Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique
Visited: August 2019
There was a slight chill in the early morning and I found myself unusually happy to pull on a 5mm wetsuit before joining the other divers for our short ride to the beach. Winter in the southern hemisphere runs June through September, and we were just catching the tail end of it in. The water is around 22 ˚C / 72 ˚F which is certainly not difficult to endure, especially for the opportunity to scuba dive in Ponta do Ouro.
Rae du Plessis from Gozo Azul gives a briefing before our fist dive
We dove with several South African divers during our visit to Ponta. A few who live near the border consider this their house reef; while others had come from as far away as Johannesburg and Cape Town.
There is incredible marine biodiversity in Ponto do Ouro, even in the winter months. Humpback whales migrate to nearby waters from Antarctica June through November, so spotting them from the boat or during a dive is not unheard of, and whale sharks are sometimes seen between December and April, though their numbers have been inconsistent the past couple of years.
Many divers come hoping for the chance to dive with sharks. There have been 19 separate species of sharks recorded in Ponta do Ouro and research is ongoing. Shark sightings can occur at any time.
In fact, one of the divers on our boat had been diving just one week before at a dive sight known for its sharks, called Pinnacles. Here he saw a large group of hammerheads, bull sharks and “raggies,” which is the local pet name for ragged tooth tiger sharks, circling the Pinnacle. November through May is when shark sightings occur most regularly. This is when visibility is at its best and bull sharks, tiger sharks and hammerheads are most abundant.
I would be thrilled to see one of these magnificent sharks, but also terrified. It will happen one day, I know that it will, but for now, I must admit I was relieved we stayed around 18-21 meters during our dives. Visibility did get up to about 30 meters over the 4 days we dove in Ponta do Ouro, but it was only about 10 meters during a couple of the dives, perhaps not the most ideal for my first bull shark experience.
Crazy giant grouper
There was no shortage of spectacular creature sightings during our dives; including at least 3 species of rays, several nudibranch, honeycomb eels, moray eels, longnose hawkfish, whip coral gobies, a crocodile fish, and some of the largest and friendliest groupers I have ever encountered. We even spotted a couple of humpbacks en route to one of our dives.
Trinchesia sibogae nudibranch (Flabellinopsis iodinea)
Over the past fifty years, Ponta do Ouro has made a great effort to protect sea turtles in the area, particularly in the past few years. The result is a thriving population of leatherbacks, loggerheads, hawksbill, olive ridley and green turtles. Most turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in November at the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve, and hatchlings can sometimes be seen making their way to the sea January through early February.
Between dives we quickly became enamoured with Ponta do Ouro and spent out time wondering around town, bartering with local vendors, shopping in the local marketplace and filling our bellies with local beer and grilled chicken. We never got the name of our favorite place, but it is right behind Fernando’s bar in the market, which easy to find, just ask any local.
The scene at the Gozo Azul bar
Gozo Azul was gracious enough to host us, and on Friday night we headed to their bar above the shop to enjoy some excellent live music. The diving community is one of the best parts about being a diver, and in Ponto do Ouro this community seems to revolve around the Gozo Azul dive shop.
The Ponto do Ouro market
Tourism has been on the rise sine the completion of the paved road that connects Maputo and Ponta do Ouro, but the town has maintained its laid-back vibe as of now. With diving starting at around MZN 1700 / USD 28, this is an ideal destination for backpackers, or anyone looking to spend their time between dives visiting picturesque beaches and taking in the warm and charming culture of Mozambique.