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

From turf to surf and back

It’s an age-old conundrum… bush or beach? Do you want to spend your time game viewing and camping under the glorious African sky, or do you prefer feeling the sand between your toes as the waves of the ocean lap at the shore and the sun caresses your face? But why choose if you can do both, as RICHARD CAMPHER discovers.

Many years ago, as first-time cross-border travellers and newlyweds, my wife Cheryl and I undertook a guided 4×4 self-drive trip to Botswana. We travelled with Bhejane 4×4 Adventures as their tours deal with the hard work involved in such an undertaking – pitching tents, managing the camp bookings and catering – that we did not want to concern ourselves with back then. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip and promised ourselves another adventure with Bhejane. But as always, life gets away from one and with a growing family and work commitments we never quite got there!

Thankfully, time has a way of bringing perspective to life and so, once again, we found ourselves considering a cross-border adventure. Although not complete newbies this time around, it was nevertheless a totally new experience having two teenage kids. That said, travelling in the safety and security of a convoy which affords the added bonus of the privacy of one’s own vehicle definitely swung the vote for us. I have to admit that memories of Bhejane’s campfire dinners on our previous trip still lingered, so it was decided – an organised trip with everything taken care of and enough time to simply kick back and enjoy ourselves, was due!

As luck would have it, we’d kept in touch with Bhejane via their regular newsletters, so our choice of adventure was a pretty simple one – one that ticked everyone’s boxes. And so, our next 4×4 adventure began – Mozambique’s Big Game to Coral Reefs tour. Nine days, a bit of camping and a few nights in a beach lodge. What’s not to love?

The tour started in the iconic Kruger National Park before heading over the border into what looked like an exciting part of the Mozambique coastline. The meeting point for the tour was at the Punda Maria Rest Camp in northern Kruger, always a great place to start unwinding. After entering the park through the Phalaborwa gate, I recall one of the children’s comments: “Okay, I see why they call it Big Game to Coral Reefs.” Standing lazily next to the road was an older elephant bull. On reflection, his relaxed and peaceful demeanour set the trend for the rest of our trip!

We met the Bhejane team and the rest of our travel companions at the camp and were happy to settle into our tents and enjoy the wonderful bush noises from around the campfire.

Just before dinner was served my wife whispered: “I hope the food is going to be as good as last time!” Comfort, the Bhejane chef on this tour, definitely didn’t let us down. And while our tour leader, Peter Collins, went into detail regarding what was in store over the coming days, we all felt ourselves unwinding and beginning to relax. At one point Peter got quite serious while explaining the two long driving days that lay ahead of us but the reward – he assured us – would be well worth it when we arrived at the magnificent Mozambique coastline.

The next morning it was up early to get the vehicles packed and ready and it was such a treat not to have to worry about cleaning dishes, packing tents and such. We made an early start and headed to the Pafuri border post that would take us into Mozambique. We had been well briefed the previous night, so leaving South Africa and entering Mozambique at the border was not at all difficult. Bhejane had also made us very aware what paperwork was required for our vehicles and ourselves in their final tour information. It was a breeze.

And yes, the next two days and 400km of bumpy roads with a very adventurous river crossing over the mighty Limpopo River was exactly as Peter had warned us. Fortunately, a local entrepreneur puts wire netting down in the river so that vehicles don’t get stuck and according to the Bhejane crew, we got off easy… When the Limpopo is fuller all the vehicles would have had to go cross the river one by one on a homemade ferry!

For two days we travelled overland, the landscape changing abruptly from broad belts of savannah and woodlands to a narrow, palm-studded strip of beach along the coast before arriving at a small and sleepy fishing village directly opposite the northern tip of the Bazaruto Archipelago. This was Inhassoro and our home for the next four nights.

On arriving at Estrella de Mananisse Lodge, we were immediately put completely at ease and made to feel at home by our hosts and lodge owners, Basie and Elize Botha. This couple and their wonderful staff are a true asset to tourism in Mozambique. In our beach chalets overlooking Bazaruto Bay we had the whole lodge to ourselves and the time we spend there went by way too quickly.

On one of the days, we simply relaxed, rested and enjoyed the surroundings. This included visiting one of the local beach bars where the waves almost break between the tables. We enjoyed a uniquely historical experience when we visited BD point on another day – so named because Bartholomew Diaz, the famous Portuguese explorer, supposedly landed here looking for fresh water during one of his explorations of shipping routes in the early 1400’s.

The route to BD point is along the beach and with permits obtained from the local marine beach authorities and the drive done during low tide when the sand is hard, it was an unforgettable experience. We stopped frequently to watch local fishermen hauling their nets while the Bhejane crew prepared a delicious picnic on the beach for us.

A highlight of our stay in Inhassoro began early one morning when we heard the lodge staff buzzing excitedly. Much to our surprise and delight several big deep-sea rigid inflatables were prepared for launching. After boarding the boats, we enjoyed a 40-minute journey across Bazaruto Bay to the famous Paradise Island.

On a clear day, the sea is as calm as a dam as the island is protected by the archipelago. This once vibrant tourist mecca is now a marine protected area and the hotels and landing strips that in days gone by bustled with tourists now lie empty and in ruin. An elderly couple in our group had spent their honeymoon on the island before the civil war and Mozambique’s troubled times, so for them it was a very nostalgic experience.

The day on Paradise Island ticked the proverbial coral reefs box in the name of Bhejane’s Mozambique tour. Because the area is so well protected snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters between the coral reefs is breath-taking. And that evening on returning to the lodge, we realised the surprises were not over. Elize and Comfort had prepared a magnificent seafood banquet for us – grilled fish, calamari and more prawns than we had ever seen. What better way to end to this part of our journey?

The next morning, we packed our vehicles and headed south down the main EN1 tarred road towards Xai-Xai. The road passed through many villages, kilometre after kilometre of palm trees and colourful locals. In spite of all the stories we had heard, we were not once harassed by local police officials. They would stop our convoy, ask if we were well and send us on our way… the joys of travelling in a group. Our beautiful campsite at Sunset Beach lay nestled in a dune forest only 200m from the ocean. This is where our tents would be pitched for the next two nights.

After the long drive, we were able to enjoy one last full day of this magnificent coastline. And sadly, after this, it was time to tackle the homeward leg of our travels. From Xai-Xai, we travelled inland towards Masingir and entered the new Limpopo Transfrontier Park at its southern gate. Our final stop was the Fish Eagle Camp overlooking the Masingir Dam.

To avoid the big commercial border posts, we re-entered South Africa at the Giriyondo border post which brought us full circle and back into the Kruger.

As we watched our last sunset together and the fish eagles swooped below us in search of a tiger fish for dinner, I remembered that big elephant bull we had seen on our first day – happy, content, tummy full. Life truly is an adventure!

About Bhejane Adventures

Bhejane 4×4 Adventures was formed over 18 years ago with the vision of conducting guided self-drive 4×4 adventure tours into the remoter areas of Southern Africa. Both tented and lodge-based tours are offered, as well as a combination of both on selected tours.

The tours are led and managed by individual crews of four that manage the logistics of the group and are fully catered for through a mobile bush kitchen that provides three meals a day. Depending on the destination, adventure activities are integrated into the experience and are included in the overall cost of each tour.

CONTACT: +27 82 724 0442

bookings@bhejane.com | www.bhejane.com

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