What To Pack For Swimming With Whale Sharks on Mafia Island

I hate packing. I need a full day to pack for big trips like swimming with whale sharks on Mafia Island so I can pack a bit then reward myself with doing something else for a while. Like have a glass of wine. As a starting point I write myself a list so I don’t forget anything. Especially travelling by myself and not being able to rely on a travel buddy and their bag of goodies. Well, for the 30 hour journey at least, plus overnight stay. Once on Mafia Island I would be with other women from the Love Her Wild community.

When you pack for swimming with whale sharks on Mafia Island, you’ll need to consider:

  • activities
  • weather
  • local culture
  • luggage restrictions

The main activities on the Love Her Wild Whale Shark Retreat itinerary are swimming, snorkelling, yoga and walking. The weather on Mafia Island in early January (2019) is around 30 degrees celsius. For that reason you can be easily tempted to wear very little but you need to consider local culture. At your accommodation you can wear what you like but in the town it is recommended to wear shirts with sleeves and long shorts because Mafia Island has a Muslim community.

But before you go loading up your bag with long shirts and shorts to make sure you don’t offend anyone, check your luggage weight restrictions. For the local flight to Mafia Island from Dar Es Salaam, the restriction for your check in bag with Coastal Aviation is 15kg. Speaking of travel buddies earlier, you could buddy up before the trip and each pack one item that can be shared between two people. Or pack smarter like long-sleeved button up shirts that can go over tops for trips into town instead of packing several long-sleeved shirts. And you really only need long shorts for when you go into town, plus one pair of leggings for swimming that you can hand wash and rinse on a daily basis.

Confession, my check in baggage was 18kg when I left Australia. Despite a bit of rearranging during my overnight stay in Dar, it is unlikely to have made any difference. Thankfully Coastal Aviation weighed my bag and after the staff said a few words to one another, the bag was checked through, no questions asked. I wouldn’t recommend taking an overweight bag though. There are restrictions for a reason. That plane is small! Though I didn’t feel too bad about it as the biggest contributor to the weight was a backpack full of notebooks, pencils and clothes for the locals on Mafia Island.

Lastly, as per usual, I came back with clean and neatly folded clothes that I didn’t even use.

Packing Lists

Love Her Wild provided a packing list for this trip, as is likely to be provided if you are travelling with an organised group. Always refer to the packing list provided, but based on my experience, here is the must-have packing list for swimming with whale sharks on Mafia Island, excluding the obvious and personal like underwear!

Swimming and Snorkelling

  • Swimmers
  • Rash vest top (long sleeved to avoid getting sunburnt and stung by jellyfish)
  • Leggings (long for the same reason as the rash vest top)
  • Snorkel set
  • Anti-fog goggle spray
  • Sunscreen: Surf Life Saving Marine Friendly (available from Woolworths)
  • Sea sickness tablets
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Reef shoes
  • Go Pro and attachments including floating hand grip
  • Waterproof phone case
  • Dry bag / waterproof backpack
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Towel (unless you’re happy to drip dry)

Yoga & Walking

Lorna Jane saw me coming before this trip, especially with Boxing Day sales. But as I said earlier, I packed clothes that I didn’t use. Most of these were yoga outfits because we did yoga in not only yoga clothes but our swimming clothes and normal clothes. Without duplicating items from the swimming and snorkelling list like water bottle, for yoga and walking you’ll need the following:

  • Mat
  • Tops
  • Leggings
  • Sports bras
  • Thongs (flip flops)
  • Sneakers
  • Socks

General / Other

If you’re new to overseas travel, check out my post on things to pack as a first time traveller. This includes things like travel adaptor. Those aside, here’s my list of other items to consider packing for your trip to Mafia Island:

  • Travel pillow (memory foam and clip for $12 from the Reject Shop – so comfortable!)
  • Hydralyte to replace electrolytes to avoid dehydration
  • Malaria tablets (in Australia you require a prescription from your doctor)
  • Mosquito repellant with at least 50% DEET (Bushman’s has 80% DEET)
  • Headphones (these came in handy on the flight when the supplied headphones didn’t work)
  • Book / magazine
  • Travel journal and pen (pens always come in handy for customs forms)
  • Shirts and shorts to keep in your cabin bag for long airport layovers
  • Shampoo and conditioner (don’t expect your accommodation to have it)

To find out what vaccinations you need for the trip, visit your doctor as early as possible. Some vaccinations have several stages required at different intervals so if you leave it too late you may not be fully covered before your trip. You can also ask your doctor to provide you with a letter to confirm any prescription medication in your baggage has been prescribed by them.


So what didn’t I pack? What were my biggest learnings? What did I do about it?

  • Rash vest top with long sleeves – packed my short-sleeved rash vest top, after a jellyfish sting on my arm I wore a long-sleeved shirt over the top
  • Leggings – for daily swimming in the ocean including the need for comfort breaks, don’t pack brand new Lorna Jane leggings
  • Snorkel set – you might like to pack your own set, I packed and tried the Ninja Shark full face snorkel mask but found that I preferred the snorkel and mask set provided because I could remove the snorkel in the water and talk to the others
  • Anti-fog goggle spray – didn’t pack any and when I borrowed it from others I noticed the difference, baby shampoo also does the trick
  • Sea sickness tablets – didn’t pack any and thanks to Catherine and Nikki sharing their supply, I only vomited from the boat on day one without tablets and sea legs!
  • Reef shoes – didn’t pack any so wore sneakers, luckily a spin in the washing machine has returned them to their almost new condition
  • Dry bag / waterproof backpack – didn’t have one so because we needed more space on the boat, I combined my stuff into Soraya’s waterproof backpack
  • Shampoo and conditioner – bless Kirstine for letting me borrow some shampoo and conditioner at the end of the trip before the long journey back to Australia, your hair really dries out from the salt water!

Hopefully this has been helpful further to any packing list provided, especially my learnings so you don’t repeat them. Have a great time!

January 2019

One Response

  1. Nikki Coome January 25, 2019