Written by Mike Leonard
Granted, our mode of travel, seven people in three small aircraft will not be everyone’s choice, however we visited some interesting and out of the way places for which I was able to get very little information before visiting.
For anyone planning to cross our paths, the following should give some idea of the places we visited and stayed, all with their own or adjacent airfields. The biggest hassle, apart from needless bureaucracy, is the risk of malaria. Anyone visiting should take precautions of some sort (we used Blue Turtle Homeopathics), as well as making sure they are vaccinated for other diseases in compliance with national entry requirements.
Zongoene Lodge has been built at the mouth of the Limpopo river, 140 km north along the coast from Maputo, where the sound of the Indian Ocean pounds against the shoreline on the other side of the estuary. It caters primarily for sports fishing but offers other activities, and follows the usual pattern for southern African lodges; a central bar/restaurant area surrounded by very comfortable cabins among palm trees.
Like Zongoene, this beachside hotel complex has its own airstrip and the transfer is made in a covered trailer pulled by a spanking new John Deere tractor which pulls one through a rather primitive village, whose inhabitants, in socialist Mozambique, are the actual owners of the entire complex. The management is entrusted to a Portuguese hotel chain. The level of sophistication is equal to anything in the Caribbean, which slightly takes away from the Africa-ness of the experience.
The resort is located at the north western tip of the island, on the sheltered side, and at low tide the waterline is a surprisingly long walk out among the myriad wading birds, tiny sand crabs and cheeky African magpies. The tide comes in very quickly and in no time the waterline is just outside the entrance to the luxurious chalets/cabins, and we enjoyed evening drinks with the water lapping at our feet, while watching the full magnificence of an African sunset over the Indian Ocean, only possible from an island. It was stunning!
A government run safari lodge inland from Beira whose attitude towards tourists is unencouraging. And there really isn’t much reason for tourists to go. An unfortunate aftermath of the civil war in Mozambique is that there is very little game, particularly by comparison with its neighbours South Africa and Zambia. I am told that anything remotely edible or sellable was shot from helicopters to feed the Cuban, Russian and local soldiers, or to sell in the case of ivory. And elephants remember; they haven’t come back.
Pebane is perhaps a little off the beaten track if you are not travelling in a small plane, however it is certainly worth a detour if you can make it. This is too far from South Africa to be tourist country, too far from anywhere really, and that is what makes it so special. Our host Chris bought fresh prawns on the way in from the airstrip, and these cooked later in garlic and hot sauce were among the high points of the visit to Mozambique. The lodges’ cabins are spread out along the white shoreline with sand so hard we could have easily landed our little planes on it. You can walk for miles in either direction, and the water was warm enough to swim in even in the middle of their winter, which is not exactly cold, but the leaves do fall from some trees, and inland it gets chilly at night.
This is another lodge which concentrates on sports fishing, but for limited numbers as they only operate one boat which is hauled across the beach to the water on a trailer, but they say it is some of the best fishing in the world.
Something of a tourist hot-spot by Mozambique standards, but still pretty quiet, this tiny walkable island with its 16th century Portuguese fortress was the original capital of the country before Maputo, and is a United Nations world heritage site. It is joined to the mainland by a 3.4km long single lane causeway and is accessible from Nampula which has scheduled flights.
Pemba is the entry and exit point from northern Mozambique and the hub for the Quirimbas Archipelago which includes Ibo Island. We stayed at the very comfortable Pemba Beach Hotel, a typical five star beach side resort owned by Rani Resorts. I am told that it is insufferably hot here in the summer, but it August it was very pleasant.
Tanzania being that much further from South Africa and lacking that influence, is more third worldly than the places we visited in Mozambique. Kilwa has a nice big air strip, but no real tourism to go with it. We stayed in a locally run lodge called the Kilwa Seaview Resort which had very pleasant and friendly staff and delicious seafood, but no maintenance appeared to have been done on the place since it was built in 2003. It is a pleasant and attractive place though, worth a visit, and with impressive ruins of an Arab fortress nearby. There is also a diving lodge in Kilwa, (Kimbilio Lodge) which I have heard is known for excellent scuba diving.
The northwest coast of Zanzibar has been developed in the last ten years to resemble a cross between the Spanish Costas and the Caribbean, with the same type of tourism. It is a disappointment for anyone looking for the exotic spice island of one’s imagination. White beaches and turquoise water are no novelty along the length of this coast.
Old fashioned luxury on the seafront and in the middle of Stonetown, across the road from where Freddie Mercury was born, who could ask for more? Staying there was like stepping back in time. It is decorated with antiques throughout, yet the rooms were very comfortable and air-conditioned, and the mozy nets were intact.
The Lugenda Wilderness Camp was the high point of our journey. Everything about this place is first class, particularly the most luxurious tent that I have ever slept in or even imagined; I think Colonel Gadaffi would be envious. The camp is set up every year for only a few winter months when it is dry and the Lugenda river low. The war never really got this far north, largely because it is so remote and unpopulated, so, unlike the rest of Mozambique there actually is game to be seen. If you leave your tent at night, you must be accompanied by a member of their staff who are familiar with the particular dangers that start to lurk along the riverbank once the sun goes down.
The dramatic scenery of huge granite outcrops and exotic tropical trees was best appreciated on an evening game drive accompanied by two guides, one armed with a reassuringly large elephant gun. He has yet to have to use it thought, it's just insurance. We stopped to have drinks and watch the sun set from rocks in the middle of the river surrounded by hippos and crocs, before carrying on after dark using a powerful light to pick out the reflection of eyes among the trees. This might be standard fare at most safari camps, but the difference here is that there is no one else within hundreds of miles. It really is a wilderness.
The Club Med-ish name didn’t give rise to high hopes as we left Mozambique, and flew south over the immensity of Lake Malawi. According to the publicity, Club Mak has its own international airport, but we knew we were still in Africa when we were asked to hold overhead while they chased the goats from the runway.
Built on a lovely stretch of lakeside beach, this has clearly been built with an international clientèle in mind, and there were people of all nationalities, African and European. It was nicer than we expected. The gardens are beautiful and worth a visit in their own right. The lake is clear and full of beautiful iridescent fish, and eagles soar overhead, and monkeys eat fallen figs on the lawn, there are beautiful sunsets, and the beer is cold!
Because it was quiet when we arrived, we were surprised to find the large dining room full for dinner, and a floorshow going on outside. African dancing and that sort of thing, but the food was good and there was plenty of it. If you want an African holiday without feeling too far outside of a western comfort zone, this could be it.
A flatdog is slang for a crocodile, and there are lots of them, and lots of hippos too, in the muddy Luanda river. This is popular safari country, and when you do a game drive here it is reminiscent of Oxford Street just before Christmas, with big double decker safari jeeps instead of red buses. They are everywhere, packed to the gunnels with photo flashing punters, and obliging leopards are happy to use the vehicles for cover as they stalk their prey.
An open air zoo it may be, but one thing is certain: nowhere in Africa have I seen so much game. There were elephants and hippos wandering around the compound like overfed campers, and one had to pinch oneself to remember they are completely free to come and go. I read that in another camp down river, a pride of lions had moved in. Disney, eat your heart out, but one is constantly reminded that this is not Hollywood, they represent a real danger to visitors.
To be able to see the falls from the air, and then the ground an hour later is a blessing known only to aviators and tourists with the funds to charter a helicopter. The fame of the falls speaks for itself, and is entirely justified.
Maun is the gateway to the famous Okavango Delta. Everyone asks how there can be a delta in the middle of the Kalahari desert. Good question. The sea that the river flowed into has gone missing, but does reappear from time to time in what is now called the Pans. Basically the river flowing down from Angola seeps and eventually disappears into the Okavango, creating something unique; a huge oasis that supports a varied and populous wildlife.
The Botswana government have long realised the value of this and protect it and exploit it in equal measure. As an African destination it is outstanding, and every imaginable type of safari is catered for, usually expensively. Tied as we were to airport proximity, we stayed at a very pleasant and reasonable lodge a short drive from Maun, on a stretch of river with good food and service called the Thamalakane River Lodge.
This was our last port of call before returning to South Africa. The camp is one of two which have been built on the banks of the Limpopo River which separates Botswana from her first world neighbour to the south. The area in winter has a stark beauty which by itself would merit a visit. The camp is the usual layout of central area and outlying very comfortable rondells (traditional round African cabins with thatched roofs), all of it in something of a green oasis which is in sharp contrast to the ruggedness of the surrounding terrain.
A charming feature is the number of dussies (rock hyrax) that have made their home here. These normally little-seen animals who look like overgrown gray chipmunks are in fact the closest relative to elephants, and have learned that here they are safe from the attention of the serval, a little known African cat who is their greatest predator.
There is plenty of game to be seen on an early morning drive, if rarely any of the big five, but the draw is the beauty of the terrain. Tuli Lodge is 500km by road from Johannesburg and from Gabronne, and also has its own airport complete with customs and immigration called Limpopo Valley.
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