I was rather surprised when I was phoned and asked if I would be willing to go on a trip to Kenya. My first thought was that the last time I checked, we were a dive magazine, so what would I be doing in Kenya? By Gerrit Maritz
I felt much like the American Grade School students who, according to reports, are rather useless when it comes to matters not directly involving their country. I was later informed that Kenya in fact does have some shoreline... 536km of shoreline to be exact. I had always thought of myself as a person with better than average general knowledge, but this put me in my place.
I have been invited together with five other journalists to visit Kenya and Mombasa, and in my case I was particularly interested in some diving and partaking in the local culture and customs. After consulting my map printed on my desk pad I was rather intrigued as to what I might or might not find on this, by now perplexing prospect of visiting Kenya.
This would be my first visit to the country and I was looking forward to it. Although I did not know what to expect, just the idea of going somewhere other than the regular holiday spots in South Africa had me very excited.
We had been promised an unforgettable experience, and if the brochure was anything to go by, it was going to be experience that I would remember for a long time. The place we would visit was the Mnarani Club situated on the on the cliffs near Kilifi, approximately 60km from Mombasa.
The day broke and it was time for us to depart from OR Tambo Airport on board Kenya Airways. This too was a new experience for me, but it turned out to be a pleasant flight with helpful staff who ensured that we were very well cared for. I could not fault their service and the duration of our flight slipped by almost unnoticed. We were even treated by Kenya Airways and booked into the business lounge as our flight only departed O.R Tambo at 12pm (I loved all the free food – never had I been in such a place!). After a pleasant flight we arrived in Kenya and we had a stay over in Nairobi in order to wait for our connecting flight to Mombasa from where we would get into vehicles to take us the remainder of the way to Kilifi. The road to Kilifi felt like it would never end, yet that was the lack of sleep talking, but once we reached our destination all was soon forgotten as we took in the Mnarani Club and its beautiful view over the pool and into the distance over the Indian Ocean.
Upon arrival we were greeted with the sight of the Mnarani Club which once was a very exclusive club for well-to-do locals and it is situated in one of the more exclusive areas in Kilifi. The reception, dining and bar area is covered by a massive thatched roof and open beams and it looked very inviting.
At Mnarani we were greeted warmly and quickly booked in. We were given some fresh fruit juice to quench our thirst and we were soon escorted to our rooms for the duration of our stay by friendly and helpful porters. We took this opportunity to take a quick power nap to recharge the batteries and rejoin each other at the bar for a couple of cold ones.
Before we partook in the festivities, I took a walk down to the water sports centre to have quick look around and I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the equipment was in a very good state. That was very reassuring as we had some dives planned and I did not want to struggle with unreliable equipment. After this walkabout the cold beers served at the bar were just what the doctor ordered and we sat overlooking the creek and the river mouth. The cool onshore breeze was a welcome relief from the heat of the day and we were soon exchanging ‘war’ stories.
The restaurant was open and airy and the food prepared was adequate for my needs and taste. Supper was a buffet affair and we were spoilt for choice. Our final evening there was made extra special by the staff as all the tables were placed around the pool and the dining was done al fresco under a perfect night sky. After supper we were entertained by Masai Dancers who had us all in awe with their traditional dances and costumes.
Right next to it is a large pool that is ideal to lounge around and to escape the heat of the day. Looking at some of the guests it seemed as if it was attracting a lot of interest and I quietly wondered to myself how they were going to sleep that night after being burnt to something resembling a tomato. I soon succumbed to its inviting looks and also spent some time in the pool cooling down.
There are many rooms to choose from and they have in excess of 80 rooms all over the property. We were treated to their more luxurious rooms and I must admit that I felt very spoilt. I had to stop myself from jumping on the beds as they were nicely made up and decorated with flowers from the garden. We all had balconies overlooking the creek, beach and the jetty from where all of the water sports and diving takes place. The palm trees in front of my unit gave the impression of being on an island and I could not believe that I was actually in Kenya.
As with most of the African countries I have visited, I found that the people were very friendly and willing to assist you. We were all greeted with a friendly “Jambo” (hello) and that was usually quickly followed by “Karibo” (welcome) to make us feel even more at home. Everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles, and of course every person wanted to sell us something. There are many curios to buy and some of the more intrepid travellers amongst our group even tried the local roadside cuisine which they quite enjoyed (and they suffered no ill effects afterwards, something I was not willing to risk as I still had some diving to do and I knew that I was going to be feeding the fish out at sea anyway).
The time to dive was soon upon us and I was rather excited – I had lugged my diving kit all teh way from OR Tambo Airport and it was heavy. I was definitely going to make use of it and no one was going to stop me. Fortunately for us the instructor and dive master, Tim, was very helpful and friendly. Born in Kenya, he spent his educational years in England and therefore supported all the wrong rugby teams (apart from Wales). We overlooked these shortcomings and he soon had us kitted up and on the boat.
We were informed that the diving is usually very good, except in the monsoon season during which time the conditions usually do not permit diving. The monsoon season usually runs from May to July. For the lucky travellers visiting the area over October to January there are likely sightings of Whale sharks as they migrate and travel close to the shore on their movements to the south. Fishing trips can also be organised and are well worth the effort – the seas are gentle and there is little chance of the cancelling of trips due to bad weather, except during the monsoon season.
Tim had put some considerable effort into developing the dive sites and he had gone and dived many areas to find the best dive spots around Kilifi, many of which he named himself and most which can only be found by making use of his local knowledge and that of his captain.
The dive sites are all relatively close to Kalifi and double dives are mostly catered for. The boat Tim uses is comfortable and was large enough to accommodate our whole group of three divers and four passengers, together with three crew with room to spare.
The sites we dived were divided into the north and south. To the north we found the Vuma Cliffs which consists of four dive sites that can be dived by divers of all experience levels during calm seas, but during heavier weather these should only be tried by experienced divers. The depths here vary from 5m to 20m at the deepest section of the wall.
Big Rock is in an area situated at the point of the cliff head with some very large, boulder-shaped coral heads massed both below and above the water. As it is a meeting point of currents there are many shoals of fish to be found here, such as Blue lined snappers, Soldierfish and Mangrove fish. The maximum depth at Big Rock is 20m.
Vuma Caves lies north of Big Rock. There are many overhangs and shallow caves concentrated in one area. Here you can find all the fish mentioned above plus the odd Jenkins whip ray. The maximum depth at Vuma Caves is also 20m.
Canyon Ndogo, which means “little” in Swahili, gets its name from the vertical cleft in the ledge. There is an overhang with two chimneys which are excellent for panoramic photographss. On the upper part of the wall there are often Napoleon wrasse and a big shoal of Big eye trevallies. Here you will also find a deep cave with large shoals of Leopard sweetlips and Mangrove snappers, and if you are lucky, a Giant grouper. The maximum depth at Canyon Ndogo is 20m.
Bruce’s Grotto is named after the owner of Buccaneer Diving, because this is where he, as a young man, discovered a series of large overhangs with some large brown marbled groupers. The maximum depth at Bruce’s Grotto is once again 20m.
The next area we were taken to was the area in front of the Takaungu Creek mouth where there is a reef formation which extends in a crescent east then south. This area is for good for dives of all levels but is best dived at incoming tide or slack high water and not in rough weather.
Takaungu Wall is a wall which goes down from 8m to 27m. On this dive you will find large shoals of Glassfish, baby Barracuda, Blue triggerfish, Sweetlips, anemones and ‘nemos’ and Scorpionfish. The reef above the wall has many kinds of beautiful soft corals with the odd cowrie nestling amongst them. Takaungu 1 is further south from this wall. The barrier gently slopes down to a sandy bottom at 25m. Between 20m and 25m there are shallow indentations with Glassfish, Scorpionfish and Lionfish in abundance. Further up there are large heads of coral with many sponges dotted around them. Frogfish are often found in this area.
There are eight sites north of Creek Mouth and all these sites consist of fringing reefs with gentle slopes going from 8m to 25ms. Here you will find a mixture of soft and hard corals with many of the Indian Ocean fish species present, such as Blue and Yellow grouper, Coral grouper, Peacock grouper, Antheas, Chocolate dips, Crocodilefish, Anemonefish, Six striped soapfish, Dart gobies, Angelfish, Butterflyfish, wrasse and Moray eels to name but a few. Here you will also find Green turtles and Hawksbill turtles. The sites are good for divers of all levels and can be dived at any time.
These sites are all named using landmarks on shore as guides as to where to find them – as such, they have been aptly referenced with names such as Mlangoni, Baobab, Black Marlin, Kilifi Bay, Blue House, Tower House, Casuarani and Swahili House.
The deep sites
The deep dives offered sparked my interest as this is what I like doing most. Deeper dive sites usually mean that there have usually not been too many divers through the area and the underwater wonders have been preserved better. There are some deep reefs coming up from the sandy plateau in front of the fringing reefs and here is where we found the two deep sites. The diving here is good at all times but is best dived on incoming tide and slack high water. These sites are reserved for divers with an advanced qualification and above.
Barracuda is a mound in front of the Kilifi creek mouth that starts at 30m and levels off at 18m. Here you will find plate coral and many fish such as Glassfish, Blue triggerfish, Leopard sweetlips, Silver sweetlips, Mangrove snappers, Five-line snappers, Big eye snappers, and if you look closely, you will also find some holes with Honeycomb moray and their partner Cleaning shrimps. These dives can, however, not be done in rough weather.
Swahili Deep is situated in front of the fringing reef Swahili House – this site resembles a cutting in the sandy bottom from 18m to 26m. Along this mini wall you will find a resident Napoleon wrasse, many Potato groupers and large shoals of Blue triggerfish, Five0line snappers and Surgeonfish.
For the less adventurous divers there are some dive site within the creek and these are a veritable kindergarten as well as a macro photographer’s paradise. This is a breeding ground for many species of fish and you will see large shoals of Silver sides and Trevally with barracuda preying on them. For those who like nudibranches, shrimps, juvenile Lionfish, Pipefish, Ghost pipefish and Leaffish, these dives are a must. These sites are best dived on slack high water and divers of all levels can join in.
Creek Mouth is situated on the south part of the creek mouth and thUs is a shallow dive that varies in depth from 1m to 10m with huge coral outcrops and plate corals. Ras Mafumbini is a series of walls from 3m to 30m on which you can find the above mentioned fauna. Mnarani Club is a shallow reef on the left of the jetty from 1m to 8m and a gentle 45 degree slope from 1m to 15m. The sandy beach at Mnarani also acts as a perfect area for training dives at high tide.
There are even some wreck dives that can be performed on a wreck in the creek, although we did not have the opportunity to dive the sunken ferry. She lies in water between 22m down to 30m on her side and about a third is buried in the silt. This is said to be a very interesting dive but no penetration is allowed due to the fact that the hull is very shallow. This dive is only for advanced divers and above. There is also said to be a freighter in the creek and Tim is currently trying to locate her. On the plus side, it seems as if he has already found cars and trailers in the process!
We all thoroughly enjoyed all the dives organised for us by Tim and his interesting banter and unreserved excitement for the dive sites around Kilifi was contagious. He is truly a child of Africa and very proud of it. These are dive sites that can be expanded on and I am sure that with his perseverance the area can develop into a first class diving destination for those interested in having a safari experience included in their diving plans. The weather we experienced was beautiful and a gentle breeze most of the time put a smile on my face.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Kenya and all my fears turned out to be unfounded. I can now, with certainty, say that Kenya does have a sea and that you can dive in it! After all, Tanzania is their neighbour and they have Zanzibar.
I have always wondered what it would be like to travel the world, and naturally Europe and the Americas have always featured high on my list, but I have since decided to rather explore Africa and all its beauty before venturing overseas. Maybe you should do the same and I am sure that you will not be disappointed.
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