While Europeans have each other’s nations to hop over the border to for a vacation, us South Africans can be sometimes caught lamenting our lack of access to great countries to visit. But I think it’s the opposite. We have things that our friendly snow-shufflers north of the equator have to pay enormous sums to get to: natural terrains and landscapes that look like they belong on other planets, the breathtaking dunes in Namibia, the wild beasts roaming our veld and mountainous plateaus, the Maluti mountains in Lesotho weeping with waterfalls, houseboats on Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe and the spectacular Victoria Falls, giant baobabs and lemurs of Madagascar, tropical locales, jungles and deserts. The majesty and beauty we have at home and in countries nearby are incomparable and glorious. And what Mozambique brings to the table, amongst other things, is a legend encased in a bottle. Along with magnificent beaches, reefs and seafood. It is a prerequisite as a South African in Mozam that you experience the destination through a haze of the deceptively sweet, highly-questionable red (may the colour serve as a warning to you) rhum known as Tipo Tinto.
My friends and I had the pleasure of descending on this little unassuming village a short while ago and it was a treat. Ponta d’Oro is a rustic little town at the bottom of Mozambique, just a few short miles (10 km) past the South African Kosi Bay border, and over a lot of sandy hills (suitable for 4×4 and very ambitious minibus taxi drivers). It doesn’t have roads yet but it does have an ATM (just outside a restaurant called Fishmonga) and transport in the village itself is mostly on foot, quad bikes (which you can rent for an absurd amount of money) and 4x4s.
Supposedly, Ponta d’Ouro – Point of Gold – gets its name from confused Portuguese explorers who arrived at the destination thinking there was gold, but finding black titanium instead. The only gold found was the sun glistening off the beaches. A pity, as Ponta de Titânio would have sounded really cool, in my opinion! It’s a popular resort town for South Africans and it seems heavily catered for it. If you want to holiday out of country but prefer to stick to a place where the restaurants still broadcast the rugby and some places serve boerewors (popular South African sausage) this is your spot. The Portuguese aspect is disguised by a lot of SA-centric influence, presumably to capitalise on the majority of tourists that enthusiastically support the town. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as menus and signs are mostly in English and you can pay for things in Rands. Luckily, you can still enjoy local food and drink and try your hand at some Portuguese greetings with the locals, who are very friendly.
Although it doesn’t have the pristine white beaches that hug the coastline in the north of Mozambique, the beaches at Ponta are lovely, the water is warm and there’s a little sheltered reef and nice shallow waters to bob and snorkel in for pansies like me. There’s plenty, in fact, to do, see and eat at Ponta and I’ve compiled a guide for your pleasure:
- Play in the water: Dolphin cruises, diving, snorkelling, surfing and swimming. Mind the sharks. The deep sea fishing is meant to be great, with kingfish, queen mackerel, dorado and various species of tuna, amongst other fish, are available to catch. Just please check your SASSI guide before you haul in a dwindling species.
- Enjoy nature: Go for a walk along the rocks and beach, view turtle nesting when in season (and through a reputable and responsible touring company that does not interfere with or disturb the turtles), watch the sunrise, whale watch.
- Shop: There are several markets dotted throughout the town. They sell the usual touristy wares as well as food and drink. Haggle a bit, it’s expected. There are also actual shops but the prices are unreasonable and the wares are not the local fun carved things, it’s the mass produced clothes, brand name shoes and other similar things. Those shops are okay for things like sunscreen if you forget it at home but otherwise rather support the local traders.
- Say hi to the locals: They are very friendly. Some can’t speak English, but most seem to know a little at least. Return the favour and say hello (olá), good day (bom dia), thanks (obrigado), how are you (como vai), good (bem) and when you buy the bread I laud gleefully in the list to follow, from the old lady at the bakery, be sure to say muito bem! (Very good!) because it is.
- R&Rs: Rum and Raspberry is when a rum of questionable ingredients and origin, Tipo Tinto, is mixed with a raspberry soda at a ratio of 1:3 (although the rum is so cheap for the locals who get it from up north that sometimes its served half rum, half raspberry because the Sparletta Raspberry soda proves more expensive than the rum!) and is a recipe for crazy behaviour. But you must have at least one. It’s part of the experience.
- Go to one of the pubs: There’s Fernando’s in the market, where we’ve heard whispers of dodgy cocktails. Fernando’s is supposedly the place where R&Rs began. A charmingly seedy dive bar where legends are made in a plastic cap with vanilla-ish rum. The beach itself has sandy pubs like Pinto’s and Florestinha’s.
- Try the local softdrinks: I gave a baobab juice a try and it was nice.
- Laurentina and 2M: Very arguably good beers. Very arguably. 2M is pronounced ‘doish em’. They taste fantastic in Mozam. You come home and find one hidden in the local liquor store and pop it open and it tastes every bit the liquid fermented yeast it is meant to be. Ugh. I think being on holiday makes these taste great, along with the the Tinto in your bloodstream playing havoc with your mind.
- Seafood in restaurants: Oh gosh, this place came into its own with the food. We ate dinner one evening at Florestinha’s and myself and two friends ordered to share what we thought would be a platter of clams, crab, calamari, rice and prawns and it was an enormous casserole dish! It was filled to the brim and cost us about R100 each and worth every single cent. You can order whole crab too, even if it’s not on the menu.
- Seafood on the braai (bbq): There’s a few guys that walk up and down the beach in the morning with their fresh catch. Buy a whole fish and prawns from them. They charge per kilo (they carry a weight with a hook) but you can negotiate price. The only downside is that the fish is as is – guts, scales and all. Same for the prawns. What I did was I asked the kitchen staff at a restaurant if they could clean the fish for me, which they very nicely did free of charge. Some restaurants charge a small fee to do this, which is fair. Stuff it with lemon slices, fresh herbs, some chilli, garlic and butter. Rub the outside with some butter, wrap in foil and fling on the braai!
- Peri-Peri chicken: Order it where you can, in between the seafood. You won’t regret it. This is practically the home of Peri-Peri chicken. You won’t have it this good anywhere else.
- Fresh Portuguese bread: There’s a little bakery, the same place I found the baobab juice, that makes the most phenomenal Portuguese ciabatta loaves. They are fresh and so soft and, I swear, they mix cocaine in that dough ,because we could not get enough of it. It was about R7 a loaf which was enough for four people. Roughly just US$0.50! Use this bread to mop up the juices when you eat your braaid fish, or just as is, chunks ripped off the still-steaming loaf. This bakery can be found right next door to Fernando’s.
- The bright orange local chilli sauce: A nuclear hue for a nuclear sauce. Buy in small glass jars at the market. It’s a throat lava in a league of its own and if you have enough of it, it will be quite the bum-warming colonic cleanse the following day. It’s an experience, that’s for sure.
The one thing you need to remember with ordering food in Ponta is to relax and enjoy the wait. The food takes a long time to get to the table, at pretty much all the restaurants. Enjoy it. Chat, drink and be merry and then later you will feast 🙂
Initially, the only negative thing about our trip was in the beginning I noticed that there are a lot of stray dogs. It upset me a little (and made me feel terribly guilty because here I am, worrying about homeless dogs when the majority of Ponta d’Ouro is a rural town where people live in poverty). Well, for other dog lovers I can put your mind at ease. There is apparently an organisation that drops off food every evening at a certain place and once a month a vet makes a trek up and sterilises and treats them. I can confirm this because I checked each dog that bounded happily up to us and they were all snipped, chubby, teeth, ears, eyes and bum in good condition. They adopt a tourist family for the duration of the family’s stay and join them during the day. At night I noticed some retreat to kraals with the locals and snooze there. During the day they bound gleefully up and down the beach or lounge under people’s umbrellas. Some swim in the ocean. By the end of our stay I felt they indulge in a better life than my own hounds. And as for the human community, the steady increase in tourism has meant that there will soon be a tarred main road from Maputo direct to Ponta. This easier and direct access from the capital will hopefully lead to better service delivery and infrastructure. In the meantime, it’s a great place to spend holiday money and boost local economy. Worthy of a week’s visit, at least.
To get to Ponto, we drove through the Kosi Bay border and then up. I believe you can also fly to Maputo and then drive down, but either way it’s a bit of a long drive. The border opens at 8am and closes at 5pm. You can drive a normal car up to the border and then leave it in a parking lot there (it’s privately owned and secure) and take a transfer up to Ponto for about R160 – R200ish. It’s just dunes, so if you don’t have a 4×4 it’s worth doing the transfer. We had the right vehicle but still got wedged, having to dig out our vehicle with our hands. The second time, it was truly stuck and we were quickly surrounded by the local kids who did their best to help out (they wanted payment in bags of crisps and snacks and we dutifully complied) and had a passing massive truck haul us out. Also, a handy tip, if you aren’t sure which is the flattest path to take, follow the minibus taxis.
There’s plenty of places to stay that range from very rustic and basic to slightly less so, and a few even fancyish spots. It’s mostly self-catering from what I understand. It’s the best way to enjoy places like this. We rented two cabins next to each other at a place called Coco Rico, which had a pool and a bar, two critical factors. It was an excellent holiday and we returned browner, heavier and with decidedly weaker livers. Worth it.