Djibouti 2009

Four of us started the year with a diving holiday in Djibouti. Where? Well its near the pointy bit on the right side of Africa. Why did we go there? We went there really to see whale sharks and we did. The diving otherwise was ok, but nothing spectacular, but it is the big fish that are the reason for going.

Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world certainly up to 14 metres long and possibly more. They are plankton feeders, so are not innately dangerous, although a little flick with their tail could be dodgy. Surprisingly little is known about them, but the sheltered bays of Djibouti are one of the few places in the world where they gather in numbers at certain times of the year. We went with Tony Backhurst, although in this case they really only act as agents for the local operator Djibouti Divers. The liveaboard was an Egyptian boat which comes down to Djibouti for the Whale Shark season. It was quite comfortable if not quite up to the standard of the best modern boats.

I think some of us were a bit worried about going to that part of the world in view of stories and reports about Somali pirates. In fact, it all seemed quite peaceful. One of the regular dive guides was away for the week, and we had a temporary dive guide whose day time job was as a member of the French Armed Forces at their large base nearby. Most mornings, he seemed to manage to get some of his friends to come over in a helicopter to spot where the whale sharks were!

Djibouti itself was a poor country, and the airport was a bit eye-opening. On the other hand, the hotel where we spent the last night was one of the most luxurious I have ever stayed in and I have stayed in some good hotels in my time.

Ted Coleman

As quite frequently happens to me, I ended up catching a cold half-way through which rather put paid to the remainder of the diving. In the main, the diving was rather unexciting, - the hard corals were probably the healthiest and most prolific that I had ever seen, but there were almost no soft corals, and not too many fish, although a large Thresher Shark did swim past me on one dive - the first that I'd ever seen.

Remembering that the main attraction was whalesharks, who in turn are attracted by planton-rich soupy water, then the underwater visibility was about 10m at best. However, we found the whalesharks, and managed to spend two long sessions each day snorkelling with them in rather rough seas. We probably saw 10-20 individuals, with up to 4 at a time. Consequently the holiday "did what it said on the tin".

The diving however could have been more exciting, had the boat and its crew wanted to make it so (which they plainly didn't). We seemed to spend almost three days doing nothing in particular finally arriving at the beach where the whalesharks were. This could have been productively spent perhaps visiting the Seven Brothers Islands, only 30 miles away, or used diving the emerging underwater gap between the Asian and African tectonic plates.

Djibouti was really quite a comfortable place in the cool of January. The sea temperature was 27C and, being out on a boat, the air temperature was pretty much the same as well, with little variation. It was warm enough (for me) to sleep out on deck with just a T-shirt at night. I suspect that it would be quite a different place in the summer. We were moored just off the French Commando training camp at Arta Beach, and it looked pretty inhospitable.

Mark Mumford

This page was last updated on : 06 Sep 2011