Like a string of jewels, Mozambique’s coastal lakes stretch for 500km (311 miles) from Ponta do Ouro in the south as far north as Inharrime. Many lagoons and estuaries, like Piti, Quissico and Poelela, have been cut off from the sea by some of the world’s tallest forested sand dunes. Others, such as the estuaries formed by the Tembe, Maputo and Umbelúzi rivers as well as stunning Lake (lagoa) Uembje at Bilene, are open to the sea, providing protected spawning grounds for the area’s fish species.
Whether seeking solitude on the shores of a lake, casting for game fish at the ‘Cape of Currents’ close to Závora Lodge, paddling a canoe up the Incomáti River estuary, exploring the superb coral reefs from Ponta do Ouro, Praia do Tofo or Morrungulo, or taking a self-drive safari in the Maputo Elephant Reserve, this strip of tropical coastline promises surprises from the crest of every dune and around the next headland along each idyllic beach.
This is Da Gama’s Terra da Boa Gente (Land of Good People) – a reputation still deserved today, nearly 500 years after the Portuguese explorer anchored off Inharrime and was showered with gifts by the locals.
The proximity to Maputo International Airport (from where light aircraft may be chartered) and the wide range of accommodation on offer make the Lagoon Coast an ideal starting point for a Mozambican adventure. Base yourself at one of the charming and ideally located resorts and lodges described in this chapter and from there explore the variety and haunting beauty of the lakes and lagoons and their flora and fauna.
During South African and Zimbabwean school holidays, Závora is packed with sport fishermen and their families, so the facilities available fit the needs of this group. The reefs off Závora are reputed to offer some of Mozambique’s best spearfishing opportunities. Camping is possible in a large area on the landward side of the dunes, with chalets on the seaward end. As there is a fair amount of swampland, mosquitoes can be a pest when the air is still. A small, well-stocked general store is always open. Fishing and diving charters may be organized by special arrangement, and an airstrip has been cleared.
Most motorists just bypass Quissico, a ‘one-street town’ with a colourful market; but by bothering to go just 800m (1?2 mile) off the main road to Quissico’s administration building at the end of a tree-lined avenue, you will reach one of the best viewsites in Mozambique. Azure-blue Lake Quissico (200m; 660ft) below, with its palm-fringed white beaches, stretches to the horizon from left to right. The darker shade of blue straight out in front, across high forested dunes, is the Indian Ocean.
Rising near Bethal in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, and initially called the Komati River, the Incomáti crosses Swaziland before entering Mozambique at Ressano Garcia. On the inside of the wide meanders of the river’s final bends, hidden among the dappled shade of marula and acacia trees, are tiny thatched fishing villages.. Here you will find the unpretentious and well-managed Marracuene Lodge which was built using locally produced fittings and furniture wherever possible.
Perched on the northern bank of the Limpopo River, 224km (135 miles) north of Maputo, is the medium-sized town of Xai-Xai, the capital of Gaza province. Although severely damaged by the 2000 floods, Xai-Xai, with a population of over 100,000, has wide avenues lined with flamboyant trees, and offers ice (gelo), service stations, supermarkets, open-air markets, restaurants, international telephones, banks and a hospital. Clean toilets (a luxury anywhere in Mozambique) can be found at the first BP service station on your left, after crossing the toll bridge (when going south, a small fee is levied) over the Limpopo River.
The Macaneta Peninsula, on the northern bank of the Incomáti River, is only 15km (91?2 miles) from Maputo as the crow flies. Unless you have your own boat to sail into the mouth of the Incomáti River, the direction of approach is via Marracuene, 28km (17 miles) from Maputo. Cross the Incomáti River by ferry (which operates from 06:00–19:00). Travel 5km (3 miles) on a sand road and you will reach a trading store where you take the right fork to Macaneta Lodge, left to Jay’s and Motapa Estuary Lodge. Two-wheel-drive vehicles will get through to the point with difficulty but no further.
Bilene Lagoon (Lagoa Uembje)
Due to its proximity to Maputo, Bilene is the main destination for Maputenses on holiday or simply taking a weekend break from the city. The town is neat, clean and offers a range of accommodation, restaurants and nightlife to the visitor. If loud Angolan music, hundreds of festive people downing beer on the beach and powerboats pulling water-skiers is your idea of a holiday, spend a weekend at Bilene. Weekdays, however, are usually very quiet, a chance for you to have the place to yourself.
Ponta do Ouro
The ‘point of gold’ (actually marked on some maps as ‘Monte d’Ouro’) which guided sailors for centuries, marks an unspoilt Mozambican beach that is easily accessible from South Africa and busy during the school holidays. High on densely forested dunes, the lighthouse overlooks the small curved bay where vehicles are only permitted to launch boats on a small section of the sand. The motel, chalets and camp sites are tucked under shady trees, and a constant sea breeze helps to keep the malaria-carrying mosquitoes at bay. Walk south around the point, a short distance down the beach to a tatty beacon, and stand with one foot in South Africa and the other in Mozambique.