ZAVORA : DIVING THE WILD
Text ; Dray and Karin van Beeck
Photos ; Dray van Beeck
In January, just before leaving for a diving holiday in Mozambique, an old friend tracked us down on Facebook. “See you’re off to Moz again”, he wrote. “There’s this new place that’s just opened up, Zavora. You’ve GOT to go and check it out; we’ve heard lots of good things about it!” Now, if you’re a serious diver you will know just how hard it is to still find diving destinations that don’t already have that “been there, done that” feeling plastered all over them. On seeing the magic words “new place” we Googled Zavora and discovered that it was only about 70km from Inhambane, the town we were flying in to. Not having any more information we decided to keep this info on the back burner until we got to Mozambique.
After a week or so of great diving off Tofo Beach (close to Inhambane), we started asking about Zavora and discovered that it was a bit like the Loch Ness monster; everyone knew where it was and that is was supposedly amazing and fantastic but nobody had ever been there! Luckily we met someone who had a phone number for one of the owners and next thing we knew he offered to come and pick us up and transfer us to Zavora.
South Africans have known about Zavora as a fisherman’s paradise for a long time, but the diving possibilities were only discovered very recently. In December 2008 Jon Wright, Roy Cougle and Danny Russell opened Moz Divers, the first dive centre in Zavora and also the first IANTD centre in Mozambique. They are situated on a sand dune above the beach and are part of Zavora Lodge. Right from the beginning we were impressed with the brand new Scubapro equipment that they had available for rent. Their RIB was also state of the art with twin 130 horsepower Honda engines and space for 16 divers with all their kit, but they only take out 8 divers maximum. These guys were not messing about!
After an easy launch from a nicely protected area, we headed off to the first dive site. At the moment a lot of the dives are still exploratory since nobody is sure exactly how many dive sites are in the area. However, there are two main reefs that are fairly well known already. Both of them are a couple of kilometers long. The inner reef is closer to shore and varies in depth from 24 to 7 meters. The outer reef is 11 km’s off shore and has a maximum depth of 33 meters. It is less protected and more challenging to get to if you have rough sea conditions. This is where we dropped in for our first dive. Jon was guiding us and warned that he would descent fast to make sure we didn’t miss the edge of the reef; we could come down a bit slower on the guide line.
As we were dropping a movement caught our eyes; a bullshark with a whole entourage of pilotfish and cobia! We couldn’t believe it, we were barely 10 seconds into the dive! The shark gave us a bit of a leisurely once-over and then swam off. Next came two oceanic blacktip sharks. They also seemed very relaxed around us, but didn’t stay too long. We finally got down to the bottom where we almost dropped on top of 5 huge blotched fantail rays that were performing an elaborate mating ritual. We were still trying to get the camera settings sorted out when an eagle ray whizzed past us. Talk about sensory overload, you started to get the feeling that if you looked at one thing for too long that two other things would swim past behind your back... At one point I was filming a huge school of trevallies when I felt a nudge on my elbow. I looked down and saw a massive potato grouper following me. He was a real attention junkie, as soon as anyone would try and photograph something else he would swim into the shot as if to say: “Look at me, look at me!” I know a few people like that, but it was very funny to see a fish do the same...
The rest of the dive just got better and better. We saw some more of the graceful blotched rays as well as the smaller Kuhl’s stingrays. Two turtles ambled past and there were loads of potato groupers of various sizes that were very inquisitive. A massive school of jacks showed up at once point, followed by a school of barracuda. The reef itself was beautifully overgrown with pink, orange and purple soft corals and covered with schools of anthias, butterflyfish and redtooth triggerfish. All too soon it was time to start ascending and it was with a feeling of regret that we saw the reef disappearing below us. The reef was not out of surprises yet, though. We just got to 5 meters when 4 devilrays came gliding past below us. They entertained us for a while but shot off into the blue when another oceanic blacktip appeared, followed by a school of barracudas. Needless to say, once we surfaced there were some big smiles all around!
For the next dive we headed to a site called White Sands, which is on the inner reef. We started on the deeper part of the reef in about 23 meters and slowly worked our way shallower. Again, we were amazed by the variety of life we encountered. Huge spiny lobsters seemed to be tucked away into every crevasse, different kinds of moray eels were hiding in the cracks and there was an abundance of nudibranchs. Halfway through the dive we got to a little plateau at 7 meters which is a manta cleaning station. We stayed here for the next 45 minutes just watching the mantas fly by in close formation. Another incredible sight!
Over the next days we managed to get a few more dives in. It was an amazing experience to dive an area that is still so unexplored and where the reefs and marine life is so pristine. Sharks are still fairly common and oceanic blactips, dusky sharks and bull sharks are often seen at the outer reef. The occasional tiger shark has also been spotted. Giant guitar sharks can be seen cruising over the reef, together with blotched fantail rays and Kuhl’s rays. Mantas are very common and on the inner reef there are quite a few shallow cleaning stations. We saw mantas every single time we dived the inner reef! Rare leatherback turtles are sometimes seen as well as the more common hawksbill and loggerhead turtles. Also macro lovers will not leave disappointed; there are nudibranchs of all sizes and colors, shrimps and lobsters everywhere, octopus, scorpionfish, clown triggerfish, the list goes on and on... From July to October Humpback whales visit the area to calve and it is possible to get a good look at them. Dolphins are often seen on the surface and whalesharks sometimes cruise by and allow divers to snorkel with them.
When it was time for our flight home, we reluctantly left, feeling that we wanted to stay much longer and that there was so much more to explore under water. We’ll highly recommend this place to any diver who wants to get a bit off the beaten track.
The Klipfontein wreck
The “Klipfontein” is an old Dutch passenger liner that sank in 1953, about 6 km from shore, after hitting some uncharted rocks. She lies upside down at a maximum depth of 53 meters with the keel at about 34 meters. Because of the depth she is only really suitable for technical divers.
When the “Klipfontein” sank she carried 118 crew and 116 passengers. The only injury was a twisted ankle by one of the female passengers when boarding the lifeboat. In the holds were 1,500 tons of electrolytic copper bars. Because of the value of the copper Lloyd’s entered into a contract with the salvage vessel “Twyford” to salvage the copper. Divers laid explosive charges along the port side of the ship and split most holds open. They recovered over 1,000 tons of the copper.
After all this time under water the wreck has attracted a fair amount of marine life. Corals started growing all over the wreck and schools of Kingfish and Barracuda are a common sight. Some very large brindle bass and potato groupers have also been seen there.
Where is Zavora?
About 420 km north of Maputo and 80 km south of Inhambane.
How do I get there?
Fly into Johannesburg, South Africa. From there you can either fly to Maputo or direct to Inhambane with LAM. A pick-up from Maputo is possible but has to be arranged well in advance. Transfers between Zavora and Inhambane are available on Mon, Wed and Fri. Contact Moz Divers for more info.
What accommodation is available?
Zavora Lodge has some self-catering cottages and there are also houses for rent. For those on a budget there are camping facilities and a backpackers lodge with twin bedrooms. 5 European standard suites with bar, restaurant and swimming pool is also planned and should be finished by June 2009.
When is the best time to go?
Diving is great right through the year with March/April and October/November being the calmest months with generally the best visibility. February and September can be a bit windy, but still yield good manta (Feb) and humpback whale (Sep) sightings.
How can I contact Moz Divers?
Check out www.mozdivers.com or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone numbers are on their website. Try to phone in the afternoons, in the mornings they are out diving!