Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

The “Grand” Mozambique Adventure Pt 1

Award-winning author Angela N. Blount once said the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take. This certainly rang true during a recent adventure in Mozambique.

A couple of months back, while dining on crayfish brought back from Moz by some of our friends, we got the idea to do a bush to beach fishing trip. Not one to leave things at the idea phase, we started planning. After making a couple of calls, we got hold of a Toyota Hilux Legend RS and a Fortuner 4×4 VX from Toyota South Africa for the trip.

We Aimed to do some tiger fishing at Massingir Dam and then head to the beach for some surf fishing. We were also keen to experience deep-sea fishing in Xai-Xai. So, we dug out the trusty map book and started piecing together the best route. We soon ran into our first obstacle: the Giriyondo border post was still closed due to Covid-19,and our only option was to go through the Lebombo border post. We checked maps and Google Earth and eventually found a gravelroad that hugs the border between Mozambique and the Kruger National Park. Unfortunately, the track didn’t show on the paper maps from Tracks4Africa, but it was indicated on the T4A software for our Garmin Overlander and Tread GPS. Our intention was never to plot new roads or anything – the roads were clear as day on both GPS units. Just in case we needed a hand and an extra set of wheels, I got hold of the Schuttes from Sunset Adventures Travels, both of them avid birders, and persuaded them to come along in their kitted-out Toyota Land Cruiser.

When our PCR tests came back negative, we headed to MarlothPark to meet up with the Schuttes. Both vehicles were packed to the brim with camping and fishing gear. We arrived in Marloth Park mid-afternoon on a Saturday and finalised the arrangements and departure times. The 320km route we chose was on gravel, and about100km shorter than the tarred route to Massingir, so we estimated it would take us five to six hours, excluding the border crossing.

As such we did not have to leave at sparrow’s and headed out to the border at around 08:00. We exchanged some Rands to Meticals at one of the fuel stations near the Lebombo border, got our thirdparty insurance and presented our passports to the officials. We were worried that it would take a long time to get through the border, but within 40 minutes we had cleared both sides and paid our road taxes. It was just after 09:30, and our adventure had started in all earnest. It’s about a 35km drive to the turn-off onto the road we chose, and after filling up all the vehicles (fuel is about 20% cheaper in Moz), we turned left and headed to our first village – Moamba.

The “roads” less travelled

About 4km after Moamba, we turned left again and crossed the Sabie River, having paid the 50 Metical toll fee for each vehicle. As we crossed the bridge, we noticed the front left tyre of the Fortuner was losing air. We stopped promptly and quickly changed the tyre, and decided this was also a good indication for us to deflate all our tyres. Out came the Indeflate, a nifty tool used to inflate or deflate two tyres simultaneously, and within five minutes all three vehicles had their pressure down to 1.8 bar. At this point the road was mostly tarred, but even the gravel sections were good enough to average aconstant speed of 70km/h.

Things all changed just after the Sabie River when the road disappeared in front of our eyes. Where T4A on the GPS indicated there were supposed to be roads, the bush was overgrown. At this point, I decided to switch on the tracking function on the Garmin Overlander in case we got lost. Our gravel road turned into a faint tweespoor through the bush, but at least it was still a track on the GPS – one that was taking us north towards Massingir. This was super exciting for the bird-crazy Schuttes since we were heading into an area they hadn’t birded before, and it wasn’t long before they started calling their bird sightings over the radio.

After about three hours of driving, our track came to a three-way split which was not indicated on the GPS. We flipped for it and turned right, only to realise we were now heading east. What do they say about picking the right fork in the road? Obviously we did not, so we backtracked and selected another route which thankfully continued north again. At least this tweespoor was a decent one.

But it wasn’t long before we got to our second obstacle: the N’waswitsonto River. Again, the road stopped abruptly, and we needed to see if we could cross the river somewhere safe. We pulled the Garmin Overlander off its magnetic mount and checked which (if any) roads were available going north. Luckily, we were about 5km from another route to the west of us that seemed to be crossing the river. We plotted a new course and headed that way. This took us to a small village that we could not identify – yet bizarrely there was a sign board for a “Toets Terrein” and “Brandweer Stasie” in this unknown village in the middle of nowhere.

Near here we also found the spot where the Portuguese had assassinated Maguiguana Khosa in 1897 in order to take control of central Mozambique. After crossing the river successfully, we discovered our road had ended, and we had to turn back yet again! It was getting rather late now, and the GPS indicated there was another river crossing about 10km to the east, so off we went. We finally found a road that seemed to be taking us toa river crossing, which ended up being a passable low water bridge. Now we thought we were on our way! This road was beautiful to drive, and with a bit of light rain, it transformed the area into a mystical green paradise. The last river we had to cross was the Nwanedzi River, and from there we should have tracked the perimeter of the Karingani Game Reserve. Of course, things did not work out exactly as planned…

About 500m after crossing the Nwanedzi we came to a large game fence with a locked gate. We backtracked again, found a road hugging the river going east, and after about 10km we found another low water bridge over the river. We stayed on this road for another 10km before coming to another split. Luckily a ranger on a bicycle came pedalling past, and we pointed up the road and asked, “Massingir?” With a broad smile and thumbs up, he confirmed, “Massingir!” and we continued onwards. This road was also not displayed on any of our maps, but it was in brilliant condition and heading straight north. After another 30km on gravel we hit the tar road to Massingir, and easily found the turn-off to our firstnight’s lodging after about 15km on gravel.

We arrived at Covane Community Lodge at around 19:00that evening, tired and excited to crack open an ice-cold 2M.I have to say I was glad we had the Hilux and Fortuner with us during the drive. We were able to play music, and the Fortuner’s all-new Panoramic View camera system came in handy for checking our surroundings when the 4×4 driving got a little rough.

Finding fish

It seemed our trip’s theme of “finding roads” continued when it came to us “finding fish” on the Massingir Dam. Tiger fish are fussy and only bite in certain weather conditions, while water temperatures, and even cloud cover play a major role. One change can put a damper on fish activity. But we tried our very best, and managed to hook five small tigers during our trip.

Again, I was reminded that life does not always go according to plan. When you go fishing, you can plan everything except the weather. We had an arsenal of lures and spinners available to us. I was working my Penn rodand reel overtime, and I did manage to land two tigers, but nothing worth shouting about. While on the boat, André, the owner of Covane Community Lodge, asked if we knew of “The Grand Tour”? Obviously, we are familiar with the TopGear trio, and he proceeded to tell us how Jeremy, James and Hammond had visited them a couple of years back, and had asked if he could get rid of the front end of an old Mercedes-Benz. Needless to say, we were curious. Could this be the red Merc that James May was driving during the filming of the TV series?

We continued fishing for a while longer, but with luck not going our way, we decided to head back to camp and find the Merc. André took us straight to the sawed-off front end of a Mercedes-Benz wagon, sitting proudly under a marula tree. We checked the plates and confirmed it was indeedthe same vehicle – what a surprising find in the middle of Mozambique. That evening André told us how The Grand Tour team stayed over at Covane on their way to a village located in the Limpopo National Park just across the dam from us. Dinner was a welcome chance to relax, and the Schuttes were on top form, serving us delicious pot bread and lamb chops. The funny thing about Mozambique, or perhaps the area we found ourselves in, is that wood isa scarce commodity, but charcoal is available in huge bags everywhere we went. This is, of course, a sad tale about a trading commodity that is destroying huge tracts of once pristine bush all over Africa.

The following day, we woke up to a drizzle, but by 06:00 we were already on the boat and heading out to another fishing spot. The Massingir Dam was built in the 1970s and was supposed tobe the supply for a hydroelectric power plant, but corruption and a civil war hampered its completion. The 5km-long dam wall is genuinely spectacular, and the dam itself holds 2.8 billion cubic metres of water, somewhat bigger than South Africa’s Vaal Dam’s2.6 billion cubes.

There are some excellent tiger fishing spots around the dam, and André told us a monster 6.8kg tiger was caught there recently, with 3-4kg big boys frequently in the mix when the weather plays along. Nets are a problem in the dam, and can be seen all over, though we only lost one lure to them over the two days. Luckily, most of the bays along the shoreline are free of nets.

While fishing at one of the many bays around the dam we were treated to a sighting of two ground hornbills flying over the bay, too fast for me to grab a camera. Even more spectacular was the thunderstorm that rolled in while we were on the water. Lightning crashed all around us as it poured down, and in seconds we were soaked, despite the boat having a protective roof.

Massingir was certainly special, and Covane Community Lodge provides an excellent base to fish from or to explore the Limpopo Transfrontier Park. With Covane forming part of the park, you can get permits from them to cross over into Mozambique through the Giriyondo border post without having to sleep over in the Kruger National Park, though you do need to book a night at Covane. Just by chance we drove a large section of The GrandTour route through the park and little did we know it would happen again at another location, but let’s keep that story for part two in the next edition.

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