Category Archives: World

Spotlight: Zanzibar, the Spice Island

Introduction

Zanzibar is a truly fascinating island just off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. Its location has been extremely important to Zanzibar and has made it a rich island at times and always a popular one. It is really a kind of crossroads in the Indian Ocean as its location means it has been an important stopping off point for trade routes between Africa, the Middle East, India and the Far East.

History

It has been inhabited by so many different races and peoples that it is a cultural melting pot even to this day. In ancient times it was the Sumerians, Assyrians and Egyptians who came toZanzibarand used it as a port and trading post Then later came the Indians, Chinese and Persians who all traded and lived on the island. Then over the past couple of centuries and in more recent times the Arabians and British vied for control. During the colonial era the British establishedZanzibaras an important stopping off point for trips to the furthest outposts of theBritish Empire. It was onZanzibarthat they could stock up with food and fuel to make the long journey eastwards. It was also a starting point for many British explorers including David Livingstone and Richard Burton.

Stone Town

HistoricStoneTownis protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightly so as it encapsulates the fascinating and diverse history of the island. The architecture in some parts is particularly grand with huge ornate wooden doors studded with metal bolts in decorate patterns. The architecture is a legacy from the days when rich Arab traders lived here and made their money from slave and spice trading. Much of Stone Town feels very Arabic rather than African with winding tiny alleyways more reminiscent of Morocco than Cape Town and there are bazaars dotted around as well still selling the famous spices that the are grown on the island. You can stay in some beautiful hotels inStoneTownmany of which have fantastic roof terraces where you can watch the sunset over the sea and soak up the evening atmosphere. There are also some great tours of the city whose past will come to life as the guide talks you through its colourful and characterful history.

Beaches

Most people come to visitZanzibar to relax on the beautiful white sandy beaches and to swim in the warm, turquoise waters of theIndian Ocean. The coastline ofZanzibar can compete with some of the better known islands such asMauritius and theSeychelles for truly spectacular beaches.Zanzibar has different coastal regions which have different types of coastal habitat and beaches. The beaches here are just as you would imagine a perfect tropical paradise. Tall coconut palms shade the edges of soft white sandy beaches that slope gently down into crystal clear warm waters abundant with colourful marine life. Most ofZanzibar is surrounded by coral reefs which protect the island from rough waters and create calm waters for bathing. The reef is also home to all sorts of colourful fish and dolphins, rays and even whales can be seen in the area. It is a perfect place for scuba diving and there are many resorts which offer PADI courses.

If you are looking for a remote and quiet beach then Mangapwani is the place for you or you can head to the remote and rugged beaches on the southern tip of the island including the Menai Bay Conservation Area which is an excellent place to see dolphins. If you are looking for coral lagoons and more options then the Nungwi Peninsular to the north is the place for you although this is more popular.

Accommodation

Most of the best beaches can be found on the east coast of the island which is around an hours drive or so fromStoneTown. It is here you will find the more established beach resorts with lots of facilities including watersports, fishing, spas and all-inclusive packages. If you head away from the better known areas you can find places that are truly tranquil with quiet beaches and small, boutique style hotels. These tend to be small with only a handful of rooms and minimal activities. However they are also often very stylish, with friendly hosts and the remote location means you almost have the place to yourself. These are a great option if you are choosing to honeymoon onZanzibar. However for families and sporty types then the bigger resorts are a better option.

Zanzibar is a great option for a beach package on its own or as an extension to a safari holiday in nearby Kenya or Tanzania.

The best places to see marine wildlife in Africa

Africa is one of the best places in the world to see a variety of marine wildlife. Several areas are designated marine conservation zones such is the importance of the area to the local marine wildlife. It is usually a combination of factors such as good coral reefs, lack of pollution and human interference and good sources of food which lead to these areas becoming to home to some of the rarer species of marine wildlife such as whales, sharks, sailfish, swordfish, rays and dolphins.

Mozambique has the largest marine conservation area and its coastline is made up of a  number of different archipelagoes. Most of the islands are small and uninhabited which provide great shelter for all sorts of marine creatures. The area has crystal clear warm water and is one of the best places in the world for scuba diving.  In fact the vast majority of beach hotels and lodges offer diving instructors and dive trips such is its popularity.

The marine wildlife you will spot include manta rays,sting rays and electric rays, various sharks including the enormous whale shark, all sorts of brightly coloured reef fish including clownfish, parrotfish and angel fish,  giant moray eels, and even tiny sea horses. If you are really lucky you might spot a rare dugong hiding in a bed of sea grass. There are also lots of green turtles who lay their eggs on the stunning Mozambiquan beaches and several types of dolphin inhabit this coastline and can be seen all year round. You can even see humpback whales in the second half of the year as they come to the warm waters to calve close to the shore.

SouthAfrica is another place justly famous for its copious marine wildlife and for being one of the best places for whale watching, shark diving and dolphin spotting. Its geographical location has much to do with it as the Cape is where the warm Indian Ocean meets the cold Atlantic. This makes it an important route for whales on their way to their breeding grounds and the currents provide excellent sources of foods. You can even see whales from the shore as they come in so close especially in the months of September and October. In the town of Hermanus there is even a whale -crier who is a town-crier who announces whale sightings! One of the most fascinating sights is the run of sardines off the Alguhas coast where thousands of sardines pass close to the shore and become a feeding frenzy for larger fish, sharks and cetaceans.

During the summer months from June through to October the southern right whale comes up from Antarctica to breed and spawn around the sheltered bays of the Cape. This makes for great whale watching as they play and feed in large numbers close to the shore. You can see whales from  CapeTown all the way along South Africa’s southern coastline up as far as Durban. Although Hermanus is the best known other towns such as Plettenburg Bay and Alguhas also provide great opportunities for whale watching both from the shore and on boat  trips. Humpback whales can be seen in early summer and over the winter as they migrate past and Bryde’s whales and orcas can also be seen .  The Eastern Cape and the coastline of Kwazulu-Natal is often rugged and unspoilt and also provides excellent views of humpbacks, Bryde’s whales and souther right whales. Giant pods of porpoises and dolphins are common all along the South African southern coastline throughout the year. Along the Garden Route you can watch them playing in the surf whilst you stand on the beach in front of them.

The other growing popular pastime is shark diving or cage diving. There are trips operated out of Cape Town and towns along the Garden Route where if you are brave enough you can go down into the water protected by a cage and watch sharks being fed just a few inches away from you.

East Africa including the coastlines around Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar also provide good opportunities for diving and exploring the marine life of the coral reefs in the area. The waters are crystal clear, warm and full of beautiful tropical fish as well as rarer species such as rays of all kinds.  It is also a great place for the larger types of sport or game fish such as sailfish, tuna and swordfish.

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.