A Whale of a Time: Swimming with Humpbacks in Bazaruto

In the summer of 2015, along with my older sister, twin brother and our mum, I embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to South Africa and Mozambique, as part of our birthday celebrations for this special year. Us ‘twinlings’ were turning 18, our sister 21 and our mum 50, all in the space of two weeks. Along with a legendary surprise party at home, we decided that we would celebrate these ‘landmark’ years by going on safari and then diving in Southern Africa. Whilst the safari was incredible, the diving was not quite what we expected…

An angel fish © Chloe Sykes

After five days of breathtaking safari, we took a short plane journey to Mozambique’s only airport, where we were escorted to some sort of VIP lounge, as we waited for our transfer to Bazaruto Island — our home for the next 5 nights. Expectations were already high, as the weather was beautiful outside, and the photos dotted around the lounge promised tropical islands not too dissimilar from the ones you see in films. After waiting for rather a long time, we were packed into some jeeps and driven through endless narrow, windy villages to get to the boat to take us to the hotel. There was evidence of globalisation everywhere, with little shacks selling Coca Cola and mobile data popping up on the sides of the road. Little children laughing and smiled when we drove past, running after our car, and waving to us as they piled out from school.

When we arrived at the boat, we were asked to remove our shoes and bags, and we boarded with a few other families. When the weather conditions are too rough, guests can be transported to the island resort by helicopter but, luckily for us, the water was just perfect. We were bombarded by hawkers trying to sell us trinkets and scarves for rather expensive prices, which is not uncommon in many areas of Mozambique and Africa. After a 30-minute boat journey, complete with drinks from the ice cooler, we arrived at Bazaruto Island. This is a very small island, completely cut off from the rest of Mozambique, with its neighbouring island still a good few kilometres away by boat. This makes for a very peaceful, undisturbed stay. Guests can play in the stunning infinity pool, go sandboarding, relax in their luxury spas, or even partake in a day of golf. As well as the diving, the dive centre also provides boat tours and snorkel excursions, making it ideal for families.

The infinity pool at Bazaruto Island © Chloe Sykes

But back to the boat… there was a problem. The tide was too far out, meaning the boat could not reach the shore. Undeterred, the staff fetched a little wooden boat and piled a few of us on at a time. I do believe it would have been faster to walk to shore, as the water only came up to knee height, but their great efforts were definitely appreciated. Our arrival could not have been more humbling though, with traditional dancers playing us in on the drums, whilst the women showcased their dance moves in the burning hot sand.

It was obvious as soon as the island came into view that we were in for a very luxurious few days. Our bags were loaded onto golf carts soon after we had checked in, and we followed behind them. The apartment was astounding, complete with a freestanding bath in the middle of the main bedroom, a separate living room and open plan kitchen, and spare bedroom with en-suite. Most stunning of all was the view from the terrace and the gorgeous sunsets every night. I think we were all completely surprised with what we had secured — perhaps we had been upgraded! I must point out however, that this was an all-inclusive, luxury resort island, perfect for family holidays, but not so ideal for those on a budget.

Spotted in the coral reef. Photo © Chloe Sykes

Our main reason for coming to Bazaruto, and Mozambique, was to try and catch a glimpse of the humpback whales and stingrays that surround the islands. After acquainting ourselves with the dive centre and instructors, we were ready to go the next morning. After having the pleasure of diving in many different countries, the standard at this centre was not quite what we were used to. As most divers are aware, you should always try to assemble your own gear so that you can take responsibility for yourself and be comfortable with your equipment. To our great surprise, our instructors assembled our gear for us for every dive, which although is considerate in principle, was a little disconcerting. Of course we checked ourselves anyway, and had no problems with any of the gear during the dives. This was not the only shock though, as we had been promised lavish coral reefs and an abundance of whales we could search out every day with trained guides. The reefs however, were not as abundant in marine life as we had hoped, although we did find some little Nemos and Dorys here and there.

Catching a glimpse of the humpback whales © Chloe Sykes

The true highlight of this part of our journey though, was our snorkelling encounter with the humpbacks. On the penultimate day, when we were unable to dive due to fly times the next day, we decided to take a boat safari to try and find the whales. And find them we did! Keeping up with them proved to be a real challenge as they are super quick! Watching them breach out of the water was a sight to behold — the sheer size of them on the horizon was remarkable, if not a little emotional. Finally we got close enough to jump in. The guide called me over, asked if we wanted to go in, and we were in the water in the next 10 seconds. After flailing around for a couple of minutes frantically looking for them, a mother and calf emerged beneath us, with the sun’s rays illuminating them perfectly. It was probably the greatest experience in the water I have ever had. Their whale calls to each other were deafening, and had been teasing us all week throughout the dives. Although it was a shame not to encounter them fully submerged, I can’t complain about snorkelling with the beauties. I was even told that we were the first guests to ever swim with the whales, making the experience all the more unique. It was whale worth it.

Featured image © Chloe Sykes