Potholes, prawns & peri-peri: Southern Mozambique

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 If your dream vacation includes quiet white sandy beaches, palm trees and turquoise water, don’t get on that plane to Thailand yet; rather cash in your rands for some meticais and go say bom dia, como esta to Mozambique!

Mozambique

Mozambique, South Africa’s hot and humid sister on the east, has a coastline of almost 2500 km with islands and beaches that scream ‘holiday’, roads with a forecast of adventure (and loads of pothole-patience) and a unique blend of African and Portuguese culture and flavours.

I had the opportunity to visit the most-southern part of Mozambique during an Isuzu mu-X adventure and while my sand-driving experience prior to Mozambique only lasted for a few minutes in the controlled environment of the Gerotek Testing Facility during an Isuzu Off-Road course, I finally managed to put it to the test in the Isuzu mu-X on the Mozambique’s sandy roads and dunes. Heaps of sand and heaps of fun, this 7-seater multi-utility cross over did not bat an eyelid or spin a tyre but let me tell you, driving a full day in the Maputo Special Reserve and dodging vacationers on narrow sandy roads with giant boats in tow – while keeping an eye out for elephants – really takes it out of you.

6 Things not to miss in the most southern part of Southern Mozambique

A market stop in Ponta Malongane

Ponta Malongane is the quieter and calmer sister of Ponta do Ouro and the small village paints a picture of ‘relax o’clock’ with its network of rustic huts which are home to shebeens, restaurants with a view of Lake Sugi, a few general dealers where the ever-famous Tipo Tinto Rum is readily available and of course stalls selling souvenirs ranging from bracelets to vehicle replicas made from wood (yes, you can buy a mini Isuzu bakkie there). South African rand as well as Mozambique’s meticais are accepted.

Mozambique Isuzu mu-X adventure

Get wet

Mozambique has the longest stretch of Indian Ocean coastline in Africa and you can bet your bottom dollar – or rather your bottom meticais – that there are some hauntingly beautiful beaches to explore and a plethora of beach-based activities to keep you busy. Between Ponta Mamoli, Ponta Malongane and Ponta do Ouro you will find that there are opportunities to snorkel, swim, dive and discover an underwater world that is rich in marine life. There are 20 unique dive sites for advanced and amateur divers in the area.

Venture into Maputo Special Reserve

Maputo Special Reserve was originally established in 1930 to protect the coastal elephant population in the area; in 1960 – and again in 1990 – it expanded to include the protection of other mammals, and it is known today as one of the world’s 25 most biologically rich and endangered terrestrial eco regions. The populations are steadily increasing in the nearly 80 000 hectare reserve and some of the species you might find include elephant, hippo, reedbuck, crocodile, giraffe, red duiker, nyala, kudu, blue wildebeest, waterbuck and zebra. For a real Mozambique adventure you will find a hint of road – or rather path – between dense grasslands on the road between White Pearl Resort and the newly built road (that connects Kosi Bay to Maputo), the sandy and grassy road leads to southern gate of the reserve after 16 km (GPS: S26 36 28.7 E32 50 37.6). If you do decide to approach the reserve via this way keep in mind that there is always the possibility of a water crossing and caution should always be exercised. Pay your entrance fees, get a map and explore the reserve. You should engage your vehicle’s 4×4 high range gear for these sandy roads, and as always, stay in momentum and don’t make any sudden movements. During long weekends and holidays you will often encounter convoys of holiday goers – some with big boats in tow – it is always best to expect the unexpected, whether you need to keep an eye out for another vehicle or a hippo. Needless to say, you can’t visit the reserve without a 4×4.

Maputo Special reserve

Seafood, seafood, seafood

You can’t leave Mozambique without tasting 3 things: peri-peri chicken, fresh prawns straight from the ocean and, for the sake of “when in Rome, when in Mozambique”, R&R (Tipo Tinto Rum and Raspberry Sparletta). And when you are done tasting, go back for seconds! Mozambique’s food is rich and varied and with a strong Portuguese influence and a local twist it is a burst of flavour; have some seafood, get freshly roasted cashews, indulge in tropical fruit and if R&R reminds you too much of a cold drink, sit back with a cold 2M (doish-em) beer.

Beach time – on foot or on bike

Explore the beaches between Ponta Mamoli, Ponta Malongane and Ponta do Ouro and watch out for the ghost crabs, they can put on quite the chase. You can go the distance and walk from Ponta do Ouro to Ponta Malongane and get your beach time in for 6 kilometers. During the last few months of the year turtles are nesting, and if you are lucky you might see a female turtle emergeing from the waves at night to lay a few hundred eggs (it goes without saying that loud noises and light will disturb the mothers-to-be, so keep your distance). White Pearl Resorts also has fat bikes on offer if you want to explore the shoreline on two wheels.

Watch a sunrise

Mozambique’s coast is as east as you want to be to catch the perfect sunrise. Find a spot close to the ocean and greet the day.

Southern Mozambique: Where to stay

Ponta do Ouro becomes basically a second South Africa when you visit during peak holiday periods and long weekends; don’t be confused when a local selling bracelets tells you that his name is Willem and starts speaking in Afrikaans.

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Camping in Ponta do Ouro starts from around R240 per night for two people (and then often, like with Ponta Beach Camp, you don’t even have to bring your own tent). These camping sites are in prime locations on the doorstep of, or in close proximity to, the ocean.

There are numerous Airbnb options in Ponta do Ouro (and its next door neighbour, Ponta Malongane), where you can get a whole house for yourself and your family, sometimes with a swimming pool, or you can opt to stay in a beach resort, lodge or hotel.

Thanks to the Isuzu mu-X Adventure in Mozambique I had the once in a lifetime experience to stay at White Pearl Resorts in Ponta Mamoli. As cliché as it may sound, White Pearl Resorts is best described as “a little piece of heaven” and while it may not sit in every South African’s budget to stay at this luxurious establishment where a butler is always there at your beck and call – whether you want a drink on the beach or in your private pool – you can visit for the day, sip on a G&T and perhaps do a dive. Words still escape me when I think about the experience, the friendly staff, the braai and traditional dance on the beach as the waves crashed a few meters from us and the elegantly designed rooms that is stocked with freshly roasted cashews and real coffee every day. Absolute 100% pure bliss.

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Crossing the border

Self-driving and crossing the border can be daunting task and even though I solo-crossed into Lesotho with ease, Mozambique’s border crossing is a bit more chaotic, with a few more rigmaroles, and I’m grateful that we drove in convoy and that the Isuzu team had all the paperwork in order. We crossed the border at Kosi Bay, but you can also cross via Komatiepoort (a rather busy one) and via Swaziland.

As a South African you will need the following:

  • Passport with two empty pages, valid for at least 6 months.
  • South African driver’s license.
  • Car registration papers (if it is a rental or owned by someone else you will need a notarised permission letter with the owner’s ID).
  • Third party insurance (this can be bought at the border).
  • Two reflective vests (it should be visible, so if you don’t want to look like a traffic cop wearing it, just hang it around the two seats in the front).
  • Two emergency triangles.
  • ZA sticker.

There are unfortunately a lot of scams taking place at the border; be cautious at all times. Make sure that your passport is stamped on arrival and on exit. If it is possible, avoid travelling over weekends and during peak holiday seasons; during Christmas time the queue goes on forever and you might find yourself sitting there for two days. Ja, 48 hours. Also braai people, keep in mind that you are not allowed to cross into Mozambique with meat or alcohol. Support local.

The newly built road from Kosi Bay to Maputo is a dream, as for the rest of Mozambique… prepare yourself for a whole lot of potholes and a whole lot of driving on sand.

My time in Mozambique and participation in activities was all part of a media trip, courtesy of Isuzu Motors South Africa.

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