Inhambane in southern Mozambique is a veritable diving nirvana, and scuba divers from all over the world flock to these shores annually to wonder at the underwater splendour on show here. Now, the recently opened Sava Dunes offers divers a luxurious base from which to explore to tropical waters of Mozambique.
One moment a streamlined barracuda whizzes past me, the next, I’m confronted by a colossal and rather inquisitive loggerhead turtle. I get a close-up glimpse of the razor edges of its beak, and it looks belligerent, so I decide to back away. I drift out from under the enormous overhang and suddenly there’s excitement among the dive group. The divemaster signals the universal scuba sign for ‘ray’ by flapping her arms like a bird. I look behind me, but don’t see anything. Suddenly, the world gets dark. I look up, and eclipsing the sun are several massive manta rays gracefully gliding over our heads.
It’s a magical moment and I count at least thirteen of the beautiful underwater flyers as they pass overhead with their gigantic three-metre wingspans still blocking out the light. I’m gobsmacked at the sighting and can only exhale bubbles of awe as they disappear beyond our field of vision. So, I suppose this is why they call it Manta Reef…
I’m lucky enough to have dived in a number of exotic locales all over the world, from Sodwana to Seychelles, Malta to Maldives, but rarely have I been more enamoured with a stretch of coastline and its spectacularly abundant reefs, than when I visited Inhambane in southern Mozambique for the first time. I’ve been back several times, and on my last visit I got a sneak peek of the wonderful and recently opened Sava Dunes.
Although it is drivable from Johannesburg (allocate about 12 hours total, and sleep over in Maputo if you can), I rather opted for the short hop from OR Tambo to Inhambane’s little airport and was transferred to Sava Dunes.
The youngest offering in Sun Destinations’ stable is a lavish five-bedroom eco lodge perched on top of a dune overlooking the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s walking distance from beautiful Barra beach, and only a short 5km doddle to Tofo. The main lodge area consists of a lovely lounge, deck, dining area and, wait for it, a pool bar – that’s right, swim right up and order your poison! Connected to the lodge via a raised boardwalk are five comfortable and unpretentious en-suite rooms, all of which boast their own decks and stunning sea views.
Arriving back at Sava after my extraordinary morning at Manta Reef, I take a walk down to the beach for a relaxed swim in the warm waves in front of the lodge, after which I kick back with a book in the hammock on my room’s deck. Absolute bliss. That afternoon, I go for my second diveand, impossibly, it proves to be even more spectacular.
This time we head out to Giants Castle, another reef that divers travel from far and wide to experience. We head down to about 27m and drift along a 7m wall brimming with marine life. Along its ledges and crannies, I spy a gorgeous scorpion fish, a huge frogfish, lobsters, cleaner wrasse and a beautiful honeycomb eel.
I had been assigned as ‘dive buddy’ to the youngster in our dive group who, at 12, had just qualified. She gets visibly excited about the bright orange ‘Nemos’ buzzing about in their little anemone. I point out a cleaner shrimp to her. I show her to hold her hand out towards the spindly critter, and it doesn’t take long for the shrimp to start cleaning our nails and nipping our cuticles. After our manicure I dive to the bottom of the wall, where a resident – and gigantic – potato bass eyes me indifferently. Suddenly, my young dive buddy’s eyes widen, and her face whitens. She signals ‘shark’ and motions hysterically for me to turn around. I spin around and, in the distance, I can just discern the unmistakable tailfin of a shark. But it’s not the kind of shark my buddy thinks it is…
The largest fish in the sea, and the reason many people descend upon Mozambique during season, the whale shark, is gently cruising around the reef, feeding on the rich plankton that drifts along the reef’s currents. I notify the divemaster, and we all swim towards the majestic fish at the edge of the reef to get a closer look. As we near it, it seems unperturbed and allows us to inspect it from close up. I make a guestimate of about 12 metres in length – an absolute giant. It travels with a massive entourage of pilot fish and other opportunists that swim in the massive fish’s slipstream. I’d only once before seen a whale shark, and then only briefly. The fact that this fish affords us so much time with it is incredible and it’s a moment of pure, unadulterated joy. We spend a good 10 minutes with it, before it ventures too far from the reef.
Once more back at Sava Dunes, the talk of the whole lodge is how lucky we’d been on our dives – seeing mantas and a whale shark in one day, along with everything else. That night we sit around the Sava bar until the wee hours, where the beers keep flowing and the stories growing. The next morning, we get up to do it all over again.
I’ve found paradise, it’s in Mozambique…