• JUDITH BAKER

Tofo – Diving in Mozambique


Some countries in Africa may be the home of safari, but Mozambique is becoming famous for its sea safari and the chance of see some of the world’s most iconic sea creatures. Whale sharks, manta rays, turtles and other amazing marine life make tiny Tofo, in Mozambique, an underwater heaven for divers and nature lovers.

A whale shark, about 13 feet in length, glides by without so much as a blink of its eye. He pays little attention to a gaggle of scuba divers who have made the journey here from all corners of the globe for the chance to see this magnificent creature and his cousins.

Tofo lies on the Indian Ocean and is a small town fringed by an arc of white sand and blue sea. Unsophisticated and simple, there is only one hotel here, Hotel Tofo Mar, recently opened by a Portuguese MP. Otherwise accommodation for the divers and surfers is in beachfront shacks, simple hostels, rustic chalets or small guesthouses such as Casa Do Mar or Casa Barry, where the MMF (Marine Megafauna Foundation) often give early evening talks about sharks and rays.

Not here the flashy all inclusives or luxurious sprawling resorts found elsewhere on the Indian Ocean – instead expect a ‘make yourself at home’ casual atmosphere with many establishments offering trusting ‘honesty bars’. The views are amazing and for a break from diving, time spent on the ground is an eye –opener. Tofinho, less than a kilometre south, is situated on exposed and rocky headland , a favourite spot for fishermen when a high tide covers the shelf, allowing casting for the plentiful kingfish into the deep waters beyond. Tofinho is also the site of the Frelimo Monument to Fallen Heroes, near to where unfortunate victims of the colonial period were thrown into a sea cave, to be drowned by the rising tide.

EAT

The town was jumping as we arrived on Sunday night, with the main area near the beach alive with music and dancing, as locals and visitors alike rooked to the Flying Fish evening event. The little market here sells a selection of crafts and fresh fruit and vegetables, and around this part of town there are dozens of eateries, ranging from the informal Sombras bar, cosy stalls selling pizzas and beers, to Casa de Corner, tucked away a street away from the main action. Here I sampled Matata , a seafood and peanut stew, a typical local dish served with cassava leaves. Portions here are generous and a plate groaning with crayfish or lobster is very affordable by our standards, washed down with a local beer or one of the great South African wines.

DIVE

But the real action in Tofo is underwater and the real stars are its marine life, and it is no surprise that dive centres outnumber shops, and this is also the centre of the MMF‘s primary research facility.

MMF specifically focuses on the research and conservation of threatened marine megafauna species. ‘Marine Megafauna’ are large marine species such as sharks, rays, marine mammals and turtles. These animals are key components of marine ecosystems but, as they are long-lived and have low reproductive rates, their populations are usually the first to be reduced by human pressures. Fortunately, they are also amongst the most charismatic animals on the planet and engender a high degree of public interest in their biology and conservation, making them useful ambassadors for the whole marine environment.

Mozambique is a world centre of abundance for whale sharks, manta rays and several other threatened marine species, many of which have been decimated by fisheries elsewhere in the world. MMF’s primary objective is to conduct cutting- edge scientific research that can be directly applied to the conservation of the large marine species in this region.

Mozambique was tourism no-go in the 1980s and 1990s because of its civil war, but now the area is enjoying a minor boom as adventurous travellers discover its lovely coastline and rich sea safari experiences. Now is a good time to enjoy it before the world gets wise to this hidden gem!

Facts

Fly to the local airport Inhanbane which has flights to and from Johannesburg on LAM Air Mozambique www.lam.co.mz

Doing this, you can include a stop off at Maputo, the Mozambique capital, or include a city break in Johannesburg with its fascinating Apartheid Museum, Soweto townships and vibrant culture.Virgin Atlantic flies from London Heathrow to Johannesburg www.virginatlantic.com

Language – Portuguese is the official language. Swahili, Makhuwa and Sena are also spoken. English is common in tourist areas.

Currency – Mozambican Metical. South African Rand, US Dollar and Euros are widely accepted. Credit cards are not accepted in many places in Tofo.

For more information on the MMF see www.marinemegafauna.org

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