Although this article, Mozambique Tourism for the Off-road Traveler deals mainly with 4×4 trails in Mozambique, it is one of a series of fifteen articles that will briefly describe the geography, climate, terrain, must-do activities, must-see places, and much else besides, of all nine South African prov-inces, as well as some of the countries bordering on South Africa.
Nearly twice the size of California, Mozambique stretches for almost 2 500 kms along the Indian Ocean coast, with terrain that varies from the Lowlands to the coast, higher elevations in the central region, and high plateaus in the north-western reaches of the country. The country is drained by 25 rivers, some of which are major navigable waterways such as the Zambezi River that provides access to, and a means of transporting goods into the African interior.
The interior is dominated by several mountain chains, with the highest point in the country being Monte Binga, at an elevation of 2 436 metres, and the lowest point being the Indian Ocean coastline.
Mozambique enjoys a tropical climate with only two seasons, a wet season that runs from October to March, and a hot, dry season that runs from April to September, with local conditions varying with altitude. In general, the higher you are, the cooler the temperature, and vice versa .Average temperatures in Maputo vary from 130C to 240C in winter (July), and from 220C to 310C in summer during February. However, summer temperatures can be unbearably uncomfortable along the coast in summer due to the high humidity.
Annual rainfall is variable, but averages around 600 mm depending on the area, with destructive cyclones being common, during the wet season. In general, rainfall is heavier in the coastal regions that further inland. The best time to visit Mozambique is during winter, when temperatures along the coast are bearable.
No matter where you are headed in Mozambique, always carry a good supply of small denomination currency to pay for ferry-crossings, entry fees into Parks and Reserves, and local guides, especially in the wet season, when GPS coordinates and routes can be swallowed by floodwater and mud. Also, bear in mind that camping in the bush is generally frowned upon by local chiefs and tribal elders, since the land is considered to belong to them.
For this reason, it is advised that you carry a variety of small gifts to present to tribal leaders in ex-change for permission to camp on their land. Suitable gifts range from blankets to cigarettes to tinned foods, and for a further consideration, chiefs will often provide guides with excellent knowledge on local routes and conditions.
More importantly though, it is vitally important to obtain local information on safe routes into re-mote areas, since the danger posed by about a million “lost” landmines is real, as is proven by the hundreds of thousands of amputees in this country. Even if a route is shown on a GPS device, there is no guarantee that all the landmines had been lifted from it, so be careful when deviating from established tourist routes and roads.
Also, avoid driving after dark, even on main routes, since there are thousands of vehicles on the roads without working lights of any kind, but worse, there are no fences along the roads, which means that millions of domestic animals wander across, and along the roads at night. Colliding with an animal or a pedestrian is a major offence, and resolving the issue can take several days, either by serious, and aggressive legal action against you, or by you having to pay a huge “fine” on the spot.
The better option is always to stay well clear of the roads at night, since the likelihood of being robbed of your vehicle increases in direct proportion to your distance from the nearest police sta-tion, or other forms of protection, such as being close to other people.
Off-road tourism in Mozambique is well catered for in the more than 12% of the country’s surface area that is given over to wildlife conservation. With the exception of one Marine Reserve, all the National Parks offer extensive off-road driving opportunities in the Parks, but it is strongly advised that soft roaders with inexperienced drivers do not attempt the routes inside the parks.
Roads are poor, and although the conservation of wildlife has high priority with Park staff, rescuing drivers with unsuitable vehicles is not. Be prepared, be safe, and while you are in Mozambique, enjoy the best off-road driving to be had in game reserves almost anywhere in the world.
At about 42 000 sq/kms, this Reserve in Niassa Province is one of the largest Parks in Southern Afri-ca, and the biggest in Mozambique, and it offers a bewildering variety of game, bird, reptile, and plant species. Accessible by road from Marupa as well as by air from Pemba Airport, the park houses animal species such as lions, leopard, wild dog, elephant, buffalo, zebra, eland, waterbuck, and impala, among dozens of others.
Scenic attractions include large miombo (Brachystegia) forests, riverine forests and vegetation, large tracts of open savannah, and extensive grassland. Accommodation is in several campsites, and the best time to visit is from April to October, when temperatures are bearable. Day visitors are allowed between 7h30 and 16h30.
Taking up 640 sq/kms, and located in the Sussundenga District, this park is open right through the year, although temperatures can reach freezing conditions during June and August. The park is ac-cessible by road from Chimoio City, and due to the poor condition of the road network, the use of proper 4WD vehicles with low range is strongly recommended when exploring this park.
The park offers a rich bio-diversity, and stunning scenery, but the main attraction lies in the many reptile, plant, and bird species that occur here, and there are several ways to view these rarities, such as on horseback safaris, canoe trips, or organised game drives by park rangers.
Accommodation is available in basic, if not primitive campsites at Chikukwa and Mahate, but day visitors are also allowed between 7h30 to 16h30.
A marine reserve that takes up more than 1 400 sq kms, and consists of five islands in the Bazaruto Archipelago, some 20 kms off the coast of the Vilanculos and Inhassoro Districts, which means that access is possible only by sea or air. The main attractions here are the excellent diving opportunities offered by the reserve, and the richness of the marine life. Species that can be seen here include dugongs, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and various sharks and rays. The reserve is open the year round, and day visitors are welcome between 7h30 to 16h30.
The term “scenic drive” takes on an entirely new meaning on this epic 700+ km-long dirt and gravel trail on which only the bridges across countless rivers and streams are paved. Although some areas of the route through some of the most scenic parts of Mozambique are paved from time to time, much of the hard surface is washed away by heavy rain at least once a year.
Linking the cities of Cidade de Nacala (also known as Nacala-Porto), and Chiponde in the northern reaches of the country, is named Estrada Nacional nº 8 (EN8), the route has something for everyone. Grassland, almost tropical rainforest, and views that will stay with you forever, this scenic part of Mozambique makes other scenic drives in Southern Africa seem like the proverbial walk in the park.
Apart from stunning panoramic views that seem to last forever, this route requires dedication, per-severance, plenty of recovery gear in the wet season (and the skill to use it), which only makes the experience more rewarding, since you will have plenty of pictures of your 4WD stuck in axle-deep mud in some of the most picturesque parts of Mozambique.
Louis Trichardt Trek Memorial:
Located on Av. Josina Machel, this memorial to the Great Trek leader Louis Trichardt and his wife, who are both buried here, is a silent testimonial to the tenacity and courage of the pioneers who tried to find a way to the ocean through the malaria infested area around Maputo, and then known as Delagoa Bay, in 1838.
For history buffs, this ruined medieval city is a must-see, if only for the fact that all of the stone that was used in the construction of Fort São Caetano in 1505 was imported from Europe- one small shipload at a time.
Island of Mozambique:
If you have ever wondered how Mozambique got its name, the Island of Nampula is the place to learn all about it. The island, and later the entire country, was originally named after an Arab trader, Musa Mbiki, hence Mozambique, by a slow process of adaptation of the name. Apart from other historical buildings, the island is the site of the oldest European-built building (other than a fortifica-tion) in sub-Saharan Africa, the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte, which was constructed in 1522 in the Late Gothic architectural style.
Deep Sea Fishing with Planet Scuba:
The fishing in the southern Mozambican waters is among the best the in the world, so if you want a break from the heat and dust of the off-road trail, try your hand at a landing huge Marlin, Dorado, Sailfish, or even a record-breaking tuna. There are many boats available for charter around Ponta do Ouro, and the boat crews will even clean your fish for you. For small fee of course.
Quad bikes can reach places where many 4WD vehicles cannot, so if you are in the area around Ponta do Ouro, hire some quad bikes from one of the many tour operators there that offer guided tours lasting from an hour to a full day. Some day tours include meals, snorkelling, bird watching, and even sundowners, at the conclusion of the tour.
Swim With Dolphins:
Another must-do attraction around Ponta do Ouro is the thrill of swimming with dolphins. The Dol-phin Centre there can tailor your experience to suit your needs, so make full use of this tour to watch whales and turtles as well, while you enjoy the company of pods of friendly dolphins. This is an unforgettable experience, and it should be on any off-road tourists’ bucket list.
Have you driven a mountain pass in Mozambique recently? If you have, we invite you to share the experience with us and other off-road tourists, since there is no reliable information available on the mountain passes in Mozambique from official sources, or any other source for that matter. All of the information that is available is anecdotal, and therefore unreliable.
We therefore invite readers to contact us with first hand information on, and experience in driving passes through, over, and across the mountains of Mozambique.
Requested information includes:
• the location of a pass, and where available:
• the height,
• time required for the traverse,
• vertical distance gained or lost,
• a description of access to the pass,
• weather conditions at the time of a traverse,
• exceptionally dangerous conditions such as negative camber, strong cross winds, hairpin bends, and loose surfaces.
All contributions are welcome, and all contributors will be acknowledged.
Given the fact that Mozambique is among the five poorest countries in the world, it is perhaps un-derstandable that only the big cities, such as Maputo and Beira among others, have something to offer the off-road tourist. The cities are big by African standards, and although they have reasonably well developed tourist infrastructures, they offer the normal amenities and facilities such as banks, shopping malls, diplomatic services, medical facilities, restaurants and almost anything other large African cities offer.
However, outside of the main centres, things are vastly different. Some small towns on the coast and on the shore of Lake Malawi may offer some kind of tourist activity, but that is about as far as it goes. Most small towns do not have banks, doctors, noteworthy shops, or anything else, and the best thing to be said about them is that basic foodstuffs and fuel is sometimes available, but do not bank on it that both fuel and food will be available at the same time.
Always carry additional fuel, water, and money in small denominations, since nobody ever has change. Also note that the official language, Portuguese, is generally not spoken outside of the large centres, and it is a rare and wonderful thing to find an English speaker in Mozambique’s hinterland.
Ponta do Ouro:
From an off-road tourism perspective, there is only one town worthy of mention, and that is this town located close to the South African border. It can be reached via a reasonably good paved road from SA, but from any other point it is accessible only by 4WD vehicle.
The only reason Ponta do Ouro is important is the fact that although it has no luxury items of any kind for sale, it has everything you need to stock up for an epic 700 km-long off-road trail through central Mozambique that starts here. Another feature of this town is that many of the tourist ac-commodation facilities date from before the civil war, which means that although they tend to be somewhat run down and decrepit, they are reasonably priced.
As a rule, you do not need advance bookings for these facilities, and they will for the most part fulfil your needs- as long as you are prepared to manage your expectations.