Hailing from South Africa, Sheldon Hey has easy access to some superlative diving. But when he decided to seek an adventure, he headed north to Mozambique Inhambane. “My very first diving experience was in Mozambique, at a place called Ponta d’Ouro,” Sheldon began. “This was one of the first places that had opened up to tourism after the conclusion of the country’s terrible civil war, and at that time there weren’t many visitors, as it was still perceived as rather dangerous—there were still quite a few land mines about. I did my open water certification there, and really fell in love with the place. It was like stepping back in time fifty years. There was very little in the way of infrastructure, but I liked the diving and the taste of the country, rugged and raw undeveloped Africa with a touch of Latin passion.
“A few years later, Mozambique was beginning to get attention as an up-and-coming dive venue. I decided to take a drive-through with a friend who had never been there, and we chose a route that would take us through Maputo [the capital], and on up one-third of the way along the coast. We went ahead with our plan though we’d heard many tales about Mozambique being a terrible place to travel, especially by car. It wasn’t the case at all. We especially liked the region around Inhambane town, which rests on a peninsula off the coast. I’ve been there five times now, and it remains one of my favorite destinations. It’s not necessarily for everyone, as there’s still a sense of adventure when traveling in Mozambique. I’m always amazed at the energy and lust for life the local people have, considering how little they have in material terms. They love dancing, music, going out. In Inhambane town, you can mix freely with the locals, which adds another dimension to the trip.”
The nation of Mozambique lies along the Indian Ocean in southeastern Africa, bordered by South Africa to the south and Tanzania to the north. It boasts 1,500 miles of coastline. Like so many sub-Saharan African nations, Mozambique has had a troubled past. It was colonized by Portugal after being explored by Vasco da Gama in 1498; the Portuguese were active in the slave trade and invested little in the country and its people. By the mid-1970s, an armed revolution finally broke the Portuguese hold on Mozambique, but shortly after gaining independence, the country erupted in civil war. After more than a million lives were lost, reconciliation was achieved. One of Africa’s (and the world’s) poorest countries, Mozambique has been making strides toward improving the economic lot of its citizens, though many of its coastal citizens still rely on the sea for their living. The province of Inhambane is in the south of the country, and is considered to be the home of Mozambique’s finest diving. Recognizing the tourism potential of Inhambane’s unexploited coastline, the government has invested in the region’s infrastructure; more accommodations and dive shops are available now than when Sheldon first visited.
“It’s fairly simple why the coast of Inhambane stands out as a dive venue,” Sheldon continued. “It’s perhaps one of the only positive side effects of the civil war. Because the country was brought to its knees, there was very little industrial development. Likewise, there was only subsistence fishing. [Incidentally, greater Inhambane has Mozambique’s largest fleet of fishing dhows.] As the seas weren’t exploited, very pristine conditions still exist. If you go a few kilometers off the coast, odds are that fishermen have not gotten there. The volumes of fish that you find are unrivaled; likewise, the size. If you’re diving in many other spots around the world, the fish you see—grouper or angelfish or what-have-you—are small versions because the mature fish are either caught by fishermen or not given the opportunity to develop. The fish that you can see off Inhambane are the fully grown specimens. You’ll come upon brindle bass that are seven feet long and potato bass that are nearly as big, and many manta rays that are in the twenty-foot class.” And if you’re interested in very big fish, whale sharks are common visitors to the region’s waters in the autumn and early winter.
The diving around Inhambane is all land-based; no live-aboards serve the area. However, most of the established dive sites are within a mile or two of shore. “The farthest I’ve ever gone offshore was about twelve miles,” Sheldon added. “The short runs are nice, especially as the sea can get pretty rough in the afternoon. It’s all single-level, submerged reef diving. You get down to the bottom where the reef is, and stay there until your time is done. Shallower dives are about forty feet; deeper dives are about a hundred feet. The reef structures are not terrifically impressive. You don’t go to Mozambique for the reefs, but for the fish—and for the sense that you’re a bit of a pioneer, as relatively few people have been there.
“I remember one dive particularly,” Sheldon continued. “My buddy and I went out with a couple who had just opened a dive center, and were as new to the area as we were. In fact, they had just started diving a few weeks before. They wanted to visit a well-regarded site called The Office. They had not been there, but had gotten GPS coordinates from one of the other resorts. We went offshore about twelve miles, and dropped in. On this day, we could see all the way to the bottom (about one hundred feet) where sharks were cruising. When we got to bottom, a huge potato bass came out of the gloom. Usually they’re quite shy, but this specimen was very curious—it was as if he wanted to learn more about this strange creature who was blowing bubbles. As I was being observed by the potato bass, my buddy made a noise. I turned, and about seven feet in front of me was a twenty-foot manta ray. I almost dropped my regulator as the animal seemed to flip over the top of me so it wouldn’t hit me. It was so large, yet so silent. You get a real fright seeing something that large get so close so silently. Toward the end, a bull shark—which I’d never seen before—came circling into the periphery. It was a pretty memorable dive, considering we had no idea where to go.”
SHELDON HEY is the general manager of Dive the World (www.dive-the-world.com), a travel agency specializing in diving travel around the world. A PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, he’s traveled to Africa, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific on diving adventures.
IF YOU GO TO INHAMBANE
Getting to Inhambane: Inhambane Province is served by Pelican Air (+27 11-973-3649;image Getting There: Inhambane Province is served by Pelican Air (+27 11-973-3649; www.pelicanair.co.za) via Johannesburg, South Africa. Johannesburg is served by South African Airways (27 11-978-5313; www.flysaa.com), United (800-864-8331; www.united.com), and Delta (800-221-1212; www.delta.com).
Best Time to Visit Inhambane: Diving is good year round, though February and August can be very windy. The best time for whale sharks is October through March.
Accommodations in Inhambane: Sheldon recommends Hotel Marinhos (+25 82-32-9015; hotel email@example.com) in Tofo, and Guinjata Resort (+27 13-741-2795; www.guinjata.com) for more of a resort experience.
Dive Shops/Guides in Inhambane: Diversity Scuba (+25 82-32-9002; www.diversityscuba.com) leads day trips from Tofo.
” Fifty Places to Dive Before You Die “ by Chris Santella