TRIP REPORT: New Route: Johannesburg to Vilanculos.
Two guys late twenties. One based in Joburg with basic experience of over landing (trip up Mt Kenya and Samburu in Defender, a few years back) one with no experience of Africa. Both fit and healthy.
Intended to drive to north Kruger and cross at Pafuri or drop down to Mapai to cross the Limpopo there. But dissuaded by posts on the forum and thus drove south of Kruger and crossed border at Komatipoort. (On that note-we met some overlanders in Vilankulos who had crossed at Mapai-very experienced overlanders-said it was the riskiest thing they’d ever done with water right up at the level of the top of the barge. Glad we didn’t try it.)
Not before our first cock-up! Just shy of Melalane, we came to a smooth and gentle halt on the N4 having run out of gas! We’d estimated what we’d need to get to border, intending to fill up our long range tanks their with the cheaper Mozambique fuel. But the gauge on the Ford gave us about 5 minutes warning before going completely empty. Ha!
We hadn’t even made it out of SA! Fortunately a Blue Bulls fan took pity on us and drove back to Melalane to fill up a water bottle for us.
The aim was to get to the coast, but experience some good bush enroute, so having crossed the border, we turned off the coastal road and headed towards Magude. Got through the border without any bribes etc. Perfectly pleasant experience. The cash exchangers tried their luck conning us, and did it very well, but soon lost interest when they realized we weren’t going to hand over dollars/rand until we’d got the right meticais in our pockets. So we exchanged with one of the guys who we bought the 3rd party car insurance from. We also bought a sim card which proved handy when we were on the coast and needing to do simple things like book restaurants, diving trips etc.
Having turned off towards Magude, we stopped for lunch at a clearing by the river where a herdsman had been letting his cattle drink. After lunch we spotted a croc about 20m up the bank from where we were. Its eyes and nose were only just noticeable. I’d guess it’d be about 2m long.
We then pressed on towards Magude and looked for a spot to camp over night. Finding a great spot in what looked like a derelict farm with stunning views across a valley, we asked a local herdsman if we could camp and were pointed in the direction of the local chief. Heading off in the approximate direction, we came headed towards the sound of music and soon came across a clearing with a couple huts where a group were clearly enjoying some music and drinking something. Before we’d finished trying to communicate that we wanted to sleep nearby, the oldest of them had climbed into our car, indicated he was the chief and would take us somewhere. After 5 minutes of weaving through grass and tracks, we came to another clearing with a couple huts and some youths trying to fix a tractor. It was made clear that we should sleep here! Not quite the
great view we’d found earlier, but sure to be an experience…
And sure it was. What a great evening. Two of his wives set about tidying the place up (sweeping the earth patch under the big tree, clearly the focal point of the village), we shared out our beers and soft drinks, a light bulb was strung up in the tree from a battery in one of the huts, and we were treated to dinner with the most humbling hospitality I’ve ever experienced. One of his wives came to the chief and then me and my mate with a jug of water which she poured over our hands for us to rinse them before eating. This was done again after dinner before we had tea and bread for desert. They also changed the
table cloth between courses (yes-I’m still talking about a village of one chief, his wives and kids, in the middle of Mozambique bush!) tea was served once one of the boys had been dispatched to a village nearby to get the tea kit (he came back with bags, a tea pot and various plastic mugs!) after dinner we finished off the rest of our beers and had a little dance under the tree with tunes from their extensive CD collection played through our car stereo.
In the morning, we were woken by one of the kids (after the cockerel had woken us at dawn) and told we could go and wash-they’d prepared a huge bowel of scolding hot water by the long drop hut built just outside the village. After a few photos, exchanges of names and address (!), we left them with our leatherman, tea bags, tennis balls for the kids and some other bits as some sort of gesture of our gratitude. We’d been blown away by how they had received us. Extraordinary.
Photo – tree at the centre of the village
Leaving Vincente’s village, we headed to Magude and then on to Chigubo before
crossing the Limpopo.
Photo – Road to Magude
Photo – Road from Magude to Chokwe
Photo – Road from Magude to Chokwe
We filled up at Chokwe (School boy error number 2-we paid for fuel in Rands and
didn’t get a great exchange rate, and then as we were pulling out of the petrol station, found guys offering to exchange Rand at a much better rate. Ooops!) topped up our beers and then headed out in the direction of Nalazi. Whenever we mentioned to anyone that we were heading to Nalazi or Dindiza (eg pump attendant) the invariable response was complete bewilderment and amusement…’why on earth do you want to go there’!
Photo – Crossing Limpopo outside Chokwe
Photo – Road north from Chokwe towards to Nalazi
Sure enough the next few days were mostly days of driving along sand roads from one basic village to the next. We saw virtually no game-one buck perhaps-along the road. But the Africa wilderness experience was superb. The roads were dry sand. Many of them we could get up to about 50km/h, but a lot of the time where earth roads had deteriorated with rain, we were slowed right down to 10-20km/h. 30km/h would be a safe speed to use as an average through here. We drove through about two puddles crossing from Chokwe to Vilankulos and decided to use 4wd for one of them just in case-so much drier than we’d be led to expect from Mike on this forum. Also-there was very little high grass-only on one section of about 20kms did we drive through long grass and think to put the seed net on. The rest of the time we were in 2wd throughout, though clearly needed good ground clearance.
After lunch we pressed on towards Nalazi.
Photo – Nalazi or Saute
Eventually stopping to camp a little but before dusk. Afraid I’ve got no idea where we camped.
We braaid with meat carried from Joburg and opened a bottle of wine. Over the course of the evening, we trapped eight scorpions which were clearly attracted to the light of the gas bulb and the warmth of the fire. By the time we went to bed, we were running out of bowls, tea pots etc to trap them beneath.
Were rather glad we were sleeping in roof top tents. In the morning six seemed to have burrowed away, one had sadly been got by ants which had got in the holes at the bottom of the gas canister we’d used, and the one in the teapot was still there, so we let him get on his way.
We then continued up towards Dindiza, with the T4A maps, we tried to follow the
Garmin GPS with its Southern Africa maps loaded, but did best when we just asked
locals at any junction we came to.
Any village we passed or pulled into were invariably extremely excited to see us and always happy to point us in the right direction with big grins on their faces. Spoken communication was pretty much always a struggle.
Driving away from our campsite, we drove through numerous golden orb spider webs
that had been spun across the road over night. We collected about 30 spiders on the car and had to prize them off from various nooks and crannies with sticks when we got to a clearing.
Photo – track between Nalazi and Dindiza – we were probably off the main route though.
Dindiza was a nice little town with a little market under the main tree in the centre of town. No real supplies to speak of. We picked up some basic bread. The (newly built?) petrol station didn’t have fuel or water.
Photo-Dindiza petrol station
Photo -Stopped for lunch just outside Dindiza.
Photo -From Dindiza we headed up to Chigubo.
From Chigubo we continued on to Saute (directed there by locals, as it doesn’t look like it on the route as far as the maps is concerned!) and camped just outside Saute on the road to Funhalouro
Photo – approach to Saute
Photo – road out of Saute towards Funhalouro – we missed this a number of times.
We camped next to a clearing where one guy lived in a hut with his two wives. We asked if we could camp nearby and left them with a few beers.
Photo – Bush camp 3, outside Chigubo
In the morning, we topped up our tanks from our jerry cans. The roads out of Saute towards Funhalouro are not particularly clear, so best to ask a local to point you in the right direction.
Photo – don’t miss the turning to Funhalouro
Photo – another Funhalouro junction helpfully marked!
If coming this route, you may need to assume there is no fuel between Chokwe and the coastal road. The going was very slow heading towards Funhalouro and we were
concerned that we’d not left enough time to get from here to Vilankulos in one day. We were made more nervous when we lost a good hour to a bad puncture.
But actually the road soon improved, and we made good progress to the coastal road at about 50-60km/h though it would have been nicer to drive a bit slower on the sand.
The first petrol station we came to outside Massinga also didn’t have fuel or air, so we couldn’t fill up until we got to Vilankulos.
Not much game along the route at all, some nice birds. Locals extremely friendly and clearly not used to many overlanders passing through. Watch out for scorpions. Would certainly drive this route again.