How to tick all the boxes in Mozambique
Southern Mozambique allows us to tick all the boxes, including adventure, travel and 4X4.
Glamping, camping or luxury – your choice. Throw in a spot of culture too.
The southern tip of Mozambique has just enough tangs of culture to tantalize the taste buds and satisfy your quest for adventure, without you having to go far. Here’s a little adventure we went on a few weeks ago:
Camping & why?
While I shake the sand out of the camping gear and scrub our washing I briefly wish we could have stayed in a 5* lodge. I quickly withdraw that thought as I remember the fun we had. Although we seem to have brought back half the beach with us and perhaps a little critter or two, I don’t regret camping.
We choose to camp, because it is an inexpensive way for us to stay in Mozambique. There are 5* lodges and resorts but camping is inexpensive and therefore allows us to travel and visit other destinations as well throughout the year.
We certainly must put up with a few discomforts. I often have a cold shower. I also have complimentary shower partners - little and big critters, such as cicada beetles, mosquitoes and frogs – I call them my shower entertainment. I’ve even had a snake before. Fortunately he stayed right where he was, wedged in a gap between the wall and the ceiling. I kept a beady eye on him and was happy he stayed where he was, because if there was any sign of movement and I lost sight of him, I might have turned into a dirty tramp for the rest of the holiday. Having said that, somehow sand always ends up in the sheets (even though you scrub your feet every night and try to leave the sand outside the door of the tent). Even after a relatively decent shower, we walk around with our own radioactive aura of sprays, potions and lotions that we douse and coat ourselves with to prevent mosquitoes and other bugs from biting us. It still doesn't prevent them.
Talking of mosquitoes, we take malaria prophylactics which can be tiresome but each year we are so thankful that we take the prophylactics because without fail, we get bitten. Many people say it’s not worth taking medication for various reasons, but trust me, it is. The area is a wetland and marshy. It's an excellent breeding ground for those little buggers. Besides, can you imagine a conversation with a mosquito?
“Excuse me, would you be so kind to tell me, just before you impale my delicate skin, are you a female Anopheles mosquito? If so, would you kindly refrain from letting your saliva enter my blood stream? Thank you so much, you are a darling!”
Driving to Ponta Malongane, Mozambique
Why do we return to Ponta Malongane, which is just a few kilometres short of the southern border of Mozambique? Since 2002, my previous blog (Dumped but not Trashed in Beautiful Mozambique), it has been a consistent yearly crusade for us give or take a year or two. We usually stay a week, but this year we extended it to two, as we hadn’t had a decent holiday in 2017 and as you may have picked up by now, we thrive on getaways. We’ve discovered that Southern Mozambique offers us just enough adventure, relaxation and culture
It is about a nine-hour drive from Johannesburg to Kosi Bay (with a trailer and rooftop tent). Eager to get away, usually on a Friday afternoon, for the last few years we've included an overnight stop. The border closes at about 5 pm every day and opens at 8 in the morning.
We’ve found a nice place at Piet Retief, more or less halfway, called Bali Biasa. Comfortable and reasonable, although it probably costs us more than our full holiday camping fees. This would be the last bit of luxury we'd have for two weeks.
Saturday morning is normally an early rise, so we don’t waste too much of the day. Along the way, there’s some interesting sightseeing at Jozini and Manguzi and the traffic can sometimes delay our traveling time. There always seems to be traffic congestion, but I love the slow pace through the towns, taking in all the scenes while hubby takes evasive action between the chaos of diagonal vehicles and suicidal pedestrians. Sometimes there are a few goats and cattle too.
About 20 minutes before you arrive at your destination (or two hours, depending on your navigational skills on the sand tracks on the Mozambican side – no not us, fortunately), you enter Mozambique from South Africa at the Kosi Bay border. These days the Mozambican side is more sophisticated with fingerprint scanners, obviously for the biometric passports. It took us a matter of a few minutes to be cleared on both sides, and a bit longer to fill in the papers to take our vehicles across the border. Need some advice to cross the border? Here's some.
Because we leave the tar road for sand, we let down our tyres. We engage in 4X4 and soon those wheels roll onto the soft sand and we bounce our way to camp.
Complexo Turistico do Ponta Malongane
The official name for the campsite is Complexo Turistico do Ponta Malongane. Sounds quite upmarket, doesn’t it? – sorry to disappoint you. It needs some TLC - a lot more than it gets at the moment, but we love it.
We find that the camping and accommodation is reasonably priced with a choice of campsites, chalets, log huts and rondavels to choose from and to suit your needs. Whilst there aren’t luxurious facilities, it is adequate. The five-star friendliness and treatment plus the magnificent location always makes up for it. I have always felt welcome in Mozambique, but now we are welcomed almost as part of the family.
The shade is provided by large coastal trees, far larger than you anticipate. The coastal shrub shelters you from the onshore and off shore winds and a short path through it leads you onto a beautiful long stretch of white sand with very few people on it. Waves crash onto the beach and you know that the sound will put you to sleep at night.
We choose our times carefully
During South African school and Easter holidays as well as other public holidays the camp is usually packed to the brim. We avoid those times, but throughout the rest of the year people and dive groups dribble in.
At times there are a few festivals and fishing competitions at Malongane, so if that’s your thing, take note of them. STRAB is a huge musical festival. Take a look.
We invited friends this year, who spent the first week with us. We set up camp and had dinner at the camp’s restaurant the first night. We were the only patrons and had the most delicious prawns and red fish.
Hilarious moments when our husbands had to braai/barbeque in the rain. We called them our aliens.
Here’s some of the things we did for the next two weeks that ticked all the boxes.
We relaxed, explored, walked and swam. All at a relatively slow pace as the heat and humidity is quite high. We become quite selfish when someone new enters the camp as if we earn the right to have it all to yourself. All of our camping neighbours were far enough away from us and didn’t disturb us at all.
We made it our mission to try different restaurants around Malongane, as they have sprouted like proverbial beans. We weren’t disappointed. We were often the only ones at the restaurants but on occasion, there were other people, especially on and around weekends.
Sunset Shack: Their Portuguese chicken is the best.
The Drunken Clam: Apart from being served whopper sized R&R’s (Rasberry and Rum – which could knock you for a six, if you drink it too quickly) their food was great. I had their chicken livers. So tasty! They also serve proper coffee – ok, almost proper coffee – First time ever we had that in Mozambique.
Crabs: The best crab curry in Southern Mozambique. So much so that we went back for a second night. This time we asked if we could have curried prawns – no problem. Nothing was too much of an issue for them.
Restaurant at the camp: Delicious food when we ate there, and handy if you are staying in the resort and don't want to drive to have dinner.
The Natural night life.
Usually a chorus of chirping and cheeps accompanied by croaking and high pitched pings that continue throughout the night.
A multitude of creatures such as bats, bush babies, cicadas, frogs, scorpions, spiders, snakes, huge stick insects and even corn crickets live in the forest. On previous occasions during the day we have seen bush buck, mongoose, monkeys and squirrels and of course a multitude of birds, many of them different to what we have at home.
If you haven’t had enough of the critters under the trees you can always spot a few on the beach. Blue bottles, crabs and mole crabs. We’re fascinated by the mole crabs and if you are lucky to catch one and you put it down on the wet sand near the breakers, they burrow under the sand within a second and disappear completely. Amazing vanishing skills! At night we also enjoyed one of our favourite pastimes: standing on the beach and looking at the stars. By now you might have gathered we like nature and quieter things in life.
Cultural night life
If you are partial to a more noisy night life, you can frequent one of the local bars in the town of Malongane. Ghetto blasters thump to the beat of the music from reed huts and partially complete concrete buildings. You’ll certainly see a different culture of the Mozambicans.
If you become bored of walking on the beach and swimming, there is a dive centre. For many years it has been the camp’s main attraction and will continue for a long time, I’m sure. Diving is great, majority of the time and visibility underwater varies according to the conditions of the sea and weather but is often very clear. In fact, while we were there, we heard that Malongane Dive Centre has shown more growth than any other dive centre in Africa, even Mauritius, according to PADI. Well done to all the guys and gals. That’s a feather in their cap. They also do dolphin swimming charters. We did one a few years back that was a fantastic experience.
Exploring Maputo Special Reserve.
A good few years back we spent a week at Santa Maria at a lodge called Nhonguane Lodge near the Machangulo Peninsula. To get there you enter one of the gates of the Maputo Special Reserve and you travel through the Elephant reserve (as it was previously known) on a sand road. At that time. It took us a good four hours from the gate to Santa Maria.
This year we decided we wanted to explore Milibangalala, which is easily two hours from the gate. We’ve always wanted to go to Mili as it is commonly known. At the entrance gate they warn you to engage 4X4 and it is necessary. Some areas are quite easy to drive, but there are some deceptive spots with nasty sticky mud in some of the marshes and wetland where you can easily get stuck.
The drive through the reserve was quite satisfying. The first time we drove through it, we only saw goats towards the end of our trip. This time we could see a vast difference in the number of game. Unfortunately most of them were too far away to take decent photographs but I'm thrilled with the amount that we saw.
The special reserve is part of The Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area and the Futi Corridor leads to the Futi Sanctuary and then onto the Tembe Elephant Park. The plan is for the elephants to migrate between the reserve and Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa.
Although we rarely buy curios these days, there are numerous stalls to buy them. The artisans are talented and you can watch some of them while they work. I’m sure if you ask them to do something for you they would. There is however an overabundance of the same things that hang in the harsh African sun and get bleached beyond recognition.
Tip of Gold vs Place of Children
We also took a few hours outing to see Ponta do Ouro. It means ‘tip of gold’, but it didn’t take us long before we turned around and went back to our familiar point of Malongane that we love, which means ‘place of children’. Ponta Malongane must stir the inner child in me….
There is a new tar road that is almost complete between Maputo and the Kosi bay border. It has replaced badly potholed sections close to Maputo and the gravel road closer to the border. I think life will change somewhat in Southern Mozambique once that is complete. We’ll see next time.