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Old 07-29-2007, 04:40 PM   #1
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Cool2 Mozambique via Vilanculos

After being thwarted from getting into Mozambique via the Kruger Park in December 2005 on our Zanzibar trip, I was determined to redo that part of our Zanzibar route (see trip report at at the earliest opportunity. It only came in April 2007 when we had a long weekend here in sunny South Africa, a time where the weather should be cooler and the water levels of the rivers easier to ford.

After a bit of encouragement mrs Owl and a friend from our Adventure Club agreed to come along and the arrangements were quickly made: 1) New rear tyre, 2) New luggage board, 3) Bike service, 4) Accommodation booked near Kruger Park, 5) Transport through the Park (bikes NOT allowed), 6) Route planned. 7) Check on the state of Vilanculos (end destination) after the recent cyclone, 8) Third party insurance for Mozambique.

A few evenings of dedicated effort soon got everything sorted out and by Thursday afternoon we left work early to rendezvous at the Shell filling station in Pretoria at 4 PM. From there it was going to be a 500 km haul to the Pafuri Rivercamp, a stone's throw from the Kruger Park. The shadows soon lengthened as we headed north up the N1 highway on our Africa Twins.

At Makhado/ Louis Trichardt (many towns are being renamed and re-renamed around here) we had supper and then refuelled before the last stretch east from a quaint little watering hole called Bokmakierie (see map above). Here we had to slow down to avoid the inevitable livestock that wander around on our regional roads. It was 11 PM by the time we pulled into the campsite, where Ross was still waiting for us by a blazing campfire, a pile of empty beer cans at his side. We stretched out and joined him.

Next morning was beautiful weather and after some final adjustments during breakfast, we were ready to load the bikes onto the Rivercamp's pickup. Spot the fuel cans under the canvas.

Unfortunately, their Isuzu was in for repairs; the Land Rover had much less space on the load area. We squeezed everything on board, tied it all down and set off for the park entrance.

Visitors are not allowed out of their vehicles in the Kruger Park, so we had to squeeze four of us into the cab for the 30-odd kilometres from the western Pafuri gate to the eastern border post. Our driver from the Rivercamp soon produced a coolbox of beer. By the time these were finished he looked at the surrounding landscape, non-plussed: “This doesn’t look familiar”. Quite right- we had made a turn south where we should have continued east and had strayed nearly 100 km off course. It took three hours before we were at the border and off-loaded the bikes while the Land Rover spewed its radiator contents all over the place.

We offload the bikes and strap all our gear on the carriers again.

While the South African border crossing was a quick affair for a change, the Mozambican side is a model of Marxist mayhem. We join the queue.

It's 3 PM by the time all the paperwork has been checked off and we are free to go to Mapai, our first major waypoint in Mozambique, 100km southeast along the Limpopo river (this river forms the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa and comes down in flood when it rains, making it impassable).
The first part is easy two-track over hard-packed clay through trees and underbrush. It's dry and dusty. We do the tourist thing.

Some spectacular baobab trees along the way to lift the spirits.

Look another one, oops- is that sand we have here? Yup!

Riding two-up in this soft stuff is difficult. You need to have speed to “float” on the sand, but your manoeuvrability is compromised by the weight of pillion & luggage. It did not take long before we hit the deck. A couple of times. Gradually, the road improved as the day faded into the night.

It was plenty dark by the time we reached Mapai, where Edgar had a meal all prepared for us- advantage of a solo riding partner! I changed some of our money into local currency and bought some big bottles of beer. Life is good.

We were camped next to a shop and fell asleep with the boom-boom of loud music played on a PA system seriously overworked by the locals. Running off a car battery of course, because there is no electricity here. Welcome to Africa.

Public toilet facilities are opposite the shop, but quite limited. Campers call toilet paper “white gold”; the alternative here is to tear off some cardboard or recycling the rags used by other toilet-goers. We've got the white gold, no worries.

After breakfast and folding away the camping stuff, we are ready to hit Vilanculos. There is a rare road sign adjacent to the shop to show us the way. It warrants a picture in this country.

The terrain soon turns from sandy to muddy as we approach the river, with lots of tracks. Transport by the locals here (bringing goods and fuel from South Africa into Mozambique for resale) is basic but reliable. When the 4x4’s get stuck here the oxen pull them out!

We get directed a bit further downstream. The water is deeper on the far side and the bank of the river is noticeably steeper. I go first, while mrs Owl operates the camera. The locals watch the show, hoping for some entertainment.

Apart from the sudden change in depth close to the end it’s not too bad, even if the boots get sodden. This next pic gives a better idea of what I mean.

We refill the water bottles from the Limpopo river with our MSR filter. It’s just after 10 AM and already quite hot, despite April being late autumn here.

We get to Sao Jorge, the next village and “major commercial centre”, where Edgar negotiates the price of petrol with some locals. His bike is very thirsty, and he is constantly worried about getting stuck without fuel (remember those jerry-cans). It costs about 1 ½ times the South African rate. It's repackaged from drums into 5 liter plastic containers called chigubas by the local traders.

We buy some local breadrolls (“paos”) for breakfast. They're cheap, but not great. Maybe we’re not hungry enough. They're sold from a bin, and covered with a cloth to keep them fresh-ish.

After following the railway line that runs from Maputo to Harare for half a kilometer, we cross it to head east again.

A sign alongside says: "Vilanculos 444 km". Doesn’t sound too bad, does it now? The first 100 km is good gravel…

…with the odd bit of infrastructure in need of some work….

..until we reach Machaila for a “splash and dash”.

The road rapidly changes for the worst. Sand all the way to the next town, Mabote, 160 km further. Only the softness varies.

We followed Edgar out, but he soon disappeared from sight. It quickly became obvious that this was going to be a long and hot ride. We took a few more tumbles in the sand, fortunately without any damage. Progress was painfully slow and our ETA just crept further and further into the night as the distance inched by. We did not pass a single vehicle. Of more concern was our depleting water supplies and falling energy levels- late nights at the office are not good preparation for adventure riding of this nature and dehydration is bad news. At least we pass a road sign to confirm that we are heading in the right direction- maps for this region are notoriously poor.

Darkness is a blessing as the temperature becomes bearable and we try to stretch the last drops of water with more than 30 km still ahead through sand so soft that the clutch starts smelling whilst we're wading through it. Just then the road makes a “T” , and crosses a bridge with sparkling water below. We refill our bottles and carry on on a much firmer surface. We reach Mabote at 10 PM, where we find a well in the courtyard of the local school and pitch our tent next to it. We drink deeply- the water from the well tastes wonderful.
Tomorrow is Saturday. It rains during the night.

Some kids drop by the next morning. They’ve got snotty noses but look quite happy as they play on the well. Communication is a bit of a problem for us here (Portuguese is the official language).

After a call on the walkie-talkie we locate Edgar in the courtyard of the local pub. He's had an early night, having arrived hours before us without stopping along the way except to have a few falls himself. Apart from a stiff shoulder he’s OK. We refuel again, Africa style. It’s an entertaining event for the locals.

The last bit to the coast is only 120 km, and it’s completely different. Patches of mud this time. We make good speed until our front mudguard hits the sump guard in a rut and gets chowed by the tyre. So long, mudguard.
The sight of the highway makes you want to kiss the tar when you eventually get there.

We hit the EN1 highway and head north for the last stretch. Time to open up the trottles!

1NiteOwl screwed with this post 10-13-2007 at 01:40 PM Reason: Add pics!
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Old 07-29-2007, 04:46 PM   #2
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Wow!! What an epic journey and awesome report!! Thanks for the sharing and taking us with you... Looking forward to your upcoming pics to be uploaded.

Keep it coming
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Old 07-29-2007, 05:52 PM   #3
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great pics, i cant wait to see the rest!!
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Old 07-29-2007, 06:53 PM   #4
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I will be in SA later in the week and traveling up to Maputo & Xai Xai. I am terrified of the sand.

Looking forward to seeing the rest of the pics.
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Old 07-30-2007, 02:58 AM   #5
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Great ride on a great place but...what happenned to the pics???
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Old 07-30-2007, 03:01 AM   #6
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what an exotic place...
great pictures (i think that you are still adding some)
terrific ride....

thanks for taking us along on your journey
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Old 07-30-2007, 03:14 AM   #7
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Mozambique - The only way i knew this place existed was because of a postage stamp that i had in my stamp collection. This is the first time i have seen pictures from the a nice country.

Thanks for sharing and welcome to the asylum.
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Old 07-30-2007, 03:28 AM   #8
without limits...
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Nice report, keep the pictures coming... Great to see people doing 2-up in the sand and enjoying it.
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Old 07-30-2007, 04:57 AM   #9
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Very nice!
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Old 07-30-2007, 05:28 AM   #10
i can haz a motrsykle?
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Enjoyable read! Thanks for posting.
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Old 07-30-2007, 08:36 AM   #11
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There are adventures to have on each spot of this planet! Thanks for telling about yours! Looking forward to see you exchange these nubers against pics!!
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Old 07-30-2007, 10:38 AM   #12
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Wow looks like you had a lot of fun in that chaos that makes africa so different from other riding destinations wish I was there still a dream to ride up that coast line one day maybe. Keep the photos coming.
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Old 07-30-2007, 10:50 AM   #13
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Lekker report. Thanks for it and for giving the old names for us expats. The new 'comrade' names are confusing.
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Old 07-30-2007, 04:02 PM   #14
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Vilanculos’ main claim to fame is actually that it is a staging post to the Bazaruto Archipelago, a very popular diving destination. There is some distinct evidence of Cyclone Favio as we enter the town (missing roofs, uprooted trees), but it’s open for business. People always make a plan!

The beaches are quite beautiful here, azure blue water. Seafood underneath.

After a cruise along the beachfront and inspecting the available campsites, we settle on Vilanculos Camping, where we are the only campers. The local stray dogs make themselves at home while we hang out the laundry.

Many trees have been flattened by the storm (that's our bathroom to the left).

Despite the labels, there is cold water only: the water boiler has been damaged by a fallen tree. It's still a major improvement- our previous bathroom did not even have running water.

After setting up the tents, chatting and reading a bit it’s supper-time: something we have all been looking forward to. Mozambique is rightly famous for its seafood. Because the camp facilities were mostly destroyed by the storm, we walked down the road in search of a suitable restaurant.

Supper was passable, but not as memorable as the missing items we discovered when we returned to our campsite- evidence of the local entrepreneurial spirit. Bye-bye water filter, bye-bye binoculars!

We decide to head for Xai-Xai the next morning, 500 km to the south. It’s Sunday and we need to be back at work on Tuesday, which will leave us with 800 km for the last day. We follow the EN1 national highway along the coast, which links Maputo to Beira. We pass lots of little villages with beautiful baobab and coconut trees lining the road.

Advertisement for the favourite local brew, 2M beer.

Coconuts, anyone?

We stop over for lunch at Maxixe (pron. “Mashish”) overlooking the bay to Inhambane, a popular tourist destination (Vilanculos is a bit too far for most folks). Some dhows by the beach create an idyllic mood. Edgar refuels, I want to make the next town first (do I see nodding heads?).

Lunch is slooow.
Whilst hurrying on to Xai-Xai, Edgar gets caught by the latest radar technology for speeding and I pull up at an empty filling station with an almost dry tank. The next village is 4 km too far for me, but Edgar saves our bacon from his half-empty tank. Unfortunately we have to do the last hour in darkness again, on a severely pot-holed road, with lots of minibus taxis, the most dangerous vehicles on Africa’s roads.

Finally some something resembling a fuel pump again! After washing off the bugs we ease into XaiXai and order supper at the Complexo Turistico Halley. They even have coffee, and it’s superb. Camping is right next door at the Parque de Campismo de Xai-Xai. Here they are in daylight.

We rise early the next morning and head for the beach to watch the sun come up and pick up some seashells.

Kinda makes the trip worthwhile.

Upon packing up I notice a very flat front tyre- a victim of last night’s potholes. It delays breakfast at Halley by half an hour as we patch it double-quick.
We enjoy coffee and croissants- delivered by a local to the campsite- before hitting the road to Maputo, 200 km further. It’s May-day, and everywhere political rallies are going on. The town square of Xai-Xai is closed to traffic so the comrades can hold a rally.

There are lots of South African vehicles returning home, and they are in a hurry. Us too. Outside Maputo we join the N4 toll road to SA and head for the Ressano Garcia border post. It’s very different from our port of entry, and vehicles are queuing for miles.

Great time to be on a bike. We head straight to the front and pay a R100 bribe to a local fellow who has a 50/50 deal with officialdom. In 5 minutes we are back in South Africa.

We head for Barberton, an old mining town, following the Kaapmuiden road. It's great biking country, but mrs.Owl doesn't see it that way. After a brief burst, the speed drops back to legal limits.

After lunch we climb through Bothasnek and Nelshoogte to Badplaas and reach Carolina at dusk and a final fuel stop before the final chilly push to Pretoria and home.

800 km for the day, 2500 km for the round trip. I can't wait for the next one.
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Old 07-31-2007, 09:11 AM   #15
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Damn I miss Africa. Your last photo did it for me on the nostalgia front . I lived for two years in the Nelshoogte forrests. Next time take the back roads around Barbeton through Kangwane to Badplaas.
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