Words by Jürgen Egert. Pictures by Jürgen Egert and Fritz Ott.
Lekker by die see
After driving up the Mozambican coast from Maputo to Mocimboa da Praia we believed we’d seen the most beautiful beaches, and that they wouldn’t be topped by anything in Tanzania; but we had a surprise in store.
We left Mtwara at 17h00, taking the tar road to the Ruvuma River – but after four kilometres this becomes a gravel road. We drove through some beautiful coastal villages until we reached Madimba. Here, you’ll find a small sign board marking the track to Msimbati.
It took us about an hour to cover the fifty or so kilometres to Msimbati. At the end of this village there’s a boom, where we had to pay the park entry fees for the Mnazi Bay Marine Reserve, which amounted to US$20 pppd. The Mnazi Bay Reserve is perhaps the only marine reserve which extends to the land as well. This is intended to make the local population – some 30 000 people – part of the conservation of marine life, mangrove forests and reefs. From the booms, it’s just on eight kilometres to the Ruvula Sea Safari Lodge. It was already dark when one of the two caretakers opened the gate for us. Although there are some stone bandas with thatched roofs on offer, we opted for camping which cost TSh20 000 (about R90 at the time). Aswe were the only guests, we could choose where we wanted to camp; so we drove our vehicles close to the beach, stopping just a metre away from the high water mark.
We appreciated the extraordinary beauty of the place only the next morning. The lodge is located directly on the beach under palm trees. The beach is a white powdery sand, the turquoise water is warm and clear, and palm trees line the beach as far as the eye can see. Sure, the lodge has seen better days but this didn’t bother us too much. The ablutions – a shower and a western toilet – were working and they were cleaned daily.
Children from the village hunt for small fish and are eager to have their photos taken, as long as they can see the pictures immediately on the display. The lodge offers a boat transfer to some of the islands, and one for snorkelling, but you have to bring your own gear. You can also order dinner from the lodge. One evening we ordered fish and just as the sun was dipping towards the horizon our dinner was served at our campsite. We got a whole kolekole fish filleted and fried with rice and a delicious sauce made from okra, carrots, potatoes, onions, chillies and tomatoes. And the best of all, the food was served with a bright smile by the people who were proud of what they had prepared.
What a stunning place to relax. You can jog or walk for hours on the beach. You can swim or snorkel in the warm water. You can talk to the friendly locals even if you only know a little Swahili. You can read or dream the day away. The food is good. Really, what else do you need!?
ABOUT THE MNAZI BAY MARINE RESERVE
Location and size
This 650 km² park is found to the south of Mtwara in southern Tanzania, and consists of the last 45 kilometres of coastline to the Ruvuma River which forms the border with Mozambique. It includes the northern portion of the Ruvuma Estuary, and Mnazi Bay to the Ras Msangamkuu headland. Within the park’s boundaries there are three islands: Namponda, Membelwa and Kisiwa Kidogo, as well as numerous small rocky islets.
The park was gazetted in 2000 and is the second marine park in Tanzania formed under the Marine Parks and Reserves Act of 1994. The area contains good representative examples of all the marine habitats found along the shores of eastern Africa, has highly productive and diverse fisheries that are important for the residents and holds promise for coastal tourism. Why does this marine park incorporate so much land?
The Mnazi Bay Marine Reserve has a high ratio of dry land (33 percent); the highest in East Africa. Most marine parks around the world usually have a terrestrial boundary which only extends to the high-water mark; this means that park managers are often hampered in their efforts because they tend not to have jurisdiction over land-based activities which can impact marine resources. Incorporating a wide area of land into this, creates a buffer zone and controls human activities that impact the protected marine environment.
The park’s goals
The focus of the park’s management is sustainable use of marine resources by communities within the vicinity, as well as biodiversity conservation through protected area zoning with sustainable harvesting.