Mozambique magic

Blogged by Dave

We had a couple of spare weeks before heading out to Europe and so we decided to head across to Mozambique for some scuba diving and a bit of warm weather. It also coincided with a trip some of our friends were doing and we planned to meet up with them in the second week. Most people get to Mozambique from Johannesburg via some fairly expensive flights or a drive though the chaotic Ressano Garcia border post near Maputo, but we decided to rather take the longer, much less travelled routes through the Kruger National Park, which we hoped would be a bit more peaceful. On the way to Mozambique we decided to use the Pafuri border post in the far northern Kruger, as this was the most direct route to our first stop, Vilanculos. To use either of the Kruger border posts (the other being Giriyondo a bit further south) you need to stay at least one night in either the Kruger or the Mozambiquan game reserve. I don’t think anyone checked that we had a booking, but it’s probably not worth risking trying to get through without one. We stayed a night at Punda Maria, one of the older Kruger camps. The chalets are comfortable but showing their age a bit, and they aren’t as well spaced out as the newer SANparks camps. It is however fairly close to the border post (about 40km) and we only had a leisurely 2 hour drive the next morning, which included a lovely breakfast break on the banks of the Luvuvhu and lots of sightings of hippo, crocodiles, buffalo and elephant. The border crossing was quick (we were the only vehicle) and we were soon on our way to Machaila, a small town in the middle of nowhere that appears to be the only campsite on the route to Vilanculos. Although it is only 230kms to Machaila from the border, the first poorly signposted 80kms are in the Mozambiquan game reserve and the combination of a 50km/hour speed limit and slightly dodgy roads meant that this section took about two hours. After paying our (very informal looking) toll fee of R100 to drive across the Limpopo, the road improved for the rest of the drive, although every now and again a hidden ditch would appear in the road, so some caution is still required. The Machaila camp site was very basic – a cleared area of land, a pit toilet and, in the rainy season, a cold shower, but only cost R100 for both of us, so we couldn’t really complain. You just turn up and camp – there are no contact details. The 300km drive to Vilanculos is a mixture of a very slow jeep track for about 100km and then a fairly good dirt road the rest of the way and took about 6 hours. Although we didn’t need to buy any diesel, it looked like there were places where you could get fuel. What we really enjoyed about the drive is that you get to see a very different side to Mozambique to that seen from the main road from Maputo, and although the drive is long, it seemed very relaxing.

Entering the Kruger!
Hippos everywhere…
Rural Mozambique
The jeep track from Machaila

Vilanculos is a fairly large town on the mainland opposite the famous Bazaruto islands, one of Mozambique’s prime holiday destinations. Unfortunately staying on the islands is extremely expensive, and so we chose to rather stay at the very nice backpackers in town called Baobab Beach Backpackers (http://www.baobabbeach.net). They’re a short walk from the centre of town, on the beach, and have great (and very reasonable) sea-view bungalows and a nice common area and bar / restaurant. They are close to one of the scuba operators and they support a really nice local restaurant called Zita’s across the road if you want to try some delicious local food. We did two good days of diving at Bazaruto with Odyssea Dive (http://www.odysseadive.com), but compared to the rest of Mozambique we found the diving to be very expensive – pretty much double the cost of the places further south. This is largely because the dive sites are an hour boat ride from Vilanculos and it includes a lunch time stop on the island, but at $120 for a double tank dive (excluding equipment), it is difficult to justify more than a day or two diving.

Sunrise over Vilanculos town beach
The streets of Vilanculos
Zita’s – a great place for local food
Some devil rays flying past us
More devil rays
A wary clownfish
A ray hiding in the sand
A brave mantis shrimp
A beautiful flatworm
A very chilled turtle that almost swam into my leg

After Vilanculos we drove a little further north to a remote hotel called Marimba Secret Gardens (http://marimba.ch). It consists of five beautiful huts on stilts a few hundred meters from a largely deserted stretch of beach. The place is really peaceful and their restaurant serves really tasty food. Our two nights there were a great break from the crowds.

The rooms at Marimba
Marimba’s very quiet beach

Tofo was our next stop, a small beach town just south of Inhambane which is popular with divers, backpackers and South Africans. It’s also one of the main scuba centers, and we were planning on doing a few dives before heading south. Unfortunately the weather had turned bad with a huge swell making diving a bit tricky, but we still managed to get in 2 dives with the well organized Diversity Scuba (http://www.diversityscuba.com). Even if you aren’t diving, Tofo is a great place to visit, with a huge beach, a variety of accommodation options and nice places to eat and drink. We stayed at Nordin’s Lodge (http://www.nordinslodgetofo.com) which was very basic but right on the beach, close to the restaurants and bars and very cheap.

Sunset on Tofo beach
Another view of Tofo beach

Our final beach stop was near Guinjata Bay, where our friend Graeme’s parents have a stunning holiday home on top of a dune with an uninterrupted 180 degree view over the sea. We had a great five days there, with some amazing and very cheap scuba diving through the excellent Guinjata Bay Scuba (https://diveguinjata.wordpress.com, R350 – R400 a dive, excluding equipment). Definitely somewhere we will be coming back to! Many of the places in Guinjata seem to be private holiday homes, but there were a few hotels and properties for rent. It’s a much quieter place than Tofo and well worth a visit. Thanks Graeme for having us and thanks to Rogan, Julz, Lara, Tim, Justin, Kelly and Steve for a great holiday (and for some of the photos below)!

The amazing view from Graeme’s place
Rogan got to see a frogfish on only his 2nd sea dive
Another view of the frogfish
Kelly having fun with the buoy-line on her Discover Scuba
A friendly potato grouper
The potato grouper photo in the making
A rare stonefish
An even rarer dragon moray eel
A white mouth moray eel
A Spanish Dancer… during the day!!?!
A decorator crab
Rogan and Julz looking good
Graeme was rather pleased to see this grouper
Unwinding on the beach
Some beach cricket
Sunset from the patio
The beautiful coastline at Guinjata
It wouldn’t be Mozambique without some rum & raspberry

 

This night might be getting out of hand…
Snorkel!!!!! (The dive centre’s young goat)

For the long journey home we used the other Kruger border crossing, Giriyondo. A 500km 7 hour drive along mostly good roads took us to Covane Community Camp near Massingir dam (http://www.covanecommunitylodge.com), where we spend the night in one of their beautiful lake view chalets overlooking the dam. The next morning we headed out early to drive the 136km through the park to Letaba Camp in the Kruger. As before this relatively short distance took a long time because of the speed limit in the park. Letaba has a beautiful setting overlooking a wide river bed (largely dry at this time of the year), where animals regularly wander down to drink. There are also some nice drives to do around the camp. We left early the next morning for the long drive back to Joburg, and we’re lucky to see a couple of spotted hyaenas on their way back from a very bloody meal.

Sunset over Massingir dam
One of the hyaenas we saw in the Kruger
A buffalo checking us out

 

All in all a great trip. It was good to see that Mozambique is slowly developing compared to previous trips, with much better roads, more ATMs and fuel stations, and less obvious police corruption.

Next stop: Eastern Europe!

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