Driving Mozambique: Arco Norte

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In the third of chapter of his epic road trip, Niel Crafford explores the north of the country

Driving Mozambique

With full tanks and four jerrycans, we departed Lichinga and set off towards the Reserva Nacional do Niassa. Thirty kilometres out of town, we turned off the tar and embarked on the 1000km or so of gravel, sand and bush tracks that would take us into and through this 42,000sq-km reserve. The first night we camped on the park’s western boundary. We had expected some sort of campsite (Tracks4Africa had labelled it as ‘Niassa Camp’ – obviously somebody else’s bushcamp) but were disappointed, so selected a better spot: high-lying (in case of flash floods at the start of the rainy season), with a cooling breeze and open veld providing us with a view of approaching wildlife.

Driving 200km in the reserve proper the next day, we did not see any wild animals and grew tired of the rather boring miombo woodlands. The sandy road was quite badly eroded for about half this distance and made for interesting driving. Our arrival at the Reserve Headquarters and Maputo Campsite was a relief, and the plentiful shade under high trees and spacious, clean ablutions with running water, a welcome surprise.

For the first time in the three weeks we had been on the road, we stayed for a second night. I put another plug in the puncture that we had discovered in the right rear tyre (the Valor tyre pressure monitoring system alerted us to the slow leak), Elize did some washing, we cleaned the Cruiser and serviced the Porta Potti – all things that one doesn’t get around to doing when you are constantly travelling.

Unfortunately, Cornelio Miguel, the Park Warden, was in Maputo. However, his financial manager, Rogerio de Aravjo Lobo, was most helpful and put us in contact with one of his staff members who knew the roads well. We wanted to visit Keith and Colleen Begg, a South African couple who have been doing research on predators there since 2003. They had a camp on the Lugenda river which forms the south and eastern boundary of the core area of the reserve. It turned out that the Beggs have progressed from research to conservation to community upliftment. They recently opened the Masiri Community Education Centre and were doing wonderful work in the fields of education, training and job creation. Although they have taken out a thirty-year ‘ecotourism lease’ in the reserve, their substantial experience in this part of the world have taught them that that it will be many more years before anyone can run a lodge here successfully; the reserve is just too remote and difficult to operate in. Even the Lugenda Wilderness Camp (owned and operated by the Rani Group) is facing difficult times – a ticket from Johannesburg to Pemba, on SA Airlink, costs US$750, followed by a chartered flight to their airstrip for US$2000.

After a very hot night camping next to a pool full of hippos, we popped into the Beggs’ camp – a timber platform under a huge sausage tree, where they had been staying for nine months every year. Keith showed us a way through the river, with two of his camp staff leading the way. Normally, the roads in the reserve and surrounding areas are no longer passable at this time of the year, which counted in our favour as we could travel the length of the river to where it flows into the Rovuma, the northern boundary of Niassa and Cabo Delgado provinces.

We refuelled in Mueda, the largest town in Cabo Delgado after Pemba, its capital. We also managed to buy some tomatoes, onions and bread. From here, only a 100km – of tar! – to the coast, where we found a campsite in Chez Natalie. Initially disappointed – I was looking forward to white beaches, waving palm trees and the sea lapping onto the shore – we very much enjoyed our stay here.

The final stretch of road leading northwards was to Palma and Quionga, on the Rovuma River. We tackled this after two nights in Mocímboa da Praia, quite a pleasant little coastal town. Natalie told us about the Farol Cabo Delgado, a beautiful old Portuguese lighthouse, that we should visit while up there. Our intention was to camp at a Mission Station in Quionga as we were told that there was a lot of trafficking taking place along the Rovuma and advised not to camp in the bush alone. I had a telephone number for Andre, the South African on duty there, but there was no answer, and no one in town knew about the place either. We decided to drive the last 20km to the ferry crossing and were given directions by the officials at the border post. In Quionga we found the building – abandoned, apparently for quite some time already.

The road to the Farol was not marked and we asked at one of the local villages. Twenty kilometres of sandy tracks – the last six very bumpy coral stone – took us there, complete with white beaches, waving palm trees and the Indian Ocean metres away. Unfortunately, some very inquisitive fishermen made us feel rather uncomfortable so we decided to rather not overnight there. However, we did manage to camp next to the sea though, on a farm in the Quirimbas National Park belonging to Meco Gonzaga. Here we stayed three nights, completely isolated from the outside world except for the piles of plastic and other rubbish washed up on the beach and the daily visits from local people – to be found in all parks in Mozambique.

Next? Ibo Island, the last few days of camping before Christmas and Ilha de Moçambique!

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If you are interested in following Elize and Niel’s progress, click on this link which will take you to the Tracks4Africa vehicle tracking site.

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