Mozambique’s Game Reserves Revisited (2 of 5)

The road to Salamanga was hard and bumpy but negotiable in any low-slung saloon. We wondered about the history of the Buddhist temple at the Maputo River bridge and asked all along the way whether the route from the Reserva Especial’s ‘Acampamento Principal’ (Main Camp) to Ponta Milibangalala and Azul do Mar dive camp at Ponta Dobela was open. Prior to our departure from Jo’burg I had sent out many feelers via e-mail, phone and jungle drum, trying to find out what the situation was as my old friend, Richard Fair of Incomati River Lodge near Marracuene, had informed me that the lakes had filled to a point where they had blocked the North (Main Camp) route, and I really hoped to avoid the long detour via the South Gate.

In 1999 I had come, via Ponta do Ouro and South Gate, from Ponta Memben to Main Gate with the Getaway Magazine group, but in Mozambique things change a lot in 2 years so I followed the logic that nothing must be taken for granted but nevertheless bad news travels fast and is usually vastly exaggerated (i.e. I expected nothing much). Once again I was vindicated as the soldiers at Salamanga said ‘Acampamento’ to Milibangalala was open as two days previously two vehicles had come from there.

At Main Camp where we paid our R40 entrance and R50 per night camping fee, the ‘guarda’, Senhor Domingo, informed us that we would get to Ponta Dobela and Azul do Mar easily as, and I quote, “even a Toyota had made it the day before.” I engaged the Landy’s diff-lock (stops the power being taken up by spinning wheels when traction is lost) and we ventured confidently forth, in second.

Extra passenger

We picked up a hitch-hiker in the Maputo Elephant Reserve

One tip at this juncture: When driving through swamp-mud, keep windows closed. At the first big puddle we powered through all right but foul-smelling (so everyone else thought, I quite liked it) slush sprayed from the front wheels in through the open windows and my specs suddenly went dark – probably why I took the best route through the big stink, and no swearing and other low-range stuff was required.

So now we smelt like the Reserva and this came in handy through the next thicket, over the next dune and around the next bend where we came across our first elephant (mine too, on two previous trips the elephants had not shown up), a young bull who strolled belligerently up to us and knew we weren’t familiar, but then why did we smell so much like home? I had the Epson 850Z Photo PC (which can take pics at an amazing 2.1 mega pixels) out and framed our 130 with the bull and wandered how the folks back home would react if I e-mailed pics of an elephant re-arranging the superstructure of our Landy. Fortunately none of us were eating oranges or sitting on Mopani pods at the time, as we all know how much these portly pachyderms love those.

The Dobela Estuary

To get to Ponta Dobela from the North one must cross the Dobela estuary

We had prepared ourselves mentally, spiritually and ‘Peaceful-Sleep’-fully to spend that night perched on the comforting canvas of the canopy feeding ravenous mosquitoes but the tortuous track had found a new alignment around the crystal-clear water of the lakes and we even got to Milibangala (I always leave off that last ‘lala’ – must be that aversion I have to Teletubbies – don’t tell my four-year-old) before dark. Now right now I must explain that Ponta Dobela is presently not accessible (other than by boat) from the land and to get there it is necessary to do some beach driving – around 7km in fact – and so it is reluctantly that I have to admit that yes, we did drive on the beach. Of course because it was our first time we did not get it quite right and got a few hundred metres before I turned back to ‘Mili’ for advice, trying again with tires at 1 bar (1000kpa) and in low-range well below the high-water mark – no problems.