Maputo - Lorrayne Gaymer almost leapt overboard, such was her excitement at the sight of a humpback whale and her calf lolling and playing just ahead of our dive boat.
This is just what you want in a divemaster and instructor - someone who, after eight years as an instructor and double that as a dive enthusiast - still gets such immense joy doing what she does.
It’s infectious and sets everyone up for a really good experience -and there were plenty of those as a student of Gozo Azul Diving in Ponta do Ouro, a short way over the Mozambique border. “I’m still learning every day,” says Gaymer who has dived extensively in Kenya, Malawi, Thailand and, of course, Mozambique.
The effervescent tomboy was my dive instructor for my PADI open water course, one of a multitude of offerings from Natalie Robinson and Marcus Joubert, owners and managers of Gozo Azul Diving.
Gozo Azul is the only outfit in Ponta do Ouro that offers diving and fishing charters and ocean safaris. They operate five boats, launching up to 18 times a day in high season. They also arrange a wide variety of accommodation.
I was in cheap and cheerful Coco Cabanas - a five-minute walk down the sandy road to Gozo Azul HQ. You get a pretty basic four bed self-catering unit - one room with a double bed and two singles next door all with mozzie nets, a shower and toilet and kitchenette.
I appreciated the relative cool under the high concrete ceiling, and there were two aircons. Well worth it for just R1 000 a unit, with good company on the property in the form of dive-boat skipper Derek Wagner.
Outside each unit is a braai and a large central roofed communal hangout-cum-dining spot with a bar, toasters and other cooking gadgets. Most guests don’t spend much time here during the day but I was housebound after being welcomed by Robinson at Gozo Azul and presented with my course material. I had a lot of reading and learning to do even before I hit the water.
When I did it was a hotel pool for the first while, then out to sea with Wagner speeding us to my first Ponta reef - Creche. Trying to retain all that Gaymer had attempted to get into my skull, I bowled over backward and descended. No mishaps, plenty to take in and all too soon 48 minutes was up and we returned to HQ for more theory, then another dive. An afternoon of study followed, before I got to see a bit of Ponta.
I’d been warned - “you’ll think you’re still in South Africa” due to the huge influx of SA visitors, but not so at all. It was the off-season and quiet, but no matter the season you couldn’t mistake Ponta for a South African spot. It’s so chilled, with little infrastructure - deep sand for roads, intermittent electricity and an easy-going mix of people from around the globe.
Early the following day we were off again, this time with added excitement as a “vakansieganger” had gone missing after becoming separated from his jetski and we assisted in the search. Happily, the jetski was recovered and the owner had safely swum 2km to shore, but I entered the water dry mouthed and mindful of how quickly things can go wrong - especially 17m down.
However, what was revealed at Anchor reef in 30m-plus visibility quickly dispelled that. To see a large honeycomb moray, some 2m long, lying stretched out on the coral while getting a good cleaning from little fish, with a potato bass suspended just above, was most memorable.
The reefs are healthy, the marine life so abundant we often lost sight of each other. The camaraderie afterwards was a treat and leaving was like the worst back-to-school experience.
* Call +258 84 451 6110, e-mail [email protected] and visit www.gozo-azul.co.za.