Our Mozambique adventure continues this month as we head east towards the coast, searching for good beach weather, scrumptious seafood and yes, more fishing!
Getting to Massingir Dam, the first destination on our bush-to-beach December getaway, was certainly adventurous. Quite by chance we navigated long sections of The Grand Tour route as driven by the Top Gear trio Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond. Would we stick to the plan this time around or venture off the beaten track again?
So far our fishing attempts on the spectacular Massingir Dam had been downright lousy, despite all the help we could get from the good folk at Covane Community Lodge and superb fishing gear courtesy of Iron River. Still, the memories made during many hours on the fishing boat and late-night chats around a cosy campfire more than made up for it. We were excited to make the long eastward trek to Mozambique’s lush sub-tropical coastline. Would the second leg’s planned deep-sea and shore fishing sessions in the Xai-Xai district yield better results?
The second leg of our Moz adventure started with a bang. Our three-car convoy, making up our own ‘GrandTour’, had just left Covane when reports came in that heavy rain had transformed the gravel road into a muddy mess. No problem, we thought ,for our trio of capable Toyotas. I was piloting the brand-new Fortuner 2.8GD-6 VX alongside my younger sister Marli, accompanied by the Schutte’s daughter Rushada. Next in their 76 Series Land Cruiser named Elvis were Anton and Natasha Schutte. This dynamic duo, who run the tour company SunsetAdventures, kept up a steady entertaining banter on the two-way radios. Leading the convoy was the Hilux 4×4 Legend RS driven by our publisher (and my father) Anton Willemse and his close friend Dewald Venter.
While initially reluctant to pilot the Fortuner on Mozambique’s notorious rural “roads”, it turned out to be a massive amount of fun. The road systems in these parts of Mozambique are basically non-existent, making every single kilometre completed a small and rewarding victory .After an hour or so of tough driving, we got back onto the Massingir tar road and continued toward Xai-Xai, taking in the beauty of our surrounds and jamming to some of our favourite tunes blasting from the Fortuner’s superb eight-speaker sound system. The excitement in our car was building. I was eager to cast a few lines to redeem myself after having no luck tiger fishing, Marli was keen to savour some of the region’s famous seafood delicacies, and Rushada – a keen birder – wanted to tick-off a few new species on her already impressive birding list.
When you travel coastwards from Mozambique’s inland areas, you realise just how diverse this country’s flora is. It rapidly transitions from the kind of Lowveld bush scenery found in the north of the Kruger National Park to sub-tropical coastal jungle, complete with coconut-yielding palm trees and mango and banana tree heavy with fruit.
A paradise, just a few hours’ drive from Gauteng’s highveld climate. Top that off with relatively easy border access and affordable accommodation, and it makes Mozambique a must on any travel list.
As we drove into Xai-Xai, we pulled over next to an extremely beautiful, albeit run-down Catholic church. We parked up and ambled over to have a good look at this architectural landmark, later learning that Mozambique still has a significant Catholic population, a legacy of the country’s long Portuguese influences. We couldn’t find the local pastor, though the church itself was pretty special to see, feeling completely out of place in this remote jungle-like environment, like something out of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Our destination, Chicuanga Resort, was just a short drive away, and arriving here, it felt like we had truly landed in paradise. Our chalet was resting on top of a massive dune, surrounded by glorious coastal jungle and lakes, with a fantastic view of the Indian Ocean. An impossibly long staircase leading down to the sea traversed the huge dune. I could hardly wait to dip my toes in the water.
As soon as we had unpacked and settled in, us youngsters raced down to the beach. I just HAD to tip my toes in the sea ahead of the 14-year old Marli! Even at the ripe age of 20, it was a matter of pride. But it made me realise that no matter what your age, there is something special about visiting the seaside, smelling the salty air, and feeling the sand between your toes. After some spirited tumbling on the sand, and a few dips into the warm water, we decided to head to the resort pub to sip on our first R&R (Rum & Raspberry –Mozambique’s “national drink”) and to challenge the locals to a few games of pool. Since it was the beginning of December, with schools having just closed for the summer holidays, the holiday vibe was tangible and the party in full swing.
The following day we were up at sparrow’s for a spot of birding. The Schutte family are all experts and were keen to introduce Marli and I to this world. I must admit, it can be pretty daunting. Southern Africa has such a variety of birds species, and some are particularly hard to identify– though the Schutte’s do say it gets easier. I loved the early-morning air on our birding sortie, appreciated the silence, and even managed to spot an African Pygmy goose. I could not have imagined it would evoke much the same exhilaration as seeing a lion up close in the Kruger. I am hooked!
After a simple but excellent breakfast in our lovely chalet, we headed down to the beach to try our hand at rock and surf fishing. Armed with the right equipment – a10-foot Regiment II rod and Penn Conflict 4000 reel – my confidence levels were up. Chicuanga Resort is located at the start of the legendary Kings Pool reef. After a few unsuccessful casts, I decided it would be more rewarding to snorkel. I was amazed by the stunning variety of aquatic life in these hotter waters. However, the marine life wasn’t what made it truly outstanding. The calm and peace you experience when underwater is something money can’t buy – sheer bliss!
The vast and diverse Mozambique coastline must be one of the most beautiful in the world, and we were lucky to be spending a restful few days here. While I was snorkelling, my father and Anton Schutte had reeled in a few fish – no trophies, but they had a lot of fun. I spent some time lazing about on the beach next to the ever optimistic fishermen, working up an appetite for a seafood feast.
If the coastline and tropical allure of Mozambique is not enough to convince you to pack your bags and head out there, the seafood certainly will. Fresh and affordable, it truly is a treat. We all were in the mood for lobster, and negotiated a reasonable price of 1 500 meticais per kilogram from a local. This worked out at around R180 per kilogram, cheaper than the price of lamb in Johannesburg. Back at the chalets, and after the tedious job of cleaning the lobsters, we stoked up a good fire and held an excellent old- fashioned seafood braai. We had a wonderful meal and hit the hay early since the next day there was even more fun in store – we had chartered a deep-sea fishing boat to try and land the elusive ‘big one’. Would the fishing gods finally smile on us?
Success at last?
We were in the trusty hands of our skipper Phillip Botha, who was taking us out into his backyard. Phillip has been fishing and spearfishing in these waters for over 20 years, and has unrivalled knowledge of the reefs, currents and tides. You could say he lives and breathes this part of the ocean. We launched the boat early in the morning, and headed to the first reef in the hopes of snaring that big one. I must say that I was sceptical since I have never been the lucky one on a fishing trip.
Despite my legacy of lousy luck, everyone decided that I would have the first turn in the chair as we trolled past the reef. I was nervous, and when the reel started squealing, I was overcome by an exhilarating, weird feeling. This was the real deal.
Luckily for me, Phillip kept me calm and collected, and before I knew it, I was in a fight with a great beast. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it wasn’t like reeling in a little bass or a tilapia; more like pulling a small submarine up toward the boat. I fought with all my might, and felt relieved and scared when I finally spotted the beauty through the clear water, about 20m underneath the boat. The silvery sides of the fish made me over-eager, but I had grown up watching Robson Green and knew that the last few metres from the boat would be the most difficult.
That it was, but also the most exciting! I finally managed to land an 8kg Couta, the biggest fish I’ve ever caught in my life – and making up for many hours spent casting in vain. The adrenaline was rushing through my veins, and when I gave up the chair, I was shivering with the excitement of landing this beautiful fish.
My Couta got everyone eager to try their luck, and next in line was Marli. Unfortunately, in the excitement she got tangled up with a Rapala hook which lodged painfully in her calf. The quick-acting Phillip had it out in a second, which was a good thing as Marli’s reel started screaming just moments after she had recovered. Now she was in an epic battle, and nearly lost the fish when she moved to the back of the boat. Again our skipper came to the rescue, and she landed a 6kgCouta of her own. I must say I’ve never seen my father as proud as when two of his offspring had success in fishing on the same day.
Unfortunately, the rest of the day didn’t go as well on the fishing front. We only had about five bites, and landed none. It hardly mattered. It was just perfect to be floating about on the crisp blue ocean with the sweeping dunes in the background and we even had a few visits from curious sea turtles.
As the sun started dropping towards its resting place for the evening, we arrived on shore. By now we all realised that fishing was clearly not our forte. We had embarked on an incredible fishing expedition across both fresh and saltwater habitats, and after many tries over a few days had just the two Coutas to show for it. Rather dismal I‘d say. However, as far as adventures go, this was one to remember. Never one to give up, my father is already planning the next fishing excursion that might just land that true trophy!
Eager to celebrate our success, and to cool off after a day in the sun, we descended on the resort pub. The restaurant prepared our fish to perfection, with some fried in batter and therest grilled. It was served alongside prawns and lobster, and we dined like kings. We finished off the night with a celebratory The days at Xai-Xai were spent fishing, snorkelling, chilling with some great tunes party and a few games of pool before heading back to our chalet where Rushada and I chatted into the night, reminiscing about our great adventure in this sub-tropical paradise.
We headed back home via the “EN1”, the main road towards Maputo. The plan was to stay on tar for as long as possible, since we had had our fill of roads leading to nowhere during the first part of this trip.
Our Garmin Overlander GPS had other ideas and is clearly programmed with adventure in mind. It had us turning right towards a sugar mill adjacent to the Komati River, which made sense as the general direction felt accurate, and the road seemed indecent condition. All good. We thought we were on the right track to get to the Lebombo border by mid-afternoon.
That was until 30km into our route, when the Mozambican road network bit us again and tar turned to gravel. Okay, we said, a last bit of gravel travel before we head back to the busy streets of Jozi. No one was complaining! This was a beautiful stretch of road, hugging a dense river wood landwith stunning trees, and it was not long before the radio started chirping with excitement as the Schuttes shared a few of their great bird sightings.
Of course, after driving merrily along for some time, the mildly corrugated gravel road became horrendous. Massive dongas and bumps slowed us down to a 10km/h crawl. We later learnt that this road is used for trucks doing rock excavations.
Again, the mighty Toyotas took everything in their stride, with the Fortuner’s handling proving to be superb in what feltlike a chicane-filled slalom route on a 4×4 training course! Since this road was not visible on our paper maps or on the GPS, we decided to stay close to the river. As luck would have it, about three hours later than planned, we rolled up to the Lebombo border and made our way back into South Africa.
Arriving back home we decided to watch The Grand Tour Mozambique special again, and could hardly believe what we were seeing. The road we had found towards the end of our trip was the first half of the Top Gear trip, featuring all the epic fails and getting stuck as they travelled from Maputo to Massingir to transport fish. Unlike that group of adventure-driven petrolheads, our Adventure Afrika team can only thank our lucky stars that our cars were super capable. They easily allowed us to explore places you’d never think possible. A grand adventure indeed!