Why not add an aquatic dimension to your Mozambique holiday? A Scuba safari in Mozambique offers some of the world’s best underwater viewing. There are a number of beautiful, pristine reefs, especially in the Quirimbas Archipelago, that teem with life and are suitable for both novice and advanced divers.
The highlight of our Mozambique holiday was visiting the Quirimbas Archipelago to experience its legendary scuba diving. The remote Quirimbas Islands lie just off the northeast coast of Mozambique and stretch for 100km towards the border with Tanzania. I’d read that these tropical islands possess some of the richest coral reefs in the world and provide habitats for a staggering array of marine life.
On the designated morning, my partner and I arrived at the dive centre beside our lodge, thrilled at the prospect of experiencing the islands’ underwater world. Our dive master, Tessa, pulled out a map of the Quirimbas and explained why diving was so good in the area.
‘This is one of the last pristine reef systems in East Africa,’ she said. ‘We’ve got about 50 genera of coral, 373 species of reef fish, three dolphin species … you name it. The South Equatorial Current splits right here on our doorstep. The underwater canyons along the Quirimbas put our reefs in close proximity to the deep water of the Mozambique Channel.’
‘There’s also a high resistance to bleaching in our coral because of the water flow and depth. When you dive here, you’re often the first person at a spot. It’s still an underwater wilderness. I’ve seen such incredible stuff: sailfish, huge schools of eagle rays, sharks of every kind. There’s just so much diversity.’
After getting rigged out with wetsuits, tanks and BCDs we were good to go. Our party boarded a ski boat in front of the lodge. The two 90hp Suzuki 4-stroke engines roared to life and we sped across a turquoise sea.
Tessa told us a bit about the area as we raced along: ‘Quirimbas diving spots offer shallow sites for the casual diver and dramatic drops for the more serious. What’s more, there are dugongs and turtles: hatching happens around February. And seasonally migrating whales with their calves are here from July to December.
‘For diving, my favourite spots are the vertical drop-offs, some up to 400m deep. These walls have coral-covered caves and tropical fish ranging from enormous Napoleon wrasses to game fish including kingfish, barracuda and Spanish mackerel. Water temperatures remain warm most of the year: up to 31°C. What more could a diver want? You guys are in for such a treat.’
The ski boat cleaved through a viscous sea, bound for a sunken island. Finally, we reached the GPS co-ordinates for our dive. Only for experienced divers, the spot comprised a large pinnacle that jutted out from the sunken island with a 200m, vertical drop on three sides.
‘Between the pinnacle and the island wall lies a 30m canyon with a sandy floor,’ said Tessa. ‘Stick close to me!’
Masks, belts, tanks and fins in place, Tessa gave the okay signal and we tipped backwards in a series of splashes. Suddenly silence, bubbles and a deepening blue. My breathing slowed, a new realm took shape. We quickly descended to the seabed. The water was 28°C and the visibility an incredible 50m.
Tessa led us through the canyon, whose walls sprouted fluorescent bunches of green tree corals, orange gorgonians and enormous fan corals, their filigree webs etched against the blue. It was like a boulevard between towering apartments blocks alive with residents of every shape and kind. There were goldies, Moorish idols and clams whose frilly lips opened and closed anthropomorphically.
At times, the parade of humpback snappers formed a seemingly impenetrable, living wall. I finned closer to the coral to look for smaller fry. The ‘jewellery’ on the reef included paper fish, pipefish and colourful nudibranchs.
Tessa pointed out an oriental sweetlips parked above a plate of coral having its parasites and dead skin removed by bluestreak cleaner wrasses. It looked like a marine car wash. Clownfish poked shy faces from the translucent arms of anemones swaying in the current. Unicorn fish, bat fish, banner fish: wherever we looked, an unending feast for the eye.
Passing through the canyon, we floated out into the big blue. The wall drops a further 2km into the Indian Ocean depths thereabouts, so the passing traffic often comprises deep-water pelagics. Soon we spotted the sinister shapes of four, grey reef sharks gliding beneath us while kingfish cruised by at eye level in vast, silent schools. It was utterly spellbinding.
In no time, 60 minutes were up and our little group drifted to the surface. My partner and I were elated by the dive, the sightings and quality of the visibility.
The engines grumbled to life and we sped back towards the island, a white disk on the horizon. Relaxing at the lodge later, we stared out at the sparkling Indian Ocean, savouring a mug of hot chocolate and reminiscing about one of the best dives either of us had ever experienced. Mozambique is wonderful.