Mozambique: A Little Peek

In just five days, Chris Harvie discovers the many cheap and cheerful treasures of southern Mozambique

Maputo was washing away under a deluge of rain. Rivers poured through the streets, running with litter and all manner of floating debris. The lines of new cars in the Toyota depot lay in a vast temporary lake at the bottom of Avenida 24 de Julho; the bulls of yore could never have kept up with the flood rushing past Matadoro, their now-defunct bullring.

Suddenly, the downpour stopped, the skies cleared and the city was fresh, sprightly and bathed in sunlight.

Splashing through the treacherous water-filled potholes, we drove gingerly into the Baixa, the business heart of the city, to visit the market and Eiffel’s station before heading for lunch at the eternally delicious Costa do Sol restaurant. As the menu proudly boasts, they have “hosted such dignitaries as singer Tom Jones and the Swazi Royal Family”. I am fairly sure Leonardo went there too (Di Caprio not Da Vinci), but they don’t mention that. Quite right too.

We had only five days in Mozambique. Avoiding the chaos of the Lebombo border post, we had entered through the modern and efficient Lomahasha post from Swaziland, bringing us in at the appealing little town of Namaacha, with its dilapidated but attractive tiled-roof villas, manicured trees and public gardens.

It was dark by the time we followed the EN1 northwards from Maputo, through the still-bustling crowds at the street-side stalls, swerving among the minibus taxis, called chapas, the carts and the pedestrians lurching in and out of the gloom.

With some relief, we pulled in an hour after sunset at Bruce Buckland’s Casa Lisa, 40km north of the capital. The lodge is 1km from the main road among the pineapples and set about with swaying palms. The setting complicated one of our chosen activities – kite-flying for a 6-year-old – but was perfect in every other way.

The reed-walled and reed-roofed rooms have no window panes, allowing the cooling breeze to billow around in the interior. The word “rustic” springs to mind, but springs out again just as quickly. There are flushing toilets, hot showers and comfortable beds. The bar is ideal for a kuier with passing travellers and justifiably famous for Casa Lisa’s chicken supper.

With our two-night stay around the capital behind us and a length of kite-string forever wound around a palm tree at Casa Lisa, we moved on up the EN1 to Xai-Xai, where it had also rained. Sloshing in and out of the Mercado, we found coffee, tea, eggs and fresh vegetables. There was no meat, but there would be fish where we were going.

The road north of Xai-Xai was under repair but, no thanks to a confused GPS, we found the right tree for the turn-off and followed the sandy road for 20km to the beach. I have been visiting Nascer do Sol for many years and, from a couple of affordable cabins in the dunes, it has developed – very carefully – into quite a number of affordable cabins in the dunes, each with several bedrooms, hot water, electricity and a well kitted kitchen. There’s a bar and seafood restaurant down on the beach.

Besides a huge quantity of sand, there is swimming protected by a reef, good fishing and, by a quirk of geography, on a long summer’s day you can see both sunrise and sunset over the sea. There is some low vegetation, but no palm trees, so to celebrate we got out the kite. To the delight of the 6-year-old (and a growing crowd of onlookers), it was bombed by a real ornithological kite of about the same size, for a full hour of circling, rising and falling. Magic. And it only rained some of the time.

A couple of sea-soaked days later, we found the route from the coast to Massingir and the Limpopo National Park badly pot-holed but lined with lively towns and attractive churches and monuments. The infrastructure is under repair, bridges have been rebuilt and road-side stores are opening up.

Crossing the impressively long wall, we could look over the vast expanse of Massingir Dam on one side and down the Olifants River on the other, as it heads for its confluence with the Limpopo. The national park is well organised but unusual from a South African perspective in that it still has a human as well as a wildlife population.

The gate guard told me the plan was that the people would move out, although the people seem fairly determined that this is not their plan. Few in Mozambique have such good water (and arguably meat) supplies as the communities along the shores of the dam and the Limpopo. My guess is that they are in no rush to be relocated to the dusty interior.

Booking confirmations from the park state that the game-viewing is “not great at present” but the accommodation at Aguia Pesqueira (Fish Eagle), the flagship camp, is excellent. The clouds cleared just in time for sundowners on the deck of one of the cabins overlooking the dam. The sporadic cry of a fish eagle pierces the silence, the hippos grunt and good birdlife flits in and out of the mopani. But no kites.

Next morning, we took the slow road towards the Giriyondo Gate border, near Letaba. It is heavily rutted, which is more than can be said of the impala. We saw five in 80km. They’ll need to rut a lot more if they are going to keep up with demand. The game is, indeed, not great but the facilities are excellent. I’d have liked a couple more nights there.

The buzz of the city, the thrill of the waves and the quiet of the bush. All in five days. You’ve got to love Mozambique, even when it’s raining. After all, most kites are waterproof.

If you go

Pack your vehicle registration papers and, if applicable, permission from the financing bank to take the vehicle into Mozambique. Proof of insurance may be required. Mozambican third-party insurance must be purchased at the border. South African passport holders do not require a visa for Mozambique.

CONTACT DETAILS:

* Casa Lisa Lodge, 40km outside Maputo. Phone +258 8230 41990 or e-mail buckland@teledata.mz. Chalets from about R130 per person per night; camping R65. Breakfast R50. Dinner R100. Cash payment only.
* Nascer do Sol, Praia de Chizavane. Phone +258 2826 4500; e-mail nascerlodge@gmail.com or visit www.nascer.co.za. The bigger and fuller the chalet, the cheaper it gets. Smaller chalets from R935 for two to four people, A-frame from R545, camping from R95pp.
* Aguia Pesquira, Limpopo National Park. Phone 072 447 4270 or e-mail limpopo@wol.co.za It has three sections – one for overlanders and big camping groups, another for individual campers and, lastly, the most exclusive section consists of four wooden chalets with beds, linen, kitchen, bathroom and a covered deck overlooking the dam. Chalets R370. Camping R50 per person. Park entrance fees (R50 pp and R50 per vehicle) also apply.

A Mosey around the Misty Midlands

In most of South Africa, we have bush. In KwaZulu-Natal, by contrast, there is countryside. It’s a fine distinction but it is a distinction nevertheless and it maybe goes some way towards explaining the quintessential Englishness of the KZN Midlands.
Rolling hills, spotted with high-eaved, thatched homes. Bright-white walls. Pergolas, latticework and rambling roses. Cackling streams meandering through colourful woodlands. Farms named after English villages and villages named, no doubt, after English farms (although The Dargle itself was named after the Dargle River in Wicklow, Ireland, by Irish settlers in 1848 and it is very like it).

I don’t know whether the Beverley Country Cottages were named after the East Yorkshire wool trading town, but if they were, the town was honoured. Beverley is in the Dargle Valley and, not unlike the Dales in some respects with its swirling mists, it is as pretty a place as anywhere in Yorkshire.

Just across the Umgeni River on a grassy knoll atop a rise stands a from-a-distance apparently ramshackle assortment of old sheds and dairy buildings. Above them presides a gracious hundred-year old home overlooking a long lawn which extends into the view itself and beyond and around them lie 20 hectares of lawns and paddocks with more farms stretching deep into the distance.

But if the buildings are ramshackle on the outside, the inside is another story. Swish, squashy sofas, huge beds, televisions and fully kitted-out kitchens are the order of the day. The fridge is stocked with fresh milk, there’s real filter coffee and a jar of shortbread. The linen is of the finest quality and for cool nights there are piles of blankets, log-fires and a braai around which to huddle.

The garden has all the English trappings, right down to the rhododendrons.

We turned up fairly ramshackle ourselves: adults, children, young and old. Kate and Garry came out to meet us, their infectiously delightful four year-old twins, Jade and Jasmin, hurtling behind them, squawking joyously like teletubbies. These two hove into sight and then out again, with my youngsters in tow. We would barely see any of them for days as they happily moseyed around the garden in successive searches for duiker, chickens, Frisbees, tame rabbits and lost balls, with intermittent leaps on the trampoline.

For the rest of us, Beverley was an escape from everything we knew. We stretched out along the gravel road on a straggle of mountain bikes in the drizzle. We fished for trout in nearby sunny streams and dams. We walked the hills and undertook more strenuous hikes in the foothills of the Drakensberg and below the majestic iNhlosane (maiden’s breast) mountain, which dominates this region of otherwise gentle undulations.

In between activities, we went exploring. The Dargle Valley is in a remote corner of the Midlands Meander which means that, while there is no passing traffic, you are still only a leather sandal’s throw from Lions River and Nottingham Road with their seamless supply of city refugees and artisans knocking up everything from footwear to fudge and pickles to pottery. A shopaholic’s dream, spattered with pubs and coffee shops for the less enthusiastic spender.

There are resorts abundant in the area but Beverley somehow seems to offer everything that a resort would have been able to provide for less money and with fewer people around. The children would happily have stayed there forever. I guess we all would. If home was like this, I’d never leave.

For Kate and Garry, who moved back down to her native KwaZulu-Natal from a lodge outside Bela-Bela a year or so ago, there’s no looking back. And from the way they have lovingly restored the homestead and its surrounding buildings, polishing up the yellowwood and Oregon and sprucing up the dairy, the hayloft and the stable, I don’t think they’ll be moving away in a hurry.

This, of course, is good news for the rest of us. After all, why beat about the bush, when you can enjoy a weekend in the countryside?

BASICS
Where it is: In the Dargle Valley, 45 minutes from Pietermaritzburg.
Why go there: For cool, quiet mountains and the peace of the countryside. And if you have kids at the nearby boarding schools, this is spot-on for those weekend visits.
What it has: Four self-catering cottages with plenty of bathrooms and lots of space. Two en-suite rooms in the main house.
What it’s like: Actually, it is quite plush, but you still feel you can kick off your shoes and put your feet on the furniture
And the food: Self-catering with an option to include breakfast and/or dinner. The Midlands Meander also offers countless food options from the wild to the wonderful.
Rates: R295 pp/night. Children under 12 pay 50%. Children under 4 free.
Getting there: S 29 deg 29.845 E 29 deg 58.351 Take the Impendle/Dargle turning off the R103 between Nottingham Road and Howick/Tweedie off ramps and travel until the road crosses the Umgeni. Beverley is over the river at the top of the hill on the left.
What there is to see on the way: Shopping. Beware!
Contact: Kate and Garry Kelly Tel: 033 234 4771 Cell: 082 895 4002
Fax: 086 616 0835 Email: info@beverleycountrycottages.co.za Website:www.beverleycountrycottages.co.za