Category Archives: World

Insiders Guide to the Best Dive Sites in Africa

African waters may not be the first place you think of when you think of diving but surprisingly they can compete with the very best of Australasia and the Pacific when it comes to coral reefs and warm clear waters. The Red Sea in Egypt is one of the world’s best dive sites and it is most definitely located in Africa. However as it is already pretty well known we are focussing instead on some lesser known locations in Southern and Eastern Africa.

1) Watamu – Kenya

Watamu is a beach resort on the coast of Kenya on the shores of the Indian Ocean. It sits on a headland and therefore offers three main bays; Watamu Bay, Blue Lagoon and Turtle Bay. These make up the protected Watamu Marine National Park. The Marine Park is considered one of the best snorkelling and diving areas on the coast of East Africa. Local community groups, the tourist sector and environmental groups have formed a unique organisation called the Watamu Marine Association to work together with the aim of protecting the area. The whole area is fabulous for diving with white sandy beaches, coral reefs, a huge variety of marine wildlife, mild weather conditions and excellent visibility due to the lack of pollution.

2) Pemba, Bazaruto and Quirimbas – Mozambique

The Quirimbas National Park offers a fantastic natural and unspoilt coastline for some superb diving.  Pemba also in Mozambique is an ideal location for both snorkelling and diving as the coral reef is very close to shore. These waters offers protection to a massive variety of soft and hard coral that attract a huge variety of marine species, including the very rare and bizarre oceanic sunfish as well as dolphins, whales, whale sharks and turtles.  It is also popular with Humpback Whales and sometimes up to 5 whales at a time often seen on the shore breaching. The area is also home to a fantastic range of rays including the magnificent manta ray. The Bazaruto Archipelago also offers incredible diving in a truly unspoilt landscape.  This region has year round diving conditions as temperatures never drop below 24c even in winter (July and August). Mozambique is often combined with safaris in the Kruger National Park.

3) Zanzibar – Tanzania

The coastal and outlying islands of Tanzania have developed a rich mix of African and Arabian influences over the years that give the area a truly unique atmosphere and culture. There is a fantastic range of species mainly down to the healthy coral reefs. The diving is excellent with good visibility, warm waters and many exciting dive sites. The main dive sites off Tanzania are the islands of Mafia, Zanzibar and Pemba which all offer different experiences. Zanzibar is surrounded by Indian Ocean coral atolls so you get some fantastic dives coming up close to some of the largest species, especially whales. Pemba Island offers spectacular wall diving, clear water and Mafia Island is best visited during the Whale Shark migration (Nov-Jan) to see the world’s largest fish is all its beauty.

Africa’s Fishing Grounds Are Under Threat

Africa is a continent with large populations living in deep poverty so the use of natural resources to feed the local people is vitally important. In an ideal world all nations would be self sustaining but even more so in Africa. Many of the African nations have a huge level of natural resources they can use to their advantage such as oil, minerals, coffee, tea etc to export. But producing enough food in arid climates or even in equatorial forest is very tough.

Two-thirds of African countries have some kind of coastline and some use it for not only tourism but also the fishing industry. However the productivity of African waters is dropping and fishing stocks are shrinking rapidly. Sadly his is a familiar story for fisherman here in the UK.  Kenyan fishermen are now catching a tenth of the numbers of fish that they were catching twenty or thirty years ago which is having a huge impact on the fishing industry. It is not only Kenya though but across the coastal waters around Africa with several species becoming extinct in over-fished areas. Even in the teeming waters off South Africa the fishing industry is reporting significant drops in catch over the past few decades.

The problem is pretty much the same as in European waters with overfishing and pollution to blame. However the problem in African waters is that there seems to be no co-operation to try and control fishing levels and allow stocks to replenish. Which is understandable when the countries are facing such poverty and famine from drought inland. The African Union has tried to fight overfishing with joint navy patrols and co-operation between fisheries but have failed so far. Even governments are not all keen on the idea of quotas. They are not exactly popular with our fishermen either!

Much needed marine research is being hindered by lack of funding and the continent has only one large oceanography department, at the University of Cape Town, and even that is crucially underfunded. Education is at the core of a responsible fishing industry and trying to stamp out illegal fishing methods such as ground trawling, dynamiting and light-lure fishing is proving difficult.

However, generally local fishing fleets remain small scale and less of a problem than industrial size fishing operations. Frequently the problem is down to foreigners fishing on an industrial scale in African waters. The ever increasing demand for food production across the world means that many other nations have been moving into African waters in order to fish on a large scale. The EU and China have both bought fishing rights in African waters as have the Russians. The fishing rights are easy money for unscrupulous governments and these make it almost impossible to reduce quotas or if they do they impact on the local fishermen rather than the international fishing companies.

Perhaps the answer is to create more protected national marine parks. This could work as it would allow fish stocks to recover in these areas and they could also prove to be huge tourism draws. In Kenya the coral reefs are so over fished that it now rare indeed to spot a shark so heavily have they been fished for the Chinese markets.

South Africa: Where and when to Whale Watch

Have you been watching the BBC series Ocean Giants? We at Real Africa have been glued to the screen since it started!

Seeing a whale up close and personal is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that most people only ever dream of. However in South Africa you get the chance to do just that. Over our summer months of June through to November Southern Right whales migrate from their feeding grounds off Antarctica to warmer waters including South Africa. By the time they reach South Africa and the Western Cape in particular they are entering their breeding season with displays of mating, calving and rearing their young. This awesome natural spectacle is truly a sight not to be missed.

The main calving season is July and August, but whales can be seen throughout September and October so if you have been hankering for some whale watching then now is the time to go!

Prime whale-watching coastline extends from south of Cape Town, all the way east as far as Durban. They can be viewed the land for those not keen on boat trips but the best way to see them is by boat for a truly close encounter.

In Cape Town, you can see them from the road from False Bay, and from the cliffs.

On the west coast of the Cape you can catch sight of these magnificent creatures from pretty much anywhere. Cape Agulhas the most southerly tip of South Africa is another place worth visiting as it’s a favourite destination with mothers and their calves. Sometimes up to 50 pairs can be seen at one time.

But the place that most people head to is the lovely town of Hermanus in Walker Bay which is on the southern coast of the Cape. Here you can enjoy some of the best land-based whale watching in the world. In fact Hermanus has a whale-watching festival every September to share in the magic of this natural spectacle.

If you are planning a trip further along the Garden Route then Plettenberg Bay is an absolute must. Southern Rights whales visit Plettenburg Bay from about June to November, and you can also catch a glimpse of  humpback whales migrating past in May and June and then, on their return trip, from about November to January. Plett, as it’s known by the locals, is also a fantastic destination for those interested in other cetaceans such as orca whales and Bryde’s whales and the very prolific dolphins which are permanent residents here. You can go dolphin or whale watching easily in Plettenberg Bay as there are a huge variety of boat trips on offer, even down to sea-kayaks for that truly close up encounter. Don’t be concerned though as the town is extremely careful to ensure that these trips are carefully monitored to ensure they do not interfere with the animals in anyway.

Further east there are still various excellent vantage points to see humpbacks, Bryde’s, minke and killer whales and quite often southern rights, especially in Algoa Bay, while sperm and beaked whales approach close to shore off Port St Johns.

VIDEO: Dolphins in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

On our recent visit to South Africa, checking on our favourite properties, meeting the guides and happily catching a couple of World Cup matches, we took time out to go whale-watching in Plettenberg Bay.

Situated at the heart of the Garden Route in the Cape Provinces of South Africa, this pretty town is one of the best places in the world for spotting whales, especially in their winter when they come up from the freezing Antarctic waters.

We were lucky. As well as seeing Humpbacks – 3 adults and a calf, we also got surrounded by a large pod of dolphins on the way back to sure. It was an amazing sight.

This 2 hours boat trip by speed boat can be incorporated into all our Garden Route tours and is well worth it – the views of this rugged coastline alone are worth the money.

A National Park that is all at sea…Mafia Island Marine Park, Tanzania

People assume that all of Africa’s National Parks and Reserves are stuffed with large animals. Most are but there are a few that cater for people with different interests, namely marine life.

Mafia Island, along with the islands of Unguja and Pemba, is part of the intriguing Tanzanian Spice Islands. The title of “Spice Islands” brings to mind images from the vibrant history of Mafia Island and of times when the small island was a major player in the international spice trade. As early as the eighth century, Mafia Island was an important center of trade between East Africa and the Far East, and Persian boats regularly used the island as a stopping place on their journeys. The name for the island is said to derive from the Swahili phrase mahali pa afya, which means “a healthy dwelling place.” The World Wildlife Foundation stepped in 1995 to aid Mafia Island in developing a marine wildlife center so that the natural aquatic beauty of the island could be preserved. The collaboration has been a successful one, and today Mafia Island Marine Park offers spectacular underwater viewing for snorkelers and scuba divers alike. So, for all those who are ready for an aquatic adventure, Mafia Island is the Tanzanian hot spot to head towards.

The Mafia peninsula is around 390 square kilometers and lies near the mouth of the Rufiji River on Tanzania’s mainland. The terrain of the island is very flat and sandy, with coral rock lining the eastern shores of the island and making cultivation nearly impossible. The island is the first in Tanzania to officially become a marine park, and the marine park itself covers most of the southern half of the island as well as parts of the northeast.

The marine life that makes up the Mafia Island Marine Park has been hailed as some of the most important aquatic habitats in the entire world. Although the park is dealing with challenges such as over fishing, the staff has managed to maintain the unique natural wonder of the park (although conservation efforts always face an uphill battle against unsafe fishing practices). The park’s diverse habitats include sea-grass beds, coral reefs, lagoons and coastal forest. Mangroves and inter-tidal reef flats can also be found. The marine park contains some critical feeding and nesting areas for the dugong (a sweet and docile mammal also known as a manatee or sea cow) and sea turtles. The park is also a home for over 100 species of birds, which can be viewed by taking out a traditional dhow (sail boat) onto the waters.

Diving in this spectacular marine reserve will be an experience that no visitor to the Mafia Islands will ever forget. Because the area is a marine park, special care has been taken to ensure that visitors will not disrupt the natural environment as a result of their diving. Thus, it is necessary to work with a licensed tour operator who has a good understanding of the sensitivity of the marine park and in what areas diving is allowed. Once you set up your diving trip, prepare to be awed by the incredible coral reefs, numerous underwater ocean shelves and coral heads. The colours and the plethora of fish divers will see are amazing.

The weather on Mafia Island is pleasant year-round, and anytime of the year will provide lovely conditions for diving and exploring the island’s maritime treasures. There are only two main roads on the island, one of which runs north to south and the other west to east. Discuss with your tour operator what kind of transport you will use to get around the island and how you will arrive on the island. There are a number of flight and ferry options that can be used, and by discussing these with your tour operator they can relate to you which means will be most appropriate for your journey. There are a number of different lodging options on the island; again, discuss your preferences with your tour operator. Some of the most well-known accommodations are Kinasi, which contains fourteen luxury bungalows and Chole Mjini, which houses its visitors in treehouses! Wherever you decide to stay, it goes without a doubt that Mafia Island will soon become one of your most memorable travel destinations.