Mozambique - Remote Diving at Pomene with The Lodge by Dr Cain Hunt
Pomene Lodge is an exotic holiday resort on the Mozambique Coast 605km north of the capital Maputo. It is hard to convey just how remote and unspoilt this area is. We were the only divers on the reefs and the abundance and variety of marine life made my trips to the Red Sea and Barrier Reef seem tame.
In this wilderness location 60km by dirt road (passable only by four-wheel drive vehicles) from the nearest small town, Massinga, they have built a beautiful intimate resort on a spit of land between Pomene Bay Estuary and the Indian Ocean. We stayed in the luxurious Water Chalets (built on stilts as at high tide the water comes up underneath them and their price includes full board and towels (not beach towels though). There are also some comfortable self catering fishing cottages which sleep between 4 and 8 people but the food is so good in the restaurant I'm not sure I would bother cooking for myself. All the beds have mosquito nets.
The Lodge has a small shop and a well stocked bar - which is just as well
because there is nowhere else local to buy things. There is a laundry service which is efficient and good value. The resort is not large - we took a party of 30 teenagers and 3 adults and almost filled the accommodation. In addition to the Diving there are a wide variety of other activities - fishing, quad biking, kayaking, body boarding, horse riding and trekking in the mangroves. They also put on special events like boat trips up the estuary into the mangroves and one evening they made a bonfire out of driftwood and we had a braai (BBQ) on the beach.
Neville Ayliffe who runs the Lodge (with his wife Wendy and Kirsten) is an absolute fountain of knowledge about the mangrove ecosystem and the tropical wild life both in and out of the water - a rare opportunity to learn from an enthusiastic expert. The local people are subsistence farmers who only have what they can grow or catch. On one walk through the Mangrove swamps we were shown how they collect mangrove whelks from the mud and then smash them toget the meat out - they pan fried them for us with coconut and herbs, delicious! We were there as part of an ongoing charity project from Oundle School which has built a clinic, started a sewing commune and built a walkway through the mangrove swamps and is going to rebuild the primary school buildings. Although the Diving was fabulous, my favourite memory was when our students and the Pomene children went to the beach together.
Pomene is part of Barra Resorts (www.barraresorts.com) and they can put together a package for you including flights from Johannesburg to Inhambane and then the road transfer from Inhambane to the Lodge. We chose to travel overland through the Kruger Safari Park all the way to the Lodge and then flew back from Inhambane on the way back. You will need to get a visa from the Mozambique Embassy in London and it is worth getting this well in advance. Mozambican roads are pretty dreadful and I would not advise driving yourself unless you are very happy with off road conditions (you have to let your tyres down to cope with the last 8km of sand). Prices vary with South
African school holidays and it is worth looking at their website as there are often late deals.
Although Pomene Lodge is an idyllic spot you need to be aware that to reach the nearest western standard hospital you will have to drive for 4 hours to Inhambane Airport and be flown to Johannesburg. You therefore need good quality travel insurance with medical evacuation cover and you need to make sure you are covered for the depth of diving you plan on doing. The nearest decent recompression facility is at the Hyperbaric Treatment Centre in Johannesburg (two 10 man chambers - up to 11ATA + Heliox). The Lodge has good first aid kits and the oxygen (etc) that you would expect in the dive boats but it is sensible to bring some simple medical supplies yourself (paracetamol, plasters, insect bite cream etc). Although it is by the coast there are plenty of mosquitoes at dusk so remember to pack some 50% Deet insect repellent and sort out your malaria pills etc.
The diving costs about £30 per dive including kit hire of mask, wetsuit, BC, regs, dumpy 12L steel cylinder and fins. The kit is well used but in good condition. Neville Ayliffe and Steve Falconer are the Dive Instructors and service all the kit themselves - the regulators breathe very sweetly. I took a mask, computer and camera and torch. If I was going again I might take fins too as I have oddly sized feet. There is no nitrox or twin set option but since we were 8 hours minimum from the nearest chamber we didn't do any really deep diving or go beyond our no-stop times so we still had 50 minute dives with plenty of gas. There are two dive ribs - which can carry 10 divers and 6 divers respectively.
The sea state is usually best in the morning and so often you can take out two cylinders on the boat, fish during your surface interval and come back for lunch. As many of our group were novices we tended to do one boat dive in the morning and then a shore dive in the estuary in the afternoon. There is the option of night diving too but when we went the tides were against us (we would have been diving at 2am).
The dive sites we visited are within 40 minutes of the Lodge and are literally swarming with life. Coming up through a hundred or more schooling Coachmen (Moorish Idols) has to be experienced to be believed. My favourite site was Play Station which has a Manta cleaning station close to a large rocky outcrop with numerous tunnels and swim throughs. Sadly we didn't actually see a Manta but we did see sharks and large turtles and rays and an octopus. The estuary is a particularly special dive site as there is lots of sea grass at 6m and a resident population of seahorses.
Neville and Steve took good care of our novices and with the numerous shallow sites nearby they got to do their first open water dives on absolutely stunning pristine reefs. They sometimes split the groups using the smaller dive boat and Steve took the more experienced divers further a field to more challenging sites. As there were often gentle currents flowing we tended to dive as pairs following an instructor using an SMB and in the 30m visibility it was very relaxing diving.
I would thoroughly recommend this as a fantastic diving destination with pristine reefs bristling with life which would be ideal for a familyholiday. But Pomene offers so much more with an intimate magical location where you are made extremely welcome and also have the chance to experience the unspoilt Mozambican countryside and get to meet the locals who make up most of the staff.
Dr Cain Hunt