Pemba Adventure by Dave Packer 15 September 1999

Island CampOn Wednesday the 15 September 1999, John little, Jason chandler and myself set out from Durban with john and Jason`s ski-vee in tow headed for Pemba on the far northern coast of Mozambique, approximately 3600kms away. After much research it was decided to travel via Zimbabwe and Malawi since sections along the coastal route were an absolute nightmare and the inland route was only about 100kms further. Our only mechanical problem on the trip occurred on Town Hill just outside Pietermaritzburg when john`s series 3 Landrover started misfiring. After replacing the plug leads the Landy performed faultlessly for the rest of the trip.

We pushed through to Harare where we spent a night with john`s folks before entering Mozambique and travelling through the Tete corridor to Malawi. While crossing the Zambezi river bridge at Tete we encountered the only suspect behavior from Mozambican officials (Other than various unofficial border post charges) paying R150 for supposedly travelling at 3km/hr over the 30km/hr bridge speed limit. Of course, the 5 vehicles in front of us managed to stay within the limit and we were lucky to encounter an understanding official who negotiated down from an initial R500 fine. The roads on this section although potholed were still reasonably good.

We then passed through the Tete corridor and into Malawi, and were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the locals and their universal command of English. A welcome relief from the Portuguese that none of us spoke and even less understood. We spent a night in Blantyre at an extremely festive backpackers stopover before once again crossing into Mozambique at the Muloza/Mulange border post. Some of the worst roads encountered on the trip were in and around Blantyre, however they are busy upgrading large sections of the road. We spent another night in a town called Mocuba, meeting a couple of South Africans working there and enjoying some of the nightlife on offer.

The sections of road between Blantrye and Nampula in Mozambique proved to be the worst on our planned route. Along large parts of the route the vegetation was being cut and burned to clear land for crops - it was not unusual to see 5 or 6 fires burning at any one time. Some of the Portuguese architecture along the way was stunning even though most of it was in a sad state of repair.

Island ParadiseWe eventually arrived in Pemba at 2am on the morning of the 20th and set up camp on the nearest vacant lot from which we were routed at some ungodly hour in the morning by a local expecting large sums of money for our occupation of his building site. We found our way to the only campsite in Pemba run by Andy and Margaret, a young South African couple. To camp was R25 per night with a meal on offer for those who were not self catering. The open bar area was a meeting point for a lot of the locals and together with the resident campers, had a nice festive atmosphere during the nightly meal. Pemba was very expensive with the local traders taking advantage of the limited competition and pricing their goods accordingly. Petrol was also quite expensive but freely available. Using the camp welding equipment we made the first lot of repairs to the boat trailer that was feeling the effects of the long trip. We also managed an afternoon dive in the bay just south of the campsite. Very pretty, lots of coral, but not much fish. After much debate we decided to head for the islands the next day. Armed with information and fresh supplies we set off early arriving in the village of Quissanga that evening after an eight hour trip over atrocious roads. We spent the evening with the owner of the island and made arrangements for him to keep us supplied with fuel and water and to take the fish. Interestingly that night lions badly wounded a hyena just outside the village. This was the only area where we saw any signs of wildlife in Mozambique.

The next morning after waiting for the tide, we set off for the island of Quillalua 12km offshore. Tidal movement here is a big factor both in the diving and in launching your boat, 5.8m less water means a lot of pushing. Accommodation on the island was very basic consisting of a thatched hut and kitchen area, but very pleasant nonetheless. The diving proved to be excellent. However large areas had no fish and the distances that one had to travel were greater than we had anticipated. Viz averaged approximately 15m with the current and the viz largely dependent on the tides. We also had a lot of wind that did not help conditions visibility wise. Absolutely amazing variety of coral formations and corals. Lots of large Kaakap, parrots (one species up to 50kg) various rockcods, coral trout in abundance, napoleon wrasse and rubberlips plus a host of reef fish unknown to us. Disappointing numbers of gamefish, although l think that we were not lucky enough to find the right places for them. The water was also not that warm considering that 30c is nothing for the summer months in these waters. Over the time we were there we got a few cuda, some small kingfish of various types (fulvy, big eye and bluespot) and both john and Jason saw giant kingfish. There were also some very wary pike and greater barracuda around. The napoleon wrasse proved to be far brighter than we were with all of us seeing them on a number of different occasions. Some of these fish were in excess of 80kgs and looked huge when you were lying on the bottom. We also all saw dogtooth tuna with Jason seeing them 4 times and losing one. I was lucky enough to land one of 57kgs with a bad shot and a lot of help from my friends. An amazing fish. Other really good fish that we got were a 36kg rockcod of some kind and a 26kg potato bass, 22kg coral trout and lots of kaakap between 6 and 8 kilograms.

When our supply line developed a wobbly and we were out of fuel, water and most importantly beer, we decided to head back to the high life in Pemba, much to Jason`s relief! Unfortunately on our arrival back in Pemba the wind decided to blow and then blow some more. After some more trailer repairs and faced with rapidly dwindling funds we had no choice but to head for home.