For the past twelve months we have been promising ourselves an extended stay in a relaxing spot away from crowds. In the last year we spent several months in Tasmania with very little down time between travelling and we have been visiting family and friends and staying in or near large cities or towns. Although it has been great to spend time with our loved ones, and we enjoyed Tasmania immensely, we also need our ‘bush’ time. Unusually for us last winter was spent in cool areas (make that cold areas) in southern parts of Australia and while we saw lots of beautiful places we prefer our relaxation to be in a balmy climate. Well we finally found the place, the time and the opportunity at a tiny place called Morrungulo on the coast of Mozambique about 500 km north of the capital of Maputo … and a world apart from anything else we have experienced together.
After making a quicker than expected trip across the country from the Pafuri Border Post at the top of the Kruger National Park and spending only one night in Vilanculos (see our post ‘Across Mozambique’) we are nearly a week ahead of our loose ‘plan’ for touring the southern section of Mozambique and well in need of a bit of R&R. We read the guides and check out our options for a beach-side stay on our way down the coast. We like the sound of the reviews of Morrungulo Beach Lodge and it looks like it has easy access from the main road so we decide to check it out before looking at the towns and resorts further south.
About 8km north of Massinga we turn east on a dusty red (but firm) track which is a good start. We follow it for about 20 km toward the coast ignoring the sandy tracks to the sides. We pass scattered houses and small villages and people either walking along the road or working or standing outside their houses. They all smile and wave and the kids make half hearted calls for sweets but they don’t really seem to expect any result, it just seems to be a matter of form and who knows, sometimes they might get lucky. At the end of the track is a shack with a ‘museum’ and curio shop sign and side tracks which lead north and south but the entrance to Morrungolo Beach Lodge (also referred to as Ponta Morrungulo in some guides) is right next to the museum. There are a number of small buildings proclaiming to be bars or bakeries or shops but it is out of season and nothing is open. The ‘museum’ is open at seemingly random times while we are there but for some reason we never get around to investigating it.
The reception for the resort is not much further and as we approach we can see we are on a dune well above the ocean, so this may not be the place for us. The receptionist assures us the camping is by the beach and invites us to go for a walk to look around. We pass through a restaurant and bar which command impressive views up and down the coast, and the infinity pool just outside.
Steps and a path lead steeply down to the beach level. Thatched cottages or chalets stretch along the base of the slope and along the beach front. A large shady camp area fills the space in between. It all looks beautifully maintained even now during the off season. The grass is lush and mown, there are plenty of mature trees to provide good dense shade, tracks are neatly raked of leaves and fallen palm fronds are piled ready for collection. Best of all is the tantalising view between chalets and trees of the blue Indian Ocean with waves breaking onto a wide sandy beach.
We have a choice of sites as there are no other guests at present and we pick one with good shade, for Paul, and good views, for Julie. Actually lots of the sites would meet those criteria and soon we are setting up camp and we are ready to stay for a week. The shade won’t be a problem for the solar panels as we have power so Paul will be able to work on his photos for as long as he wants. The grass is prickle free and the sand soft so there is no need for any footwear, bliss. The place is owned and run by James and Barbara and their son Harry (daughter Rebecca is at university in the US) and while we are still setting up James calls by to welcome us and give us some tips including how much to pay the fishermen on the beach for their fish or crays.
Our week stretches out and we extend and extend again. The weather is great, generally hot and sunny but with enough of a breeze to keep us comfortable in our shady nook and the occasional rain shower to freshen everything up. Rain is sure needed, they haven’t had good rain here for a few years now and the only way James and Harry have been able to keep the grounds green and lush is by constant attention to watering. Luckily they have an ever-flowing spring but even that is showing signs of slowing down. Days are easily filled. Often they involve a walk or stroll along the beach, a swim or two and some work on photography or writing interspersed with reading and relaxing. Tough life! We learn pretty quickly that if we go into the water directly out from our campsite we have a strong drift to contend with and it is hard to get past it, particularly at high tide. If we go just a little way along the beach however the water becomes deeper much quicker and we can enjoy our swim without having to work quite so hard.
The camp cat, Marmalade, adopted us as soon as we arrived. A very pretty small cat, she is extremely affectionate and has learnt how to behave to increase her chances of getting food or attention. Spare chairs and sunny spots are her favourite sleeping or napping spots although she manages to get inside our tent and up on to our bed one night. Whenever food is around she winds herself around our legs or sits directly under where we next want to step, and gets stepped on a few times as a result. I rename her Lady Marmalade, she deserves the name in more ways than one. She proves to be fickle in her attention though, as soon as other campers arrive she deserts us just revisiting when she thinks she is more likely to get food from us.
We weren’t expecting a stay of this long so we need to stock up but we’re in luck. Barbara informs us a supermarket has recently opened in the local town of Massinga, just half an hour away, and it carries most of what we want. The meat isn’t great but our freezer still has enough to carry us through and our seafood comes from the fishermen on the beach so it can’t get fresher, and Barbara also gives us some fillets of local fish. Lots of locals frequent the supermarket to buy their freshly baked large baguettes, almost small loaves, and each time we visit we buy them still hot out of the oven for the princely sum of 8 Mt each, that converts to less than 15 cents, yum. While we’re in town we get some credit on to our Mozambique sim card, its nice to be able to be in touch again even if it means walking to the top of the hill at the resort to pick up a signal.
We’re the only guests for much of our stay although there are other campers on a couple of nights and a chalet is occupied for a weekend. That will change as soon as the South African school holidays start when up to five hundred South Africans will come for their annual holiday. Many have been coming for years and book their chalets or camp sites well in advance. During this busy time there are lots of water activities on offer including diving or snorkelling, fishing, and jet boat rides and they are opening a beachside bar this year to complement the restaurant at the top of the hill. We can see where the attraction is but we feel blessed to be here in such a quiet time.
James, Barbara and Harry always make their guests welcome but because it is so quiet we are lucky enough to spend a bit more time with them. We join them for afternoon tea one day so Paul can watch the Australia vs. South Africa Rugby match and they join us at our camp one evening for dinner of calamari and chicken cooked on the braii (bbq). Another evening we savour grilled prawns and a delicious fish curry at their beautiful home perched high on the dune overlooking the ocean and learn more about their time here and their early days in northern Mozambique. Paul has been keen to use his drone but they are banned in Kruger so he hasn’t had much opportunity so far so he is very pleased that James and Barbara have no problems with him using it here. In fact they are keen to get some aerial footage of the place and Paul takes quite a bit of footage and edits the film to create some movies for them. Several kilometres south along the beach are some rocks which are worth viewing and James and Harry take us for a ride their on their quad bikes. The ride itself was lots of fun and the scenery great and the rocks are fascinating. Paul and Harry happily take photos until the rising tide dictates our return to camp.
Finally after two and half weeks we reluctantly leave this place we have been calling paradise so we can continue our journey through southern Mozambique. So what made this such a paradise for us? Well first is obviously the location with palm trees and tropical plants descending to the brilliant blue ocean and a wide sandy beach to enjoy. Next is the resort with its large shady trees and lush green grass. Bonuses are the power, water and facilities … all well maintained. We were lucky with our timing resulting in beautiful weather and the peacefulness resulting from being off season. Finally the friendliness of the hosts, who could ask for more?