Picture postcard Mozambique dazzles with old- world charm

New river crossing and road opening up wonders of the country's southern sites, says Hannah Summers

A Mozambique woman opens a coconut with a machete close to the beach
A Mozambique woman opens a coconut with a machete close to the beach

The engine groans. Water sputters. The boat leans and a fellow passenger’s pink, whipped cream-topped birthday cake threatens to slip from her lap to the ground.

“If you’re scared we can take the bigger ferry,” my guide Januario tells me.

No need. I emerge safely on the other side of Maputo Bay, Mozambique.

Battered fishing boats rock on the water, stalls of tiny fish bake in the sun and locals are gathering for their 8am shandy.

I clamber into a minibus and watch the driver’s orange rosary beads sway to Rihanna’s hits, which blare through tinny speakers to homes that dot the road. I’m on my way from Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, to explore the pristine beaches of the country’s south.

A year ago this journey could take up to eight hours, the route only accessible to fearless 4x4 drivers who weren’t afraid to push their jeeps out of muddy ditches.

But in a few months, thanks to a new bridge (cutting out long car ferry crossings) and new tarmac road, the journey will be condensed into a cushy 90-minute drive.

It’ll fast-track travellers to Ponto do Ouro, a beach town in the south, while easing access to a smattering of hotels lining the undiscovered coastline.

I’m starting a little further north at Anvil Bay, a luxury eco camp in Maputo Special Reserve. The thrillingly remote beach lodge has been a decade in the making, its existence the combined efforts of charitable foundations and a community association representing the local villages who’ll benefit from the lodge’s earnings.

At the Jurassic Park-style gates of the reserve I swap from the minibus to take on the web of sandy tracks and savannahs by 4x4.

The space was earmarked in 1932 to safeguard the country’s coastal elephants – nowadays, thanks to a game restocking programme, it has blossomed into a vast protected playground for wildebeest, hippos and some of the most spectacular bird populations in the country.

It’s not unusual to see elephants on the drive – close to 500 live here – but the herds are strolling further south today. Instead I spot hippos rolling in water, inquisitive zebras and a spindly-legged saddle-billed stork.

Anvil Bay creeps up on me, its footprint so small, its nine casinhas, or rooms, barely visible in the coastal forest. Mine sits buried in branches on the dunes, its stilted, thatch and canvas design allowing a cooling ocean breeze to flow through the refreshingly simple suite, with soft linens, a huge bed made with local wood and jugs of reverse osmosis water.

I’d happily spend all day in the invigorating outdoor shower but sunshine beckons. I follow the path from my room and emerge onto squeaky Tic Tac-white sand which gazes out over turquoise waves tumbling 30m on.

It stretches north and south as far as I can see, the sand barely trodden aside from the tell tale tracks of a turtle.
I stroll 3km south and back, then throw myself into the whitewater and jump waves. I don’t see another soul.

For three days I manage to do that rare thing: relax. Anvil Bay’s charm lies in switching off (there’s no Wi-Fi unless you go to the “restaurant” tent) and embracing the isolated serenity. Later I’m a smidge more active. I try fishing off the beach, casting my line into ocean so green you’d swear it’d been tampered with.

I wade a fat bike through the sand to reach the northernmost point I can see, and binge on more romance fiction than I should probably admit to.

Come sunset, I guzzle chilled local beers under a dusty pink sky, which transforms into a vast inky blanket pricked by stars. When everyone goes to bed I sit around the campfire and revel in the silence. It’s utterly intoxicating.

Yet Mozambique’s charm doesn’t rely on a luxe price tag. Inspired to see more, I head south to Ponto do Ouro, a ramshackle surf town nudging the border of South Africa. My base is Gala Gala Eco Resort, a colourful guesthouse that reminds me of the glory days of backpacking.

I set out to explore, taking a path down to the ocean and emerging onto one of the most thrilling stretches of sand I’ve seen.

Empty. I kick off my flip-flops and wander along the beach with an entourage of several hundred dolphins.

Picnicking families are spread out on the butter-coloured sand, their smokey barbecues mingling with the salty air of the surf-pounded beach.

Behind them, sandy lanes of paint-doused stalls sit next to crumbling baroque villas adorned with pretty, moss-strewn Portuguese tiles – a reminder of Mozambique’s colonial past.

A walk through town reveals that Ponto do Ouro serves up its own heavenly version of rest and relaxation. R&R – a half rum, half raspberry pop flouro-pink cocktail that’s fondly downed by locals and visitors – comes with a wink and warning.

“One is good, two is great. No more than three,” the bar’s owner tells me. I’ve never slept better.

The next day I drive 18km north to Ponta Mamoli and arrive at White Pearl, one of the few luxury resorts on this southern coast. The all-white interiors and ludicrously squidgy sun loungers-with-views are the sublime antithesis to Ponto’s bustle.

I saunter along the coast on a ginger-tinged horse called Blazy (“because she’s a little lazy,” Lorenzo, the hotel’s activities guru, tells me), squint through a telescope at the moon and devour traditional deep-fried Mozambican snacks.

The new road has made it even easier to revisit the Maputo Special Reserve. Please, let me see elephants this time.

Domingos, my guide and a former reserve warden, is an expert in predicting the animals’ whereabouts. We turn off the tarmac and take a ‘hippo highway’, so called because the animal’s dung lies fresh in the sand.

We watch monkeys launch themselves from the low, wide branches of waterberry trees, see giraffes striding regally alongside us and spy crocodiles snoozing in the late-afternoon sun. Finally, in the distance, we spot a herd of elephants. The jeep crawls closer and we watch them roam the grassy savannah until sunset.

Things move somewhat faster on my ocean safari. This southern stretch of coast is a hotbed for divers and Lorenzo takes guests to the Pinnacles to see 12 species of shark and to Croc Creek, for crocodile fish.

The sky’s a cloudless cornflower-blue, the wind low, the waves flat. We zip south along the coast, then follow it back north. Endless uninterrupted sand is backed by jungle forest, without a single eyesore in sight. Then we see them: A small pod of bottlenose dolphins wiggling around the front of our boat.

We hurtle north, Lorenzo easing the throttle at a reef just off the beach. Mozambique’s tourism has previously suffered at the hands of political tension in the north, but here, 2400km south, it’s a different story. “Investors want to build a port in this very spot,” Lorenzo says. “It would destroy the beach, the marine life and the peacefulness. We must all work to protect our coast.”

It’s hard to picture. Just metres away is another stretch of empty, dazzling white sand leading into jade-coloured ocean. I promise to play my part, pull on my snorkel and fins, and jump straight in. – The Telegraph

MOZAMBIQUE NEED TO KNOW

Dress for balmy days – and pack mozzie repellant

Mozambique's City Hall with a statue of Samora Machel
Mozambique's City Hall with a statue of Samora Machel

Getting There

  • South African Airways offers return flights to Maputo – see www.flysaa.com for more.
  • South African passport holders do not require a visa if visiting Mozambique for tourist purposes for less than 30 days.

Money Matters

  • Mozambique uses the Metical as currency. R1 equals 5.27 Mozambican Metical at the current exchange rate.
  • In the south of the country, Rands and US Dollars are widely accepted.
  • Negotiating on price is accepted at curio markets.
  • There are some ATMs in the more popular locations but travellers’ cheques are difficult and costly to exchange; most vendors also do not accept credit cards.

Where to stay

  • Anvil Bay:
    www.anvilbay.com
  • White Pearl:
    www.whitepearlresorts.com
  • Gala Gala Eco-resort:
    gala-gala.co.za

The Weather

  • Mozambique has a tropical climate with plenty of sunshine all through the year, so it rarely gets cold.
  • The average temperature is about 28°C.
  • The rainy season is from November to April and it can get very hot and humid between December and February. 

What to pack

  • Malaria is a real threat in Mozambique, so consult your doctor about appropriate medication.
  • Do also pack mosquito repellent or citronella creams if preferred.
  • Bottled water is expensive, so you may want to take your own.
  • Clothing-wise, you can take summer wear and swimsuits, but a warm top is not a bad idea as you could have the odd slightly chilly evening.

 

Showcasing archipelago’s best beaches

Quirimbas National Park

The Papa Suite at Quirimbas National Park
The Papa Suite at Quirimbas National Park

Set in the Quirimbas National Park – the largest protected marine reserve in Africa – Guludo is a smal lodge of stone and thatch villas, or “bandas”.
There’s no electricity and no Wi-Fi (except in emergencies) – not that you’ll need it with 12km of beach on the doorstep.

  • www.guludo.com

 

Set in the Quirimbas National Park – the largest protected marine reserve in Africa – Guludo is a smal lodge of stone and thatch villas, or “bandas”.
There’s no electricity and no Wi-Fi (except in emergencies) – not that you’ll need it with 12km of beach on the doorstep.

  • www.guludo.com

 

Ibo Island has colonial architecture
Ibo Island has colonial architecture

Ibo Island

The mansion at Ibo Island Lodge was once the headquarters of the Niassa trading company, and you’ll still enjoy the colonial-style architecture today.
Take a boat trip to discover the best beaches of the archipelago, and learn about the wildlife that calls this island home.

  • www.iboisland.com

 

The Bazaruto Archipelago

For all-out luxury, try Anantara Bazaruto Island set in the Bazaruto Archipelago, 30km east of mainland Mozambique.
At 37km long and up to 7km wide, Bazaruto has more pristine white-sand beach than you can possibly explore, plus diving, dune bashing and fishing.

  • www.bazaruto.anantara.com

Wimbe Beach

Tuck into fresh seafood at breezy beach bars and watch fishermen haul their nets onto the sand at Wimbe Beach, close to Pemba in north Mozambique.
Base yourself at the Avani Pemba Beach Hotel and Spa, which has its own lovely white-sand beach out front.

  • Visit www.minorhotels.com and click on the Avani Hotels and Resorts tab. – The Telegraph
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