower dives first. Of the shallower dives, four are in Ponta bay and one is in Malongane bay. While there are some spectacular dives further north (Playground off of Mamoli being one of them) we’re sticking to the reefs you can reasonably request most dive operators to take you to. Diving reefs further north often takes a bit more organising. So, without further ado, here we go.

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Crèche
Ponta do Ouro, 10-12 metres
The story here is that Crèche is known for its abundance and variety of juvenile fishes here, that is, many species of sub-adult fish. However, you’re just as likely to see juvenile fishes on one healthy reef as another, which means there must be something else drawing divers back to this shallow reef again and again. Crèche is a favourite spot for new divers; a patchy reef with plenty of sand means that student divers or divers that haven’t blown bubbles for a while can settle, adjust their buoyancy, relax and generally stay off the reef. When relaxed, you use less air and at this depth, using less air means you could be in for a very long dive – the no decompression limit at 12m is 147 minutes! And, juvenile fishes aside, there is plenty to see on this reef. For me, the best part of Crèche is the cryptic stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa) found on the reef. It takes a trained eye to spot these masters of disguise, even if they’re right out in the open. Not to be confused with false stonefish or scorpionfish, these guys are the real deal. They can reach up to 40cm but are more typically around 27cm. But don’t get too caught up looking only at the reef. Dolphins often swim along this shallow line of reef, cruising in to investigate divers. Crèche is also known for its schools of crescent-tail bigeye and as a treasure trove of masks and snorkels dropped by student divers.

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Dive it right: Don’t touch the reef! Although they’re not common, there are stonefish on this reef. Stonefish are the most venomous fish in the world, not the best thing to run into on a dive holiday.

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Blacks
Ponta do Ouro, 15-18m
Take a look at your hand. Spread your fingers out. See that? That’s what Black’s is like, only bigger, about 40 metres wide. The main reef, your palm, bulges up from the sand punctured with little overhangs and covered with corals, some sea grass and sponges. From that about five thin fingers trail off in a southerly direction. While its possible to craft some good wide angle shots on Blacks, it’s structure and primary residents are better suited for macro photography. Be ready to get up close and personal with this reef, scouring it for the small stuff: frogfish, sea moths, long nosed pipefish, Durban dancing shrimp, paperfish, feather star shrimp. But don’t forget to keep an eye out for the scattered shrimp cleaning stations and cheeky black cheek moray eels. Because this small reef is surrounded by sand, it generally isn’t at its peak in large swell and in heavy current you’re quickly swept off of it.

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Dive it right: Take your time on this dive – it’s a small site but holds countless cryptic and camouflaged species. But be careful where you stick your nose, black cheek moray eels are notorious for biting divers on this reef. If you put a finger or two down to steady yourself, always look then look again!

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Doodles
Ponta do Ouro, 16-18m
Doodles may be the ‘house reef’ for Ponta do Ouro, it’s less than ten minutes from the boat launch, but it’s one of the greatest dives in the area. It acts as a sort of oasis in Ponta Bay with a diverse range of fish. Patrolled by resident potato bass, it runs about 200 metres long and on average it is about 20 metres wide. Close to the northern section of the reef is a cave system that is generally the hub of activity. This area is great for wide-angle photography. Don’t forget to check out the sand patches. Potato bass and at least four species of ray mosey around the sand near the cave area and easily photographed if approached cautiously. All of Doodles is well worth your bottom time. The usual algal reef suspects can all be found here, but Doodles often surprises with unexpected visitors like a weedy scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa), the odd thorny seahorse, thistle cowries, as well as numerous species of nudibranch – a macro photographer’s dream.

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Dive it right: Never pass up the opportunity to dive Doodles, even if you’ve feel like you’ve squeezed everything you can from it. You never know what you’re going to find on this reef, it can change day to day. Don’t get stuck looking down, manta rays, yellowfin tuna, bull sharks, whale sharks and other nomadic species are often spotted here.

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Drop Zone
Malongane Bay, 10-16m
There are some spectacular reefs in Malongane Bay and Drop Zone is one of them. This site, like some of the deeper sites in Malongane Bay that we’ll cover in the next issue, has some serious structure. Pitted with potholes and with gullies galore, the topography of this reef is stunning and a great option for those days when the current is cranking – the reef seems to never end. If you’re debating between macro and wide angle equipment for this dive, start with the wide angle. With schools of bluefin trevallies patrolling the ledges, potato bass lurking in backlit overhangs, and numerous cleaning stations with rubber lips queuing for service, there’s a lot of big picture kind of action on Drop Zone. But on that second dive, because you’ll have to come back, shoot macro. I’ve counted fourteen different species of nudibranch on this site – look close, it’s definitely possible to beat my record with all the Halgerda species slugging along. The leopard blenny are particularly friendly here as well.

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Dive it right: Something about Drop Zone makes it a hot spot for green turtles. They’re frequently sighted here, sleeping in a crevice, feeding on the algae and seaweed or dropping in for a shell deep clean from schools of butterfly fish fluttering for a snack. All sea turtles are endangered species, making the treat of seeing one that much more special.

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Steps
Ponta do Ouro Bay, 14-16m
Like the other reefs in Ponta Bay, Steps is patchy reef. The step-like ledges that give this reef its name hide reams of paperfish and their more cryptic cousins, frogfish. Camouflaged crocodile fish tend to hang out on the sandy inshore side of this reef, their mesmerising eyes certainly seeing you before you see them. For macro photography, scan the whip coral for tiny whip goby. Watch for busybody mantis shrimp clearing out their burrows and distressed damselfish defending their nests. Schools of larger reef fish congregate around the central cave area of this site and make great photography subjects. The topography around this area is also very rewarding for wide-angle enthusiasts. And be sure to check the sandy offshore areas of this reef. Giant guitar sharks are often, albeit briefly, spotted here. The length of Steps along with its north-south orientation makes it the place to dive when the current is cranking in either direction. On days like this, be sure to ask your divemaster if it’s possible to foray over to Steve’s Ledge, Steps’ southerly neighbour and another excellent dive site in the bay.

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Dive it right: Just because Steps is a long reef, doesn’t mean you need to try to cover it all in one dive. With all these reefs, you’ll get the most out of them if you take your time, but with all of Steps’ ledges and pockets, you’ll likely be rewarded for looking a little closer rather than trying to cover more ground.

The reefs in the PPMR don’t look like the reefs out of your average glossy travel magazine. On first glance, you may be disappointed. I was. But now that you have the insider information necessary to make your next Ponta dives your best Ponta dives, I bet you’ll start to see things a bit differently.

In the next issue, we’ll go deeper with five more PPMR dive sites. Check back here for insider knowledge on Pinnacles, Atlantis, Aquarium, Three Sisters and Kev’s Ledge all accompanied by plenty more on site pictures to whet your diving appetite.

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Tofo, the place of tranquility

Tofo, the place of tranquility

Five hundred kilometers north of the Mozambique capital, Maputo and just over 20 kilometers from Inhambane lies the quant beach village of Tofo. It consists of about 40 houses and a small market, which is surrounded by coconut plantations and the most amazing turquoise ocean. It has a stunning beach stretching for 8 kilometers, which is great for swimming and long soul soothing walks. Most of the bars and restaurants are along this stretch of beach making everything very accessible. There is also Tofinho beach (or little Tofo) just around the point which is more secluded and great for surfing and fly fishing. Tofo beach is wonderful with white sands and clean blue water that is warm making it fantastic for swimming and attracting an abundance of marine life. Breathtaking sunrises over the Indian Ocean are something well worth getting up early for as it is a sight to be admired. At night all the restaurants and bars turn on their lights which bring this little town to life. Nothing is too far, so it’s an easy walk on the beach to most places. It is perfectly safe to walk on the beach day or night. Be cautious of the jellyfish when they are around as they can administer a nasty sting. They do however provide great photographic opportunities.  Tofo has some of the best diving in the world and is truly spectacular. It offers divers everything from graceful Mantas to an abundance of macro reef life and pelagic sea life. The biodiversity of the area is amazing! It’s one of the only places in the world where you can see the world’s largest sting ray- the Small Eyed Sting Ray. It’s also home to about 20% of the world’s whale shark population. The combination of all the above makes for great diving.

Text and Images by Paul Hunter

The two main diving operators in Tofo are Diversity Scuba and Tofo Scuba. I decided to dive through the latter. I found Tofo Scuba to be a well run operation with friendly and polite staff that try and cater to everybody’s needs. The facilities were clean and practical with ample space to kit up. The wash up area has four different washbasins for different equipment, which is always good for photographers. The venue also has a restaurant on the beach that is perfect for that breakfast or lunch after your dive. The thing that impressed me the most was the level of detail to each dive briefing. This really helps so that there is no confusion before or during the dive, everybody is on the same page. The reefs are in good condition; however it has been growing in popularity for many years, resulting in more and more divers visiting these reefs. The dive centre is strict on their no touching policy, also the code of conduct for swimming with a variety of animals.  With a cylinder full of Nitrox and my housed camera I was ready for my first dive to the famous Manta reef. The boat ride took us about 45 minutes as the ocean was very choppy. I was hoping luck would be on our side as no manta had been spotted in the area for the last month. But it wasn’t to be and we unfortunately didn’t see the elusive manta. The visibility wasn’t great either, but we did however get to see plenty of snappers, large moray eels, crescent tailed big eyes and hundreds of blue red-fang trigger fish. The topography of the reef was awesome with numerous pinnacles, canyons and gullies. It was only after the dive that I realized that this reef has so much more to offer than just Mantas. This is a reef that one could dive many times and never get bored. This is definitely an advanced dive as the depth varies between 21m and 26m and should be treated as such.

The following day the conditions had improved and it was decided to try another reef called Hogwarts. This was another fantastic reef with unbelievable topography and fish life. Every gully and pothole seems to be filled to the brim with glassfish and Lionfish. Large schools of snapper and triggerfish hover just off the reef. Two giant frogfish the size of a small dog we spotted towards the end of the dive. What amazed me was that even though large in size they were so well camouflaged that we would have not seen them if it had not been for the dive guide. On our accent to the safety stop a squadron of sixteen Devil rays flying in formation past us twice. This was also to be a memorable dive.

I woke on the Thursday morning to perfect conditions and the most amazing sunrise. I had this feeling we would see Manta today and we did. We returned to Manta Reef only for me to miss the initial sighting of the Manta, I was devastated! To make up for this we got to see a Dragon eel, which was a first for me. It had the most astonishing colours I had ever seen on an eel. Towards the end of the dive a few of us got to spend 15 minutes with a Manta. We were instructed to hang in mid water below the cleaning station as not to frighten it while it circled above us over and over. It was truly an allinspiring experience to spend time with such a majestically creature. Unfortunately we had run out of time and had to return to the surface only to be accompanied by another two Giant Mantas. It was disappointing to leave them, as they seemed to be doing what I call the “Manta dance” where they do loops with each other. We returned to Manta reef two days later to once again have another Manta sighting. I was the only one to see the Manta as it appeared out of the blue. It was gliding effortlessly in the current and I was struck again by the incredible grace and beauty. I managed to maneuver myself into position to take my best Manta image to date. It gave me one fly by and disappeared into the distance just as it has appeared not to be seen again.  Manta Reef had lived up to its name and definitely rates as on the best reefs I have dived on.

Returning to shore after the dive there was a lot of hype about a whale shark that had been spotted by another dive boat. We quickly signed for the ocean safari in the hope of getting a chance of swimming with it. We spent 90 minutes fruitlessly searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. On the way home our guide miraculously spotted the whale shark to our delight. We all quietly entered the water and managed to get a quick glimpse as it swam by, it was an enthralling experience for all especially for the first timers. Overall the diving in Tofo is fantastic. The conditions were great and the sightings plentiful from schooling jacks, devil rays, turtle and leopard shark, a lot of moral eel and this is just to name a few. The combination make for a wonderful diving holiday and well worth the trip.

Accommodation
Tofo has a wide range of accommodation from rustic beach chalets to luxury three bedroom houses all along the bay. We had selected Casa Barry lodge to be our home for the duration of our stay. The lodge is situated on the southern end of the bay directing on the beach. Our accommodation was in the form of a casita (reed hut) which consists of a single room and a basic bathroom with shower, toilet and basin. It was rustic but clean and spacious.  The only complaint that we had was that they were built close to each other. The staff was very friendly and helpful. Fulltime security guards patrol the lodge and the beach giving you the peace of mind knowing that you can swim without worrying about your belongings on the beach or your valuables in your casita.  The lodge offers a full restaurant and bar facility that overlooks the whole bay which is great for sun-downers. They offer simple meals from hamburgers and pasta to more extravagant seafood platters. All the seafood is purchased fresh from the local fisherman. The lodge is also a sponsor of the Manta Ray and Whale Shark Trust as well as the home to the Manta Ray and Whale Shark Research Centre. Tofo is one of the best places to dive with Giant Manta rays and swim with Whale Sharks all year round.  Both Dr Simon Pierce (whale shark biologist) and Dr Andrea Marshall (specialist in manta rays) are resident to the Casa Barry and give regular presentations at the lodge. These we found to be very informative, interesting and is well worth attending. Dr Andrea Marshall has recently had her documentary aired as part of the BBC Natural World series.

Activities
There is plenty to do in and around Tofo besides diving.  We managed to squeeze in a sunset horseback ride along the beach, through the coconut plantations and small villages. The guide was very knowledgably providing insight on the area. While on the relaxed horse ride we passed Mango Beach where we later returned for cocktails; this is the perfect end to any day.  They have a lovely bar that looks out over the ocean and the sun setting over the Mozambique mainland.  A trip to Inhambane is also a great way to experience a little bit of the Mozambique history. It is one of the oldest cities in Mozambique that still has colonial styled building, cathedral, museum, and beautiful old mosque.  Also pay a visit to the central market which sells fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. If you have the energy and time you can learn to surf and kite board as lessons are available.

There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area. Too many to mention all here are the few we visited:
• Dinos Bar is located right on the beach near Tofo Scuba. It has a good food, good music and a vibrant party atmosphere at night. The menu is varied and includes lots of different dishes from pizzas and schwarmas to grilled fish and prawns or a beef kebab. They also have great cocktails.
• Casa de Comer is just off the beach near the market, the atmosphere is French bistro/Mozambican café.  We found it to be cheaply priced, great menu in a lovely setting. Sitting almost on the street, yet with the ambiance of the restaurant you get to watch the locals passing & dine on superb cuisine.
• This small bar and restaurant is located 5km out of Tofo at the junction of the roads to Inhambane and Barra Beach. Bar Babalaza offer good food including their famous crab curries and delicious prawns. Although not on the beach, it’s a great place to sit and chat in the shady front garden while you wait for their fresh bread to bake.

P is for Paradise – Paradisiacal Pomene.

P is for Paradise – Paradisiacal Pomene.

P is for Paradise – Paradisical (there is such a word now) Pomene. The feeling of paradise washes over me under the clear blue sky, as I glide past the flock of pink flamingos with their upside down heads gracing one of the sandbars in the gin clear water of the Pomene estuary. I’d been here before, many years ago when I was lucky enough to be a founding explorer on reefs only frequented by fisherman and spearos. In those days I wasn’t an underwater photographer and hadn’t been able to capture paradise on film, and so I find myself back in central Mozambique to see if paradise remained and was still as perfect as in my memories, in this day and age of cellphones , diary mania and credit crises.

Text and Images by Andrew Woodburn

Picture looking down off the boat into 50m of water and seeing the pinnacles you’re headed for, clearly on the bottom. We backwards roll and I turn , exhale and freefall into indigo blue picking up the pinnacles above which I identify the shapes of eagle rays and large bass moving in formation and so get jolted into the frenzy of preparing the camera so that by the time I reach them I can record their presence. This is 3 sisters (3 deep pinnacles off the northern end of deep Zambia shoal) which in my opinion has to be the premier pinnacle dive in Southern Africa. These are no gentle bumps like deep pinnacle off the Pontos (southern Mozambique’s well known dive destinations) but distinct structures rising from 48m at their base and topping off at 30m covered in black coral. The green coral trees release clouds of goldies, coachmen and reef fish which provide the attraction for hunting pelagic game fish and larger marine species such as manta arriving for cleaning.  I think I’ve been the first diver to slot the keyhole at 35m , a nearly closed hole in the reef between the first sister and the second which will be impossible if a strong current is running. The dive is over all too quickly since diving at 35m destroys my bottom time and forces me up so as to avoid decompression penalties. Ascending from 35m I can clearly see the boat on the surface, ripples diffracting the cloud patterns in the sky above and red fang trigger fish silhouetted in the midwater.  Since we are so far from the Pomene estuary (20km) it’s ideal for double tank dives and so we snorkel on shallow Zambia (6m deep in the middle of the ocean) where sailfish swims past the boat its sail distinctive above the surface. We select the Trojan dive site for a second shallower and more traditional reef dive which runs along the inside edge of Zambia shoal meeting sand at 24m and rising up to 15m giving wonderful amphitheatres of reef structure. I loved finding turtles, bass and shoaling fish which provided my immersion into their world on their reef. For the first time ever I found a large plate coral with a coral tree growing right out the centre of it graced by an obliging bass for a great photo. The reef itself is named after a piece of structure which when viewed side on resembles a horse’s head.  I was enthralled by my days diving and excitedly shared the experiences that evening while my wife, Clara and I washed the sun down with cold 2M beers on the stunning pool deck outside the bar. Little did I know, that wasn’t all Pomene had to provide.

Waking up after a comfortable night’s sleep in our tent I peeked out to see the ocean not a hundred meters away in the pleasant morning light with not a breath of wind on the water. We launched out the river mouth again and headed to sites off the old Pomene hotel which sits in ruins a top the “Barra falsa” point, not used since the 1970s and still a bone of contention between prospective investors for refurbishing, and the Mozambique government who are demanding a hefty fee in US dollars for the development rights (We visited the ruins one afternoon and saw the blowholes in action). As we arrived we circled the dive site and I was lucky enough to free dive the legendary Playstation reef to test for current and visibility. On my descent I was greeted by a mature gray reef shark of over 2m at 12m down. What an honour since on most well dived reefs these creatures are normally absent and on some days this particular set of reefs can be un-divable with ultra strong currents (think stronger than Aliwal shoal on a bad day) and bad visibility due to their sitting off a major point. Pomene Playstation is a 5star reef with fantastic features including a mini cave network, large reef structure with deep cracks, sandy fish filled arena, overhangs, swim thru’s and a manta cleaning station on the south side visited by reef fish and hunting game fish continuously. At 24m it’s a good intermediate dive site providing world class diving with enough bottom time to enjoy a 60min dive allowing us to cover most of the reef. After I surface from this dive I just can’t wait to do it again, it’s almost too much to absorb in one experience and if we are lucky we also get whale shark interaction which congregate off the Pomene point.  On this day due to clam conditions I get a second double tank treat and added “Steps” to the dive sightseeing tour.  Steps is fascinating since I’m sure it adds credibility to the theory that ancient civilizations cut rock from sites that are now subterranean in order to build great wonders of the world. Drifting along in the current I fly over multiple 90 degree cuts in rock layers just too geometrically perfect to be natural. I don’t know, go dive it for yourself to decide.  The fissures and blocks are now home to moray eels galore and on the deep areas impressive vertical walls stack up from 36m towards the surface.

Getting back from the dives I had pretty much thought that diving here couldn’t really get much better till that evening talking with Joe and Natalie the managers and Dave and Jill the Barra Resort owners I learned a little secret. I was informed that Neville Ayliff the Sodwana legend , fish life guru and diver extraordinaire was becoming part of the team at Pomene later in the year and would bring with him his wealth of experience, fishy facts and diving leadership that was a crucial part of developing Sodwana into the diving destination it has become. I’m sure Neville will have years of work ahead of him to do more exploration in this region. In addition the resort has built an artificial reef in the estuary just off the dive centre where seahorses abound and macro critters dominate in the sea grass. Not to be outdone by my experiences so far Joe also showed me photos from 2006 of dugong in the estuary mouth which had me scanning the water on every exit and entrance from the river from then on.

Pomene lodge occupies a unique spit of beach separating natural mangrove forests and a freshwater estuary which feeds around the spit into the Indian Ocean through a tidal estuary. In fact the spit probably doesn’t get more than 2m above high tide at any place and during the devastating cyclones in past years, has lead to knee deep waves washing through the reception door and out past the pool into the estuary. At any one time while walking on the spit I am able to see the aquamarine ocean out one eye across the squeaky white sand beach and out the other eye the reflections off the estuary in different stages of tidal flux. This place presents a sensory overload to me, with visuals representing travel brochure images of coconut palms, blue sea and white sand, warm tropical breezes cooling the sun’s rays on my skin, the waves from the ocean crashing in my ears and the smell of untainted air.

This paradiscal environment delivers feelings of peace, space and makes me feel like the only person on the planet. Pomene has traditionally been known as a secret fishing destination and over the last few years more and more diving has been done exploring and identifying awesome reefs. Not only does Pomene has two of Southern Africa’s best reef dives but will soon be home to one of Southern Africa’s best known dive personalities and a- fishianardos…Neville Ayliff, I’m not sure it gets better than this.

This ideal location is unique in that it provides a delicate mix of the olden day’s sodwana camping atmosphere, but even better since you get to camp with the beach as your front door step. Each campsite comes with a fresh water tap, braai facilities and electrical point. Most sites have thatched barracas which can accommodate fridges and all your camping tables/ food and are fitted with lights for the evening.  This destination offers basic to beyond expectation -camping, self catering group chalets and top end water chalets, all backed up by a professional dive operation.  The self catering chalets offer 6 and 8 sleeper options in large rustic thatch lodges which although basic still bring the sea straight to your door step. Each self cater chalet is serviced with bedding, cutlery, crockery a freezer and mosquito nets. The chalets range from ocean view to sunset and the den a grouping of four double rooms en-suite. I even met some fisherman who had driven from Port Elizabeth to Pomene towing a boat, that’s about 4 days of dedication each way.

But that’s not all, the pride and glory of the resort are the Water chalets, and our room became affectionately referred to by my wife as the “water palace”.  Double rooms en-suite , built Mozambique style on stilts with reed roofs serviced by raised walkways are an architectural feature facing out west over the lagoon. Our room had an almighty double bed within a billowing mosquito net covered with fresh sheets and an airy duvet. Power points for charging the camera gear and a balcony with the most brilliant sunset vista over the estuary and private stairs down to the squeaky white sand covered by tidal waves running up between the stilts at high tide.

Pomene also provides family activities including Horse riding, quad bike adventures, sunset cruises, fly-fishing, shore fishing and offshore fishing on the famous Zambia banks. We met friendly travelers and divers in this off beat corner of Mozambique and enjoyed the finest fish caught that day and prawns from the restaurant at reasonable prices after enjoying cold 2M on the deck. This was a great adventure providing a delicate mix of paradise supported by some of the more necessary amenities such as power (generator driven from 8-12 and 4-10pm) hot water showers, a small shop and even a satellite tv for those important rugby matches or soap operas but far enough away not to be intrusive. The central lodge area also provides a pool table, bar area and rim flow fresh water swimming pool. So I’d recommend saddling up the 4*4 (yep you need a 4 wheel drive to get through the last 2 hours of beach sand track) turn north at Maputo and keep on going till Masinga (approximately 700km) before falling off tarmac, or fly in directly from Jhb South Africa via Inhambane . Pomene Lodge is part of the Barra Resorts group supported by the same infrastructure that services the Barra lodge and Flamingo Bay Hotels in Inhambane. 

So since the trip was planned to experience the diving at this far flung piece of paradise let’s cut to the chase. I think that Pomene is blessed with two of the best dives in the Southern Africa. Three sisters the leading pinnacle dive and Pomene Playstation a spectacular site competing with the best I’ve seen worldwide. In short this piece of paradise will definitely be on my must visit list again and I’ll be salivating at the thought of what Neville will find and add to the already abundant selection of world class diving.

 

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