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World | Tanzania | Diving Mtwara:

Mtwara overview


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Mtwara, Tanzania dive site map


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Scuba Diving in Mtwara, Tanzania


Water temperature:

27°C - 28°C (81°F - 82°F) is average

Suit:

3mm - 5mm wetsuit

Visibility:

10 - 30 metres (30 - 100 feet)

Type of diving:

One wreck, quick drifts, big currents, picturesque reefs

Marine life:

Hammerhead sharks, turtles, giant trevally, giant barracuda, tuna, lionfish, triggerfish, parrotfish, unicornfish, clownfish, sea cucumbers and more reef life

When to go:

Do not go during the end of March to the end of June monsoon season is no fun on this coastline!

How to get there:

Coming from Europe on an early morning landing at Dar-es-Salaam will leave you enough time to transfer to the daily Air Tanzania or Precision Air flights which leave later in the morning. If you are arriving from South Africa then you will be using either SAA or Air-Tanzania to Dar-es-Salaam. In my opinion the latter is probably better, I have no great faith in our national carrier. Each have one flight a day but unfortunately they arrive in Dar long after the daily late-morning Air-Tanzania flight to Mtwara, (at the extreme south of the country), has left. Precision Air's daily flight also leaves too early.


Rovuma river mouth, Tanzania - courtesy of Charles Duff

If, like me, you are sick and tired of crowded diving venues, dicey beach launchings and even dicier landings, plus being pounded through rough seas in a RIB, hanging onto a rope for grim death or yo-yoing in low-viz surge at 20 metres, then let me disclose to you the best-kept secret of the east coast of Africa the peaceful, clear and calm waters of Mikindani and Mtwara in southern Tanzania.

If on your way to Mtwara you get to have an overnight stay in Dar es Salaam this is no bad thing - get a copy of the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide to Tanzania. The night life is certainly interesting and the restaurants at the Slipway are to be recommended. A wide range of hotels and lodges can accommodate any budget. My choice the Karibu Hotel on Haile Selassie Road has a pool, bar and two restaurants with air-con. Rooms for about US$ 35.00 B&B. The considerably more upmarket Sea Cliff Hotel (US $150+) is on the seafront on Toure Drive. Plenty of choice of bars and eating places with the eclectic Slipway reasonably close by. Both are on the more exclusive Msasani peninsular. There is another option for South Africans flying by Airlink from Johannesburg to Pemba Beach in Mozambique followed by a daily plane to Mtwara, but not having used this route, I can't comment as to times, costs, connections and convenience.

There is only one licensed dive operation - Eco2 in Mikindani. Ensconced in an old double storey Arab house on the main drag, it is a fully equipped PADI centre and dive packages are negotiable (though it's best to take your own kit) and weight-belts and tanks are what they usually supply. Most dives are two-tank and should you want to get around the cape to Ruvula in the Mnazi Marine Park there is an extra fuel charge and a minimum number of divers needed, and the Park levies a daily visitor fee. The locals get in for one dollar, but the rich mzungu.s get taken for ten times this.

A Zanzibari style door, Tanzania - courtesy of Charles Duff

A very short walk away is the 10 Degrees South lodge, also in a renovated single storey Arab house. Last July they had 4 double rooms with separate toilets and showers, but were building an annex of four large double rooms with en-suite bathrooms and private verandahs. The price was US $20.00-30.00 per night, per person, including breakfast. A recent peek at the new website shows that this is unchanged. Basic but clean and cheap, a meal was about 8-10 dollars per person, but don't expect 4 course gourmet meals! Ever smiling Babu the proprieter and chef is good at Swahili dishes and sticks to them. The cold water showers were acceptable considering the ambient temperatures, but hopefully some solar water systems have been installed by now, especially in the new wing. Happily they will pick you up from the airport at no extra charge.

On the top of the ridge backing the village is the Old Boma, the previous pre-1914 German administration centre which with the aid of a benevolent British NGO yclept Trade Aid was rebuilt by the present government into a beautifully restored hotel of 'Beau Geste' fort appearance. Seven double rooms and one single, all en suite and some with a spectacular view of the Mikindani lagoon, with Mtwara bay beyond it. Its seriously major attraction on steamy days however, is the swimming pool round the back. The only one in southern Tanzania, and a nicer spot to cool down would be hard to find. There is also a gazebo and garden bar for evening dining and drinking. Not cheap at GBP 57-91 per person per day B&B, but eminently worth it if you can afford the price. Free airport pick-up is included. The slog down the hill to the dive centre and back up might help to reduce the effects of the eminently edible and plentiful mainly Swahili fare.

There are many other old Arab houses in the town; some few renovated, but worth a stroll around the village with a camera. The few carved doors are very good examples of the genre. The house from whence David Livingstone departed on his final trek into the interior is being renovated and has an old plaque on one corner. The only real downer to what is otherwise an alluring Arab/African milieu is the main southern road which hugs the coast and lies between all the houses and the sea. Endless processions of trucks going to the 'Friendship Bridge' construction site on the Rovuma river make for a lot of noise and exhaust fumes. But when opened, possibly in 2009, (it was first mooted in 1976) it will make the coastal route to Mozambique and points south far more accessible than when the small rickety and far from reliable ferry was the only option.

A beached mashua at low tide in the Mikindani bay, Tanzania - courtesy of Charles Duff

In Mtwara itself on the shore of the main bay is the Southern Cross Hotel, (US $70-100 B&B) just outside the harbour entrance. Last July it was also busy in expanding its selection of en-suite free-standing chalets to double its guest capacity to about 40 pax. Its only drawback to the diver is the need for a +/-20 minute taxi ride to Mikindani and back for the scuba diving. Plus the vestigal beach becomes a very wide coral shelf once the tide starts to go out, so swimming is very tide dependant. Maybe Eco2 might do a pick-up on the beach, but this would be very tide dependant.

On Ruvula beach, beyond the village of Msimbati, is a small guest lodge called Ruvula Sea Safaris with tented restaurant/bar and half a dozen brick and palm thatch rondavels. They offer diving, but I am not aware of any formal dive centre affiliations. A (very necessary) 4x4 pick-up from the airport is available and the cost per person with full board is US $80.00 per day, diving extra.

At Eco2 the dives start with getting pre-briefed and geared-up in the centre and loading a trailer with all the necessary gear. A couple of kilometers or so down the tarred road is the renowned Mikindani Yacht Club. A quirky thatched lapa and toilets with a very necessary jetty and not one yacht in sight! The sand here is reasonably clean, the waves non-existent and it's a popular swimming spot. The +/- 4 metre tidal range means that at highs you are almost into the treeline whilst by low tide the beach extends a long way into the bay.

Apart from a couple of beached mashuas, there are two very well designed 8 metre dive boats made by Yamaha. The one 'Michavi' or 'Black Magic' is Eco2's, t'other belongs to the Parks Board and spends most of its life at anchor. These have a removable section on the starboard side allowing for wonderful gentlemanly step-in water entry without the accursed backwards roll, (though aficionados can still perform off the port side). Plus an equally wonderful short climb up a ladder at the end of the dive no struggling up and over the buoyancy tanks of a RIB! Built in water and fuel tanks, plenty of bespoke air cylinder holders, lots of seating and a centre console with adequate shading what more could anyone ask? Safety equipment is up to standard and well maintained.

Inside Mtwara Bay there are six dive sites, and all are controlled by the vast amount of water which flows in and out of the really large bay and harbour every day. Eco 2 try to dive on either side of the high and low tides to minimize currents. Visibility is obviously always better on the making tide. To sum up, for a quiet affordable diving holiday in warm clear calm waters, individual attention with lots to see and photographable stuff abounding, you could do a lot worse than Mikindani/Mtwara. My 10 dives cost me US #350.00.

Charles Duff


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