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Words by Dirk van den Berg Pictures by Dirk van den Berg & Daniel Carrollo (aka Parascubasailor)

Diving Bilene The lesser-known Mozambican diving destination If you were to ask the diving community what the most popular diving spots in Mozambique are, you can expect to hear the common names of Ponta do Ouro, Ponta Malongane, Inhambane, Bazaruto, and Pemba. But there is another gem of a diving location not too far from Maputo, a destination that is an absolute must for both divers and non-divers, and that is the breathtaking area of Bilene.

Bilene is located approximately 180 km north of Maputo, making it one of the closest Mozambican resorts to Johannesburg. Known by the locals as Praia do Bilene, it is a small town adjacent to a massive salt water lagoon flowing into the Indian Ocean. The lagoon is called Uembje, and is blessed with picture-perfect white, sandy beaches, calm waters and spectacular views. This lagoon destination is actually known as a beach resort. The lagoon itself is a dream playground for water sport fanatics and is perfect for swimming, kayaking, sailing, jet skis, fishing, snorkelling and of course diving - both in the lagoon and ocean. Scattered sparingly along the beach of the lagoon are various resorts catering for all types of accommodation, from backpackers to more luxurious resorts. Uembje is rumoured to be roughly 27 km long and 8 km wide, hence there is more than enough space between these minor resorts to ensure a distinct sense of privacy and solitude. And if your intention is to rest and break away from the craziness of the rat race, this is definitely a place you would want to be. My intention behind going to Bilene was indeed to get away from that very same rat race, and do as much diving as possible and as little as possible of anything else.

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To dive at Bilene you really only have one option, and that is to go through the Palmeiras Water Sport Centre, situated at the Palmeiras Resort. This is currently the only dive operation running in Bilene, which is well managed by a very pleasant and humorous French character named Daniel. The diving operation is further supported and co-owned by Divetek. Besides diving, the centre has a variety of items for hire to choose from including kayaks, underwater scooters, snorkelling gear, paddle boards, and mini sailboats. But enough about the location - although I could go on and on J and let me tell you about the diving. You are spoilt for choice when it comes to diving in the lagoon and ocean. The lagoon offers two artificial reefs called ‘Lego Land’ and ‘The Graveyard’, as well as snorkelling at a reef within the lagoon. Both artificial reefs are relatively new, and the remaining fish of the lagoon have concentrated within the relative safety of these structures to protect themselves from the local fisherman, who sadly overfish the lagoon. The viz is surprisingly good in the lagoon, that is if you don’t kick up the silt at the bottom, then the viz quickly resembles Bass Lake. If you like free diving then you can have a lot of fun at these lagoon sites. On two occasions I took my kayak and paddled to Lego Land and free dived amongst the scuba divers. The Graveyard site is made up of actual tombstone-like concrete structures that have been inscribed with personal phrases from divers. The novelty of this dive site is that you can buy your own tombstone and inscribe it with whatever you please at a minimal fee. The tombstone will then be added to the graveyard and forms part of the dive site. This dive spot makes for a particularly eerie yet unique night dive.

The reef of the lagoon hosts a large variety of creatures including lionfish, honeycomb eels, pipefish, boxfish, pencil eels and scorpionfish, to mention a few. But the real rock stars of the lagoon are the seahorses! These amazing creatures were once flourishing in the lagoon, but sadly their numbers have drastically dropped in the last year alone. The local fishermen use nets that mercilessly scoop up every creature in their path, and then simply discard the creatures they can’t sell.

Daniel is desperately trying to raise awareness of the dire seahorse situation and is looking for a Marine Biology student who is willing to do a study on the declining seahorse population to get them on the endangered/ protected species list. The seahorses in this area are the Hippo­ campus Camelopardalis (for more info go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giraffe_seahorse), and anyone who would like to assist in this cause is urged to please contact Daniel.

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Right ... with my call for aid out of the way, let’s get back to the diving J. If you are looking for a bit of adventure in your diving, the ocean dives at Bilene are a must! The reef and rock formations in this area are astounding! Massive boulders, deep gullies and overhangs are everywhere and covered with healthy coral, which means there is an abundance of marine life and colours that flood your visual senses. Most of the reefs here are untouched, compared to other popular dive sites, and some have not even been dived or named yet. The area is rather prone to strong surges and currents, but then that just adds to the adventurous nature of the dives. They also offer ‘Big Blue’ dives, where divers are dropped to a depth of 15 m and suspended next to a guideline running from the boat. This creates a unique platform to view some of the larger marine species, and whales, dolphins, sharks and mantas have been seen on these Big Blue dives. The only limiting factor of the ocean dives is the fact that exiting through the mouth of the lagoon is dependent on high tide and the general conditions at the mouth. To compensate for this during rougher conditions, they offer back-to-back dives that enable you to have two dives without having to go through the mouth in-between dives. In short these dives are not your average dives, they are a bit more adventurous, but oh so worth it and highly recommended! Bilene has something for everyone. Whether you want to dive and indulge in all the water sports on offer, get a feel for the local culture at the market, read a book and work on your tan, or daydream in your hammock while sipping on a Tipi Tinto and raspberry, you will find it there.

So if I have managed to convince you to visit this wonderful place, be sure to stop by the Palmeiras Resort and go diving with Daniel and the Divetek team, or just stop by to say hEllo. • 58 • DO IT NOW Magazine October | November 2012

DINfo box i More details on diving Bilene: Costs: • R800 accommodation for four people in a chalet • R350 for a dive on the outside reefs (ocean dives) • R280 for a dive at The Graveyard (artificial reef inside the lagoon) • R250 for a dive at Lego Land (artificial reef inside the lagoon) • R650 for a double-tank dive on the outside reefs (ocean dives) • R500 for a dive on a whale expedition (big blue) • R350 for a non-diver on a whale expedition

Contact details: Daniel from Divetek (South Africa) Website: www.divetek.co.za Email: info@divetek.co.za Follow Daniel on his rather entertaining blog: Blog: http://divebilene.blogspot.com Palmeiras Water Sport Centre (Mozambique) Email: divebilene@gmail.com Blog: http://divebilene.blogspot.com

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Related articles: • Marico Oog - a unique freshwater diving experience (Issue #18, p. 36) • Diving the SS Thistlegorm (Issue #14, p. 36) • Ras Mohammad National Park (Issue #13, p. 34)


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SCUBA DIVING: Diving Bilene - the lesser-known Mozambican diving destination