When you cross the border from South Africa into Southern Mozambique, the roads don’t just get bad. They cease to exist, along with potable tap water, grocery stores, and many of the other modern conveniences that we enjoy in South Africa. So too does the stress and commercialization that comes along with life in a relatively developed country. Instead, you’ll find natural beauty, lovely people, and a slower, more relaxed pace of life.
Ponta d’Oura (Point of Gold in Portuguese) is a small resort town on the Indian Ocean at the southernmost tip of Mozambique. It is only 3 kilometers from the border, but because it is only accessible by 4×4, it feels very remote. There are no official roads into town, only deep sand tracks over the dunes. If you choose the wrong path, as we did at one point, you might find yourself getting stuck in the sand, reversing to correct, and suddenly slipping down the side of a hill. A very scary situation. The best course of action, we found, is to just drive forward at full speed off the tracks and start over.
Once you make your way into Ponta d’Ouro, you may be surprised by the lack of development. It is a popular resort town for South Africans, but there are no big hotels or condos, only a string of small motels and cottages. The lack of roads or addresses makes finding specific locations tough, it being such a small town means to sooner or later you’ll end up where you need to be. We found our accommodation at the Ponta Beach Camps, run by SCUBA dive operators. We were set up in a safari tent right on the water’s edge, where I slept soundly every night to the sound of crashing waves.
This is the perfect vacation town for beach lovers. Sand and sea are the only attractions. The sand is wide and clean, and the water is clear and unbelievably warm. SCUBA diving and fishing are popular past-times here, but we stuck to encountering fish through snorkeling and simply soaking up the sun.
If the “crowds” of Ponta d’Ouro are too much for you, and you really want to experience unspoiled beach, take the short drive to Ponta Malongane. Hidden behind a coastal forest teeming with monkeys, the beach here is wide open and gorgeous, and free of other tourists or pushy salesman hawking their sunglasses or sarongs. Don’t worry about how to get there. If you ask for directions as we did, you’ll probably just be told “All the trails lead to Malongane, it’s just a matter of which one you choose.” This will turn out to be correct.
When people find out you are going to Mozambique, they will tell you to try the prawns. You should. The prawns, cooked in peri peri sauce or served up in a curry, are big, fresh, and delicious. The fish is delicious, too. The specialty pao bread, freshly baked each morning, goes well with everything.
You may also be encouraged to try an R&R, which you should do only at your own risk. This local cocktail, made of raspberry soda and rum, tastes and looks exactly like Robitussin. It also has similar side effects to the cough medicine. Pina Coladas and local beers are a safer alternative for the less brave/stupid.
When you have to leave this paradise, you could just head back the way you came. Or, you could strike out towards the west, crossing the country all the way to the Swaziland Border. Locals will probably advise you against trying this, but perhaps you’re inclined to ignore solid advice and try unwise things simply for the adventure of it. If you do so, you will be rewarded with vast expanses of wide open African landscapes, punctuated here and there by mud huts and children selling litchis and homemade rum on the side of the road.
Just when you think you’ve had about enough of sand roads, you’ll hit upon a giant road works project. There is still no pavement, but steamrollers have made a smooth flat surface that feels like heaven after miles of bumpy dunes. The whole project is being run by Chinese workers, and along the way you’ll pass a bizarre series of Chinese compounds, looking all the more strange in such an undeveloped country.
Mozambique is raw, still recovering from a brutal civil war that only ended in 1992. It is poor, and remote, and kind of intimidating. But if you don’t mind going off the beaten path (literally and figuratively), you’ll find yourself having an unforgettable adventure and falling for the simple and quiet beauties of this under-appreciated country.
To get an idea of what it’s like to drive across Mozambique and swim in its waters, watch Spencer’s video.