In this second series of the Transfrontier Parks programme, which aims to bridge the conservation and 4×4 tourism gap between South Africa and its neighbours, Stuart Reichardt heads to the Maputo Special Reserve in Mozambique and back to the Tembe Elephant Park in SA along that green link between the two areas – the Futi Corridor.
There are certain things that can cut a trip to Mozambique short. Taking photographs of three camo-clad border guards relaxing in the shade while discussing matters of urgency such as the vagaries of crypto currencies and overly-demanding girlfriends, is one of them. I had the foresight to ask permission, and was met with a stern glare and a sideways wag of three index fingers. I must say that I was tempted, but the thought of spending time in the squalid confines of a local “cadeia” outweighed my desire to sneak a snapshot.
Let’s back up a bit, though. After a quick flight from Cape Town to Durban, I joined two other journalists at King Shaka airport. Then the three of us piled into a hired Polo Vivo and made the 460km (6-7 hour) drive north to the Ponto do Ouro border post, where we were met by the rest of the team brandishing a selection of 4x4s.
After booking the Vivo into a holding pound on the South African side of the border, and a half-hour wait, I made my way to the counter. The border-post official asked the mandatory question, “Where are you going?” Being unfamiliar with border-post protocols, I looked around to see if I had missed any access points to other countries, and when suitably convinced that Mozambique was where I was headed, I said, “Mozambique!” The sweaty official’s complete lack of interest in my answer, and the distant look in his eye, spoke volumes about his desire for Speedo-clad days spent sunbathing at the poolside while quaffing the coldest of beverages. “Thunk” went the stamp into my passport, with the precision achieved only by sheer numbers of repeat actions. Then it was off to the Mozambican officials for a second “thunk”. Hola Mozambique!
Where the tar ends…
The tarred road ends abruptly on the South African side of the Mozambican border, thus the need for 4×4 vehicles. It must be noted that the Chinese are building roads in Mozambique at a rapid rate, something I’d also noticed on my Transfrontier Lesotho trip. I wonder what the trade-off is. Nothing in life is free − and especially not long tracts of tarred road.
After all of us had completed our border-crossing formalities, we hopped into the awaiting 4x4s and made our way on the very sandy tweespoor to the quaint bustling town of Ponto do Ouro (Point of Gold) as the heat gave way to a hazy dusk. Along the way, we spotted many plaintive casualties whose vehicles had succumbed to the soft conditions underfoot.
Ponto do Ouro is a thriving place: a hub for the 4×4 enthusiasts, fishermen and holidaymakers who populate the bars and restaurants while local music thumps its beat around the colourful markets that line the sandy main road. This is 4×4 country, and you can fish, too!
We were met at the Melting Pot Inn by Miguel Goncalves, the marine park warden for the Maputo Marine Reserve. On the way to our first overnight destination, he gave us the wonderful opportunity of doing a night drive on the beach to view the Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles (the former are more common) laying their eggs in the protected reserve.
The one mistake I made on the beach trip was not deflating the tyres of my 4×4 enough (no tyre-pressure monitor), and this resulted in my nearly getting stuck on a few occasions. The following morning, with the aid of a tyre-pressure monitor, it was discovered that my tyres were still at 2 bars when they should have been at the 1.3 bar mark for soft-sand driving. One way of circumventing this type of problem if you don’t have a tyre-pressure monitor, is to let air out of the tyres and then drive a small distance. If the vehicle is still battling to gain traction and the tyre footprint is still quite square, you need to further deflate the tyre to allow for a longer surface area.
It was amazing to watch the Loggerhead turtles in the process of laying their eggs and covering them with sand. It’s hard to imagine the sheer strength they need to drag themselves up to 200 metres from their natural aquatic environment, find the correct place to dig a large hole in the sand with their paddle-like flippers, lay the eggs, and cover them up. Goncalves did mention that the turtles are in a trance-like state when they deposit the eggs: an act of faith until the hatchlings emerge from December through to March and scuttle back to the sea.
For the full story, be sure to grab a copy of the April issue of SA4x4 Magazine!
WHERE WE STAYED
IN THE MAPUTO SPECIAL RESERVE:
Anvil bay lodge: 5 star, 22 beds
Ponta Milibangalala lodge: 12 basic campsites (each 8 pax)
FUTURE DEVELOPMENT: Complete 2019
Ponta Milibangalala Lodge: 100 bed lodge
4×4 game drive network: 5 rustic campsites for the 4×4 trails (12 people), 196km of 4×4 trails, 2 picnic spots and viewing sites.
Ponta Dobela: 24 self-catering chalets, 6 luxury campsites (6 people), 1 trail campsite (16 people), restaurant.
Lake Xingute: 12 self-catering chalets, 6 luxury campsites, jetty and mooring facilities.
Elefantes Plains: 6 luxury campsites (6 people) and 1 overland campsite (16 people).
Anvil Bay Chemucane Lodge
Address: Maputo Special Reserve, Mozambique
GPS: 26°21’18.65”S, 32°55, 52.92”E
Tembe Elephant Park
Address: Kwangwanase, Zululand, 3973
GPS: 27.0488° S, 32.4223° E