Palm trees, white beaches and… gi­raffes! Join us on an ad­ven­tur­ous drive from the Kruger Park to the Mozam­bi­can coast and back.

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The aqua­ma­rine wa­ter over the co­ral reef is de­void of mo­tion. Co­conuts nap on the sug­ary sand un­der arch­ing palm trees. Far away on the hori­zon, where the blues of sky and ocean merge, white clouds puff into balls of cot­ton wool that might, or might not, build into a thun­der­storm. No won­der the Por­tuguese named this place – half­way be­tween In­has­soro on the coast and the is­land of Bazaruto – “Par­adise Is­land” and built a lux­ury ho­tel here in the 1950s. These days it’s called Santa Carolina Is­land. Bob Dy­lan is ru­moured to have com­posed his hit “Mozam­bique” here, sit­ting at the grand pi­ano in the ho­tel’s ball­room with a glass of rum in his hand, star­ing at the In­dian Ocean:

I like to spend some time in Mozam­bique The sunny sky is aqua blue And all the cou­ples danc­ing cheek to cheek It’s very nice to stay a week or two And maybe fall in love just me and you To­day this tiny is­land is de­serted. The once lux­u­ri­ous Santa Carolina Ho­tel and its chapel are in ru­ins. The Por­tuguese own­ers fled in 1973 dur­ing the civil war, leav­ing ev­ery­thing be­hind. Most items of value have been plun­dered, al­though you might still find a “Não Per­turbe/Do Not Dis­turb” sign in one of the rooms. (Ap­par­ently Bob’s grand pi­ano was re­lo­cated to a mu­seum in Ma­puto.) Ci­cadas unite into a choir as I ex­plore the ru­ins and over­grown gar­dens in the sear­ing heat. It’s easy to be­come over­whelmed by the melan­choly of things lost, but I’m also grate­ful that I can ex­pe­ri­ence this place, which – through ne­glect – has be­come un­spoilt. De­spite his­tory’s hurt and the poverty of its peo­ple, Mozam­bique sim­mers with po­ten­tial. Your head longs for the coun­try to ex­pe­ri­ence progress and pros­per­ity – there’s talk of a big ho­tel chain build­ing a new lux­ury re­sort on Santa Carolina – but your heart wants to hold onto the ro­man­tic ru­ins just a lit­tle longer…

SHIFT­ING SAND (op­po­site page, clock­wise from top left). Some of the gi­ant baob­abs in the Lim­popo Val­ley are cen­turies old. The Kruger (and its an­i­mals) al­most al­ways re­wards those who hit the road at sun­rise. The stretch of Mozam­bique be­tween Pa­furi and the coast might seem like a mas­sive de­pop­u­lated mopane for­est, but you will en­counter tiny set­tle­ments and the odd cat­tle herder. Rule num­ber one for driv­ing in sand – lower your tyre pres­sure!

The Kruger’s re­mote cor­ner

It’s three days ear­lier and my wife Ronel and I are at Punda Maria in the far north of the Kruger Park to meet Ri­aan Haas­broek – our guide from Bhe­jane 4x4 Ad­ven­tures – and the other mem­bers of the tour­ing party. We’re about to em­bark on a 10-day cir­cu­lar route that leads from Punda Maria to the Mozam­bi­can coast near In­has­soro and re­turns via Massin­gir Dam. Each cou­ple will drive their own 4x4, but the team from Bhe­jane will pitch all the tents (pro­vided) and serve up three tasty meals a day. At the coast, we’ll stay in a lodge and camp at an­other one. The north of the Kruger feels like the fi­nal fron­tier. I know the south quite well, but I’ve only read about Punda Maria, Crooks’ Cor­ner and Pa­furi – myth­i­cal places that were once the hide­out of big game hunters, smug­glers and slave traders. The far north of the park is also the south­ern­most reach of many Afro-trop­i­cal bird species, like grey-headed par­rot, black­throated wat­tle-eye and trop­i­cal boubou. (My Roberts bird guide and binoc­u­lars were some of the first things I packed.) We’ve hardly set up camp when an al­most fa­mil­iar bird with a curly Elvis fringe scur­ries past. My first crested guineafowl! We stroll down to the hide at the flood­lit wa­ter­hole af­ter din­ner, but no an­i­mals are in at­ten­dance. We stare at trees and bushes for 15 min­utes then de­cide it’s time for bed. As we stand up to leave, how­ever, I hear branches snap­ping. A big shape lum­bers out of the dark­ness. Soon an­other ele­phant am­bles in from the op­po­site di­rec­tion and the two en­twine their trunks in a pachy­derm greet­ing, a mere 10 m from my eyes. They’re so close I hear their stom­achs rum­bling.

We’re out of our tents early the next morn­ing. To­day it’s a long drive of about 200 km along a bumpy, sandy road to our camp­ing spot next to the Chefu River in cen­tral Mozam­bique, about half­way to the coast. We also have to ne­go­ti­ate the Pa­furi bor­der post, and a bor­der post in Africa can be a nig­gly thing. I bud­get 90 min­utes for the 55 km drive to the bor­der so that we can be there when the gate opens at 8 am, but 90 min­utes is not nearly enough time! We stop of­ten to pho­to­graph gi­ant baob­abs and to gawk at the land­scape. Along one densely forested stretch, it feels like we’re ex­plor­ing the Congo. At the Crooks’ Cor­ner view­point, where Zim­babwe, South Africa and Mozam­bique touch bor­ders, you could spend days watch­ing wa­ter­birds like gi­ant and pied king­fisher, sad­dle-billed stork and African spoon­bill, all of which I see within the first five min­utes. But the bor­der post is wait­ing. The South African of­fi­cials send us on our way within min­utes, and thanks to Ri­aan’s ad­vice about where to go and what to do, it doesn’t take too long on the Mozam­bi­can side ei­ther. Only the fi­nal ve­hi­cle in our con­voy gets de­layed be­cause the num­ber of beers be­ing brought into Mozam­bique has ap­par­ently been ex­ceeded. “At least they didn’t touch my wine!” says Ser­gio Messi from Joburg with a wry smile. We’re of­fi­cially in Mozam­bique! From here it’s two days of trav­el­ling at 40 km/h to In­has­soro, where four lazy, trop­i­cal days await.

The first stretch of driv­ing takes us through the de­pop­u­lated in­te­rior of south­ern Mozam­bique, along the bor­der of Lim­popo Na­tional Park (which bor­ders the Kruger) to the vil­lage of Ma­pai. Here we cross the Lim­popo River, then we skirt the bound­aries of Ban­hine Na­tional Park to our overnight camp­site near the Chefu River. There aren’t many peo­ple in this part of the coun­try. And, with the ex­cep­tion of a lost im­pala or two, you won’t see many an­i­mals ei­ther. The civil war and the poach­ing that fol­lowed is largely to blame for this, but the Mozam­bi­can gov­ern­ment does have plans to rein­tro­duce an­i­mals. They just have to re­lo­cate the peo­ple still liv­ing within the bor­ders of the Lim­popo and Ban­hine na­tional parks. De­spite the lack of wildlife, the Lim­popo Val­ley is beau­ti­ful. We cruise through a tow­er­ing fever tree for­est, past cen­tury-old baob­abs and through clay-and-straw set­tle­ments where the only in­di­ca­tion of mod­ern civil­i­sa­tion is faded Voda­fone sig­nage on a crum­bling wall. There are lots of birds – I spot my first brown sna­keea­gle on a tele­phone pole. At Ma­pai, the mighty Lim­popo makes a wide bend, but to­day the river is no more than an­kle-deep. The Nis­san Navara I’m driv­ing splashes through with ease. We reach our camp­site, which be­longs to a lo­cal tribe, only af­ter sun­set, but our tents have been pitched and the camp­fire is burn­ing. The wail­ing bush­ba­bies won’t be enough to keep me awake tonight…

Three hours into our jour­ney the next day, we stop on a bridge next to Lake Bana­mana. “A year ago there was al­most no wa­ter here,” Ri­aan says. “Then trop­i­cal cy­clone Di­neo ar­rived in Fe­bru­ary 2017 and turned this

HIT PA­RADE (op­po­site page, clock­wise from top left). The sea around Par­adise Is­land teems with fish… Great if you’re an an­gler or a snorkeller. It’s ru­moured that Bob Dy­lan sat in the ball­room of the now-ru­ined Santa Carolina Ho­tel and wrote some of his hit songs. At Massin­gir Dam it’s just you, the view and the call of fish- ea­gles. You can walk along the beach for kilo­me­tres in any di­rec­tion at Sun­set Beach Lodge, or you can stay put and build a cas­tle in the sand.

lit­tle cor­ner into a par­adise.” I look through my binoc­u­lars at thou­sands of greater flamin­gos on the hori­zon. I al­most feel sorry for the African open-billed stork wad­ing close by. If only he could close his mouth prop­erly! White-winged terns, which un­til now I’d only seen at the coast, dart over­head. In the vil­lage of Mabote, the mod­ern world in­trudes again – a shop or two, lots of Voda­fone ad­ver­tis­ing, a fill­ing sta­tion – then we reach a T-junc­tion with the EN1: Mozam­bique’s main coastal high­way that links Ma­puto and Beira. The EN1 is tarred, and it might only be 50 km to the turnoff to In­has­soro, but this lit­tle stretch is a stern test af­ter the free­dom of the wilder­ness. There’s no keep­ing to the left – or right – of the road, you drive where there are no pot­holes. Our con­voy side­steps the pot­holes, and the fully laden trucks, and we reach Estrela de Mananisse late in the af­ter­noon with­out mishap. The lo­cal name for this re­laxed lodge on the out­skirts of In­has­soro is “Star of Mozam­bique”. We’ll sleep here for the next three nights, on soft, clean linen. The balmy days melt into each other. In the morn­ings Ronel and I drink cof­fee on the deck next to the pool and watch the sun rise over Bazaruto Bay, as fish­er­men on the beach be­low la­bo­ri­ously pull their drag­nets ashore. We eat fish and shell­fish, shop at the lo­cal mar­kets, ex­plore de­serted is­lands and snorkel over co­ral reefs where trop­i­cal fish dart about. Par­rot­fish bite down on the co­ral so hard that you can clearly hear the crunch un­der­wa­ter. Ronel even­tu­ally runs out of breath af­ter swim­ming along with a log­ger­head tur­tle for more than five min­utes. One morn­ing Ri­aan leads the ve­hi­cles north along the beach (with per­mis­sion), past coastal dunes where yel­low-billed kites do aer­o­bat­ics, all the way to the tip of the In­has­soro Penin­sula. There’s a lodge or two along the way, but hardly enough devel­op­ment to shake that Robin­son Cru­soe feel­ing. You start think­ing: “I won­der what it would be like to stay here for a year or two… Or maybe for­ever?” Is it pos­si­ble to miss a place even be­fore you’ve left? Af­ter four days we have to say good­bye to the Star of Mozam­bique, and it’s as painful as watch­ing your hol­i­day ro­mance blow­ing kisses through the back win­dow of her dad’s car as they set off home.

Things can only get bet­ter

Af­ter an atro­cious sec­tion of road be­tween In­has­soro and Vi­lan­cu­los, the EN1 gets its act to­gether and im­proves. The land­scape also changes dra­mat­i­cally the fur­ther south we drive. One palm tree be­comes five, then 50, then 750 and then there are palm trees as far as the eye can see. Even Di­neo couldn’t make a dent in them. We buy some co­conuts (R5 each) from a man on the side of the road, who skil­fully strips the husk and cracks the shell with a panga so we can drink the co­conut wa­ter. South of In­ham­bane, Ronel and I pull over at a road­side stall to buy a large jar of peri peri sauce. It’s po­tent! (Months later, a tiny spoon­ful still adds a kick to a chicken braai.) The sun has set by the time we pull into aptly named Sun­set Beach Lodge, close to the town of Chi­denguele. Our camp­site is un­der milk­wood trees where scar­let-chested sun­birds flit through the branches. A spot­ted ea­gle-owl has made a nest on the roof of one of the bath­rooms. I stand on the wooden deck at the lodge and look north and south along the beach. It seems to be end­less. There are no peo­ple in sight, just the sil­ver stripe of the full moon shim­mer­ing on the In­dian Ocean. Af­ter a big grilled cray­fish, chips with peri peri sauce and an in­de­cently large 2M (the lo­cal beer, pro­nounced “do-shem”), I’m so re­laxed that you could pour me into a mould, stick a wick in my ear and use me as a can­dle if the power went out. Af­ter two days of rest and re­lax­ation at Sun­set, we re­luc­tantly head to­wards the in­te­rior again. We drive long stretches of rea­son­ably good gravel roads, through run­down but busy lit­tle towns where the rem­nants of old colo­nial build­ings man­fully try to put their best fa­cade for­ward, all the way back to Lim­popo Na­tional Park. Our des­ti­na­tion is Massin­gir Dam, in­side the park close to the bor­der with South Africa, where the Oli­fants River has been dammed. You’d be lucky to spot a steen­bok here, but the tiger-fish­ing is ex­cel­lent and the birdlife is plen­ti­ful. I tick off a kori bus­tard, a fam­ily of south­ern ground horn­bills and an African crowned ea­gle. We’re camp­ing at Aguia Pesqueira Camp, which means “place of the fish-ea­gles”. It’s high on a cliff with an un­spoilt view of the dam. For the umpteenth time on this trip, it feels like we’re the only peo­ple on earth. To­mor­row we have to tackle the fi­nal stretch of un­even gravel to the Giriyondo bor­der post, then we’ll thread through the Kruger back onto South African high­ways and home. But that’s to­mor­row. Right now I’m go­ing to sit in my camp chair next to the fire with one last 2M in my hand and lis­ten to fish-ea­gles call­ing each other over the wa­ter.

SEA & SKY. When Mozam­bique was still a Por­tuguese colony, peo­ple would hon­ey­moon at the lux­u­ri­ous ho­tel on Santa Carolina Is­land. These days the ho­tel is in ru­ins.

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