News from the Northern Mozambique Islands

Road report

I have just recently driven up to Mocimboa da Praia, about 350km north of Pemba, in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique. A round trip of roughly 8000km. For anyone heading this way be warned that some stretches of the road are in very bad shape. The worst stretches are from Maxixe to Vilankulo where the tarred road is very badly pot-holed. Then once you cross the Buzi River there is another 40km stretch of badly pot-holed tar. The road is then good all the way to Namacurra. At the Inchope crossroads you need to Travel to Nhamatanda to get fuel unless you are prepared to buy from the roadside vendors. The next available fuel is at Nicuadala. Gorongosa National Park has a good overnight stop if you are prepared to travel the 30km into the Park where the camping and chalets are located. There is a restaurant here that serves food and drink.

Ferry a Problem

The ferry crossing at the Zambezi River was a disaster on both legs of the trip with the ferry broken on both occasions. The alternative is to drive round to the ferry crossing at the Shire River. This is a manually operated ferry and is much more reliable. This detour is gravel road that is good apart from the section from the railway bridge that you use to cross the Zambezi River, to the ferry crossing at the Shire River. Make sure that you stop at the control points on each side of the Zambezi River as the traffic crosses on a time basis. We made the error of not stopping on the north side as the guards were sitting under a tree and we did not see them. This caused quite a problem even though we did not go onto the bridge. The stretch from Namacurra to Mocuba is gravel and tar and is fine. The first 40km on the way to Alto Molocue from Mocuba is good but the road after this has some bad sections.

Beware of Bandits

As the road approaches Alto Molocue there are some very bad slow sections where the road detours through some deep gulleys. This is slow driving and some unsavoury types are jumping onto trailers and liberating whatever they can. This area should not be traveled at night. From Alto Molocue north there is a dirt section and then the rest of the road is good tar all the way to Pemba, apart from the odd pothole. The road to Mocimboa da Praia from the turn-off is good tar apart from a 50km stretch of gravel roughly in the middle of this 350km stretch.

Pemba Growing

Pemba is definitely starting to take-off as a holiday destination with some amazing fishing and diving to be had relatively close to the town. More restaurants have opened up in the town and there is a general feeling of optimism amongst the foreign locals. Russell’s Campsite, a kilometer or two down the Wimbi Beach road, provides good cheap camping with the bar being the focal point for most of the foreign locals. The Nautilus hotel also has reasonable rates and now has a casino for the gambling types. The Pemba Beach Hotel is very swish but also very expensive and is too posh for my tastes but provides luxurious accommodation for those wanting it.

Island Paradise

The northern Islands have some fantastic drop-offs to hunt, but do not travel up when the Trade Winds are blowing. They are supposed to taper off in July and this is normally the month when the Yellowfin tuna arrive. Both of these things did not happen and we had very strong winds for the first 3 days on the island. They moderated to 15k for the next 4 days but the sea temperature was 22 Celsius and with some colder water below 15m, the fish were nowhere to be found. There were millions of mantis shrimps carpeting the sea in large areas and the yellowfin gorge themselves on these shrimps, but sea conditions were not right and there were no tuna about. Compared to when I was there in November/December last year with 27/28 C sea temperatures, fish life was totally different. Still plenty of big reef fish about but hardly any gamefish apart from the odd cuda, barracuda and kingfish. Big shoals of kaakap about and at some stage this fish needs to be re-classified, as they do not have gamefish characteristics.

Terns under Threat from Locals

On the north side of Metundo Island, there are 3 small rock islands that the 3 different types of terns that I identified, are using for nesting sites. Unfortunately the locals are harvesting these eggs on a daily basis with rich pickings to be had from the thousands of terns that are nesting there. This has probably been going on for hundreds of years but must be putting the terns under great pressure. Coupled with this you have the ever watchful pied crow giving the sites the once over, so few if any chicks can survive from this type of onslaught.

Spearing at its Best

We stopped in at Barra on the journey home for 2 days and had very flat seas for one of the days after a west the previous day. As things had been quiet at the beginning of the month when we dived there, we got to the reef late and were not expecting much. The water was very clean, 30m+, but felt cold and despite plenty of baitfish about, conditions did not seem ideal. Thoughts soon turned to spearing as 7 sailfish materialized below the flasher all lit-up with sails raised. They were too wary to spear but what a sight. From then on the gamefish were streaming through with shoals of cuda and wahoo making for exciting spearing with the sailfish once again coming in to have a look and not being so lucky this time round.

Raping of the Oceans Continues

We heard from a reliable source who has his boat in dry dock at Dar es Salaam harbour, that there is a fleet of French trawlers based there. They are targeting the yellowfin tuna and are coming back to Port with thousands of tons of this fish that are being flown out to foreign countries. They are placing large floating mats out at sea that are monitored on a daily basis. When the pickings are rich they go in and lay purse-seine nets around the mats and catch whatever is below the mats.

Observations from the trip

It is definitely possible to tow a boat up as we did and base yourselves amongst the Islands. Fuel and water are not a problem as the dhows provide a good re-supply service for all these items plus bread and beer. They charge roughly R450 per round trip for this service. You need to be on your guard against theft the whole time, although this threat lessens once you are on the islands. It is better to have someone sleep on the boat in case some unwelcome visitors drop by and for this reason you also need a reliable camp guard. You do not want to be driving the roads north of Mocuba during the rainy season, late December to end March, so steer well clear of the rainy months. As it is quite a long trip, but a great adventure nonetheless, pick the best weather time of year for this area and experience spearfishing at its very best. October and November are very settled months in this part of Mozambique.

Safe diving, John.