September 2018

September 28, 2018

Diving with Whale Sharks off Mafia Island, Tanzania

Filed under: A guide to Tanzania,The Indian Ocean Islands — Tags: , , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 8:51 am

Your questions, answered!

Off the coast of Tanzania, far south of Dar es Salaam, there is an island that welcomes spirited adventurers looking for a getaway that’s further off the beaten track than the other islands off East Africa’s coastline. Mafia Island is a peaceful retreat with pristine diving and snorkelling spots that are home to a colourful array of ocean dwellers, including the whale shark.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Chole Mjini

Encountering the largest fish in the sea is quite simply breath-taking, and it will be one of the many, long-lasting memories of a beach holiday in Tanzania. We answer the questions most regularly asked by our guests when booking a trip to Mafia Island to dive with whale sharks.

When is the best time of year to see whale sharks?

From October through to February each year, Mafia Island becomes a particularly magical place. Whale sharks, the gentle giants of the sea, venture close to the shore to feast on the plankton pushed out with the silt from the Rufiji River into the warm waters of the Indian ocean. As filter-feeders, whale sharks glide below the water’s surface with their mouths open consuming multiple kilograms / pounds of plankton and small aquatic organisms each day.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Chole Mjini

Mafia Island experiences the longest whale shark season globally. Whilst the behaviour of whale sharks is still relatively unknown, the most reliable time to encounter them within the October to February period at Mafia Island is during November and December.

What is it like diving with whale sharks?

Despite its name, whale sharks are neither typically whale nor shark. Without proper teeth and shy by nature, swimming with whale sharks is a safe excursion that makes Mafia Island such a special destination. As with all wildlife, a respectful distance should be kept at all times as a whale shark will most likely be nervous of the strange four-limbed creature swimming beside it.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Chole Mjini

Like the unique set of fingerprints humans have, whale sharks have distinct patterns and scarring that make each individual fish different from its neighbour. These are truly magnificent and beautiful creatures whose size add to this captivating encounter. Reaching up to 12 meters long, weighing in at 20 tonnes, and with the potential to live for 70 years, diving with whale sharks is a humbling experience.

What kind of accommodation is on Mafia Island?

The perfect natural setting is equally matched by luxury furnishings, tasteful décor and a high standard of service at the lodges on Mafia Island. Stylish and laid-back island-living is the mainstay of the different accommodation types found here, such as bungalows, stone chalets and even treehouses.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Pole Pole

Mafia Island is a fantastic honeymoon getaway for newlyweds wanting peace and quiet after months of wedding planning. Families too will love the diversity of lodgings as well as activities that are on offer for the kids to get involved in. For those travelling on a larger budget, the lodges on the neighbouring Fanjove and Thanda islands are extremely exclusive and dreamy!

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Kinasi Lodge

Inspired to dive with the underwater giants of Tanzania’s crystal blue coastal waters? Chat with us about putting together the perfect Tanzanian beach holiday for you.

November 15, 2017

Swimming with Whale Sharks at Mafia Island

Photo © Steve De Neef

Just a 30-minute flight south of Zanzibar, the little island of Mafia is a remote, charming and laid-back alternative to the more tourist-driven beaches of Zanzibar.

What can I expect on Mafia Island?

Primarily known for its ocean glory, Mafia Island really encourages travelers to explore the wonders of its surrounding waters. Home to Tanzania’s first marine park, Mafia Island Marine Park, the reefs around the island offers a staggeringly beautiful display of marine life, as well as some of the most vibrant and varied coral in East Africa. In addition to this, Mafia Island is one of the only destinations where whale shark sightings are virtually guaranteed at the right time of year.

Photo © Steve De Neef

What is the best time to swim with whale sharks?

From October through to February, the Kaskazi (north monsoon wind) pushes the plankton-rich surface layer of the water from the nutrient-rich Rufiji River silt, towards the island, trapping it against the west coast. The whale sharks gather at the surface in the areas where the plankton is most dense and use their 1-metre wide mouths to ‘hoover’ up their daily requirement of nutrients.

How does a day swimming with whale sharks work?

Sometimes found just ten minutes from the shore, and seldom more than an hour away, the whale sharks’ feeding areas are reached via a quick boat ride. Once they have been located, you’ll spend a sometime waiting for the whale sharks to relax and get used to your presence, before gently climbing into the water for a swim and closer look at them. Measuring up to 8m long, they are an impressive sight next to the boat, and even more stunning to behold under the water. It’s important to remain calm and patient during this experience as to not disturb the whale sharks, after all, this human-animal interaction is a massive privilege. Despite their size, these gentle giants won’t even bump into you if they can avoid it and will swim away if they feel threatened.

Where should I stay on Mafia Island?

Lodges here are small, rustic and beautiful. You do not get the luxury behemoth resorts that Zanzibar offers, but friendly lodges aware of their environment and a great base from which to explore the wealth of marine life that Mafia offers. Our favourites include Kinasi and Pole Pole.

Photo © Steve De Neef

What else can I do?

On the island itself you can dive in the huge protected marine park, famed for exceptional reefs, or visit some of the local villages or even the ruins from a colonial past. Looking to the mainland, just a short hop away, one can head out on some of the continent’s best safaris. Tanzania has a wealth of National Parks and protected areas boasting incredible game viewing – and It can be easily combined with a trip to Mafia Island. We can book a full trip combining all of this, and organise all of the logistics in between.

Watch this video by National Geographic for more info and why the whale sharks spend so much time around Mafia Island:

If swimming with whale sharks sounds like your idea of fun, then get in touch with us and we’ll help you plan the perfect safari tailored to your interests, budget, and schedule.

March 1, 2013

The Indian Ocean Islands – Chole Island

Filed under: Chole Island — Tags: , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 4:51 pm

The overgrown ruins of the German administration on Chole provide an eerie sense of the imposing power of colonialist rule. These old stone edifices stand in grand alignment along a wide and immaculately straight central pathway, although the old stone gaol and boma are now freely open to all the whims of nature. There are also less distinct remains of the older Arab settlements here.

The island is also home to a sizeable roost of giant fruit bats, sign-posted along a path past a chirruping Qu’ran school, although the noisome racket of the roost at morning and night is guide enough. The docking beach at Chole is a good spot to see traditional boat-building and sail-making, in which all materials are impressively fashioned by hand.

This tiny island, only 1sq km, is a peaceful and natural haven to wander at leisure. The local people are friendly, and it is interesting to see their smart mud and pole houses, often well-decorated with pebbles to add colour and style. The pathways around the island sometimes take a fine line through the garden plots, growing mainly cassava and beans, and the newly extended school and clinic are encouraging for further achievements here. Boats to Chole should be easily arranged with your hotel, although it is very easy to jump aboard the popular local dhow ferry from the beach at Utende, just in front of the Mafia Island Beach Hotel. This ferries back and forth regularly throughout the day until 4pm, and the beachside wait is pleasant as the boat is always in view. The fare is about Tsh200, and ferryman and crew are welcoming and friendly, as long as you are decently dressed!

Chole Island – Juani Island

The remains of the legendary civilisation at Kua is on the west coast of Juani Island, approximately a twenty minute boat ride from Mafia Island and only accessible at high tide. The ruins cover a huge distance, and are generally overgrown although enough stands to give some impressive account of the fine civilisation that once existed here, although the earliest structures are not much in evidence. The ruined mosques date from the 14th century, while other surviving ruins are generally much later, from the 18th century. The largest standing ruin is a vast double storey structure with stone stairs and a maze of anterooms, although the state of the ruins make it hard to get around. Coral stone steps run up to the second level, from where a flue runs from the bathroom to a pit beyond the outer wall, and beneath the stairs a small chamber room is said to have confined badly behaved slaves. The ruins still sustain a strange aura of bygone grandeur, and local people have deemed areas spiritual enough for offerings to be left here. An extremely old but remarkably lithe caretaker lives in a small hut just beyond the ruins, and although he is unlikely to offer much assistance he is grateful for contributions – you do have to squelch through his cassava plantations to walk between the ruins, and the house in front of his hut is said to be the very place where the townspeople of Kisimani met their untimely fate…

Nearby, surrounded by cavernous stone tombs, the ancient central mosque still stands, albeit without its roof, which crumbled recently, but complete with vast internal pillars and sculpted mirhab. Potsherds and beads can be found in the earth all around the area, and glint amongst the shingle on the beach.

The island of Juani also had a reputation for its medicinal powers, as the milk from the island was said to have curative properties and the seawater pool that fills one of its caves was widely believed to cure aching joints, such as rheumatism. The effectiveness of this natural saline bath is however dependent upon the quality of sweet and delicious offerings brought by the afflicted for the Mohammedian custodian of the cave, who continues to hold a legacy of partiality to honey and dates.

Island explorers might like to range through the undergrowth to find the ‘Green Lagoon’ of the Kua channel, which provides an unusually shady swimming hole and a huge and apparently friendly grouper bids you welcome. The Lagoon is most easily accessible from a boat, about half way along the Kua Channel.

Chole Island – Jibondo Island

Around 20 minutes sailing from Juani, Jibondo Island has a sizeable community, with a reputation for their prowess as boat-builders and fishermen. All their building methods are entirely reliant on simple hand tools, with even hand-made nails to keep the vessels together. The women of Jibondo are said to be unusually adept at sailing and fishing, and the community is unusually organised into immaculate grid-like streets at one end of the island, with all fields for cultivation at the other.

It is also possible to arrange dhow trips to other areas around Mafia Island and the smaller islands of the archipelago, to find small, often deserted beaches and rural fishing communities. Bweni, on the northernmost tip of Mafia Island is stunningly beautiful, peaceful and unspoilt, and Dinidini Beach on the Eastern peninsula above Chole Bay is worth visiting, although it is only accessible at high tide. There is a large coral rock pool behind the beach, surrounded by small dunes. It is often visited for a lunch stop after a diving expedition to the Dinidini Wall. Dimidizi Beach, to the south of Chole Bay, is also a fine beachside spot, about 4km from Kinasi Lodge. Offshore islands such as Baracuni, 12km northwest of Mafia, and Nororo Island, 12km north of Mafia, are quiet and natural hideaways used by fishermen. Nororo has a resident community, and a couple of local restaurants for fish and rice dishes. You should be well-prepared for all excursions, with enough fresh water and refreshments, and especially if camping. Kinasi Lodge can arrange camping trips to heavenly deserted beaches on the northern peninsula and Okuza and Nyuni islands (south of Mafia), complete with fly-tents, mattresses and lavish cool-box supplies.

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