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.

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