PEMBA ISLAND SPECIALS
Amazing rates for June, July, November, and early December on the best walls in Africa
Seven nights' fullboard accommodation and five days' diving - packages from $980 USD
See the Tanzania page to find out why you should go there
Tanzania, Pemba, Zanzibar, and Mafia
Tanzania is home to some of the best game-viewing parks in Africa, from the legendary Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, to the lesser lnown marvels of Ruaha, Selous, Tarangire, and Manyara. Mikumi National Park is just four hours from Dar and is excellent for a three-day safari at the beginning or end of a dive trip. Click here to go to the Tanzania safaris page.
Pemba Island has arguably some of the best wall-diving in the world, certainly the best in Africa for variety, in a remote and captivating setting, often with less than 100 foreign visitors on the island at a given time. Unguja island (also known as Zanzibar island) is the more touristy and better-known destination, with good shallow reefs off Kendwa to the north-west and Mnemba Atoll to the north-east. Mafia, the most southerly of the three islands, has action-packed dives in the passes when the tide is moving and interesting topography, groupers and plenty of turtles on the east coast. From late October to March, Whale Sharks frequent the west coast and provide an excellent opportunity for snorkelling encounters.
Flying from Dar-es-Salaam to Stone Town on Unguja (or Zanzibar Island) takes 20 minutes. After a 15-minute break, the 35-minute flight to Pemba yields picture-postcard aerial shots of uninhabited islands and the reefs, before touching down in Chake Chake, Pemba’s biggest town, half-way up the west coast at the end of a long mangrove-lined creek. The airport is a small ramshackle affair, and despite a plethora of attractions including atmospheric ruins, primeval forest, unique bird species, deserted beaches, and some of the best diving in the Indian Ocean, Pemba hosts less than 100 tourists at any given time, sometimes less than 20 in total in the three resorts!
In a 4WD minibus it takes around an hour to wend northwards towards the north-west corner of the island. Leaving the tarmac the last 15 kilometres are on sand tracks through the Ngezi Nature Reserve, a beautiful forest home to flying foxes, several endemic bird species, and some very friendly people. Having pioneered diving on Pemba in the 90's based in Chake Chake, the owners moved up here in 2008. The well-designed accommodation was built from local materials, and the quarry where the bricks were cut is, well, a stone’s throw away. Food is wholesome and filling, and is locally-sourced and cooked with love by Yohanna (chocolate biscuit cake a speciality). Off the electricity grid, water is warmed by the sun and dispensed by gravity, and a generator runs at night to provide lighting and power to charge batteries. Seven-night, 10-dive "flashpacker" packages start at $980. 7 nights' full board in an en-suite room is season is $1850, including transfers.
To the south, is the luxurious Fundu Lagoon. After a 40-minute transfer to the port of Mkoani, hop aboard a boat for a 10-minute ride to the lodge. The long wooden jetty is impressive, as is the discreet but warm welcome. The rooms are large safari tents under a large thatched roof, with a great en-suite shower room, and a secluded bit of beach for most of the 16 rooms, the more expensive, larger, suites having their own pool too. The sunset views over the infinity pool and across the bay are breath-taking, and the sun setting directly behind the jetty bar and into the ocean surreal. On Saturdays, dinner is often served on the beach, an eat-till-you-burst gourmet braai of slipper lobster, tiger prawns, and calamari washed down with excellent French wines. Prices are all-inclusive (excluding champagne) and cost 370 USD per person in low season and 435 USD per person high season for a Hill Side room and 405 USD per person low season, 480 USD per person n high season for a Beach Front room. THe marina protected area of Misali island is a 10-minute boat ride away, and is the area predominantly dived by the Fundu Lagoon. DIves start at 75 USD per dive, dropping to 66 USD on a six-dive package. Trips to other dive sites at Uvinje Gap, Kishani Island, and Fundo Gap are subject to a fuel surchage of 15 USD per dive, with a minimum of four divers on the boat.
Walls are everywhere on Pemba. The fringing reefs are close to shore, and the best are in the gaps created by the small outlying islands that run along the west coast. The coral is fed by the nutrient-rich Pemba channel and is alive with all sorts of wierd and wonderful soft and hard corals and reef fish. It’s not a place for 'big' encounters every dive, but the variety and volume of small to medium-sized species is outstanding, with coral crabs, magnificent partner shrimps, nudibranchs, anthias, morays galore, schools of snapper and trevally, frequent meetings with Napoleon wrasse and barracudas, and the occasional ray or shark. Many dives are on vertical walls, dropping from the azure surface through cobalts, and beyond into the depths - up to 600 metres straight down in parts. Njao and Fundo Gaps (nowhere near Fundu Lagoon) are stunning with over a dozen dive sites, the long walls at Kishani often have viz in excess of 70 metres, and Uvinje Gap has the teeming (and sometimes challenging) Slobodan's Bunker. All-in-all, Pemba is my favourite place to dive in Africa.
Photos from December 2012 part I
Mafia island lies 30 minutes south-west of Dar-es-Salaam and has two main attractions: snorkelling with the seasonal whale sharks off the east coast of Kilidoni from December to March, and diving on the outer reefs of the west coast and a couple of passes on the edge of Chole Bay. Kinasi Pass has a surprising quantity of fish for a relatively barren area - snappers are plentiful, morays and schools of barracuda are common, and it is rare to not see at least one large grouper per dive here. Of the reefs outside the passes Dindini caves north and south are a long series of overhangs in the rock wall that drops from the reef top at six metres down to the bottom at around 30 metres. Visibility is nearly always over 20 metres here and often more, and the overhangs are favourite haunts of large potato groupers. These cuties can grow up to two metres long and 200 kilos, and often treat divers with curiosity, happily hanging around to have their picture taken and show that they are not disturbed by our presence. There is also good macrolife on the walls, with plenty of whip corals and resident gobies. The sites down by Juani are covered in soft purple and pink corals, and are excellent places to encounter turtles.
Diving is carried out from a traditional wooden dhow powered by outboard engines. Departing after breakfast lunch is often taken on the boat between dives, unless tides dictate an early start in which case a hearty mid-morning snack is the order of the surface interval and late lunch is taken on returning to the lodge.
The lodge has a beautiful pool and beach, thoughtfully appointed rooms, and the food is both plentiful and some of the tastiest around. With only 13 suites spread around the large grounds, it is easy to relax and feel pampered. For those who would like further pampering, there is a spa and massage centre on site with a resident Thai masseuse and masseur.
ZANZIBAR AND HISTORICAL STONE TOWN
Zanzibar island also had some good diving spots around Kendwa and Mnemba Atoll, with low cost and mid-range accommodation options making this an excellent choice for the diver on a tighter budget. We have a selection of rooms ranging from 50 to 100 dollars a night. The west coast reefs around Tumbatu island, Hunga, Kichafi, and Hadji have excellent fishlife, Mwana is a bit of a turtle hotspot with multiple sightings on many dives, and Shamzi is home to a number of rarer finds including weedy and Mauritius (aka paddle-flap) scorpionfish and seahorses. There are good photographic opportunites for wide angle and a plethora of macro subjects. Mmemba Atoll round to the east coast has some drop offs and walls, and Leven Bank out to the north can provide an exhilharating fast drift dive. Click here to go to our Zanzibar page.
If you are interested in a bit of history or just want to visit a quite unique city, it is worth stopping off in Stone Town for the architecture and the laid back hustle and bustle. Once the capital of the east African slave and spice trades and ruled by the Sultans of Oman, today Stone Town is a vibrant mix of new and old. Despite the tumble-down apperance of much of the town, there are some exquisite hotels and wonderful aromas and flavours. Rooftop sundown drinks and nibbles at the night food market are a must. Again, there is a range of accommodation available. We also have a seven-night special with 1 night in Stone Town, three in a lodge at the Menai Bay conservation area, a day dhow sailing down to Kizimikazi with lunch, lazing and snorkelling on a deserted island, and three nights in a lodge near Kizimikazi in the south. Contact us for more information or click here.
Pemba, Zanzibar, and Mafia
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