By Abdallah Harati – EACN Correspondent South Germany
Exciting times… we are ready to take off to Pemba in a small plane. What an adventure! In shorter than an hour we would be landing in one of the most amazing islands in East Africa. While Pemba is not so popular and frequented as most Islands, this crowns it as an exceptionally, excellent diving and cultural centre. Well, I did not know quite much about Pemba before planning this vacation. The island is located in Tanzania near one of the most famous island of East Africa – Zanzibar. Zanzibar is an excellently beautiful place, for both cultural and environmental activities. One of the positive surprises for us, was to discover an excellent annual Jazz Festival. After spending one week around Zanzibar, we took the decision to head to Pemba. Perfect we said! We are both addicted divers (me and my wife, I being more addicted to diving than my wife!), so we could not choose a better place.
We stayed in a diving hostel and every single day ushered in a different and amazing location. One day, coming back from the extensive and pleasant diving I heard a beautiful music in the neighbouring church a few meters from our hotel.
As a Brazilian musician, with strong roots in African music, I could not hold back so long. I was automatically attracted to the scene of the music. Unfortunately my Swahili was not fluent enough to so my understanding of the lyrics was basically hindered. Nevertheless, the melody that flowed inside my years from the most natural musical instrument ever – the vocal cords – made my soul travel to a paradise of perfect peace. To see how these villagers singing, with such tenacious involvement and friendly reception drove me to a stage of happiness trance that is very difficult to describe with words. Indeed, that was my first trip to the Sub Sahara Africa.
More About Pemba
Pemba Island lies approximately 80 km northeast of Zanzibar Island (Unguja) and is about the same distance from the Tanzanian mainland, situated directly east of the of the port of Tanga. Unlike Unguja, which is flat and sandy, Pemba’s terrain is hilly, fertile and heavily vegetated. The early Arab sailors called it ‘Al Huthera’, meaning ‘The Green Island’. Today more cloves are grown on Pemba than on Unguja, in fact 75% – 80% of all Zanzibar’s clove production comes from Pemba. During the rule of the Sultans, it was Pemba, with its extensive clove plantations and agricultural base, that provided the economic foundation for the archipelago’s dominance.
Today, earnings from the clove crop are supported by other agricultural products, cattle raising, and by fishing, which is an important source of livelihood. Pemba is also renowned for its voodoo and traditional healers. Even today, people come from throughout East Africa seeking cures or to learn the skills of the art from practioners on Pemba.
In addition to its rich history and traditions, Pemba is of interest for its wealth of natural resources ranging from beaches to mangrove ecosystems to natural forests. The coral reefs surrounding the island protect a multitude of marine species and offer some of the best diving in the world. While much of the coast is lined with mangroves, there are a few amazing stretches of shoreline and enough attractive offshore islands with pure, clean beaches and interesting bird-life to keep you busy for quite a while.
The tourism industry in Pemba is still in its infancy and infrastructure is therefore quite basic, although this is slowly beginning to change with a few exclusive resorts springing up on the island. Pemba is definitely one of the jewels of the Indian Ocean and is patiently waiting to be explored.
Pemba has some of the most spectacular diving in the world. The Pemba channel itself, separates Shimoni in Kenya from Pemba Island. The channel runs deep until it approaches the Pemba coastline and then begins a dramatic rise creating a sheer wall off the coast. Diving is conducted on the western side and is characterised by crystal clear, blue water drop-offs along with pristine shallow reefs. Hard and soft coral gardens abound with schools of coral fish, pelagic marine life, mantas and turtles. Here are a few of the more famous dive sites with their descriptions, although there are many more spectacular dive sites available around the islands all waiting to be explored.
The visibility ranges from 20m-40m and there is a large sheer wall with many overhangs and caverns. The coral is remarkable, especially the large rose coral and red and yellow sea fans. Many types of fish are to be found here in large numbers including kingfish, triggerfish and wrasse. The reef is relatively shallow and therefore Fundu is a good spot for a first dive.
This is an ideal site for night diving as the waters are shallow and generally calmer, ranging from between 8 and 20m. Of all the numerous creatures that come out after dark, the Spanish dancer makes a particularly outstanding spectacle.
Visibility averages from between 20 and 40m. Manta Point is one of the best sites in the world for close encounters with the giant manta rays that inhabit this area. The rays can be seen in groups of up to 15 and rise to depths as shallow as 9m! The enormous variety of coral, fish and other marine life found at the pinnacle can easily occupy one dive so it is highly recommended to include at least 2 dives as this is truly one of the finest dive sites in the world.
Visibility averages between 40 and 50 metres! This is a wall dotted with small caves and ridges. Large rivers of sand run off the top of the reef to form wide canyons that enter the wall at approximately 25m. Gorgonian fans are in abundance below 20m and on a turning tide the marine life is exceptional and the currents, strong. Giant grouper drift lazily through the reef and hundreds of surgeonfish cruise below divers.
Njao Gap is well known for its amazing wall diving. Mantas can be seen here in season and the coral is spectacular, but what distinguishes this particular location is the profusion of titan triggerfish. Visibility varies from day to day, but is usually good to 30 metres