Road-tripping Mozambique: From camping with wild elephants to watching the sun set over dhows
The land of fresh seafood, sweet local rum, really wild animals and friendly people - Mozambique offers a quick escape to recharge your batteries while adventuring through gorgeous landscapes. From bush to beach, it offers all that you might fly thousands of kilometres to find overseas, but is really just a quick hop over to our Southern African neighbour.
On a road trip through the southern parts of this country, it's all about who you go with and I was lucky enough to be travelling in 4x4s driven by camping and nature experts - the best travel partners you can ask for.
Starting off in Durban, we eventually made our way to the Kosi Bay Border Post where we started our Mozambique adventure. The border crossing was surprisingly smooth, although the ladened bakkie behind us had less luck after a stern official told its driver to unpack everything - with receipts.
We passed through onto a bumpy road next to the tar road currently being built to connect Maputo to South Africa for those without high-rise vehicles. After barely driving a distance we turn into Maputo Special Reserve - a wild place where you have to tread carefully with its resident elephants.
They've endured violent poaching during Mozambique's war days, and are still very hesitant when people come near, even if they just want to gaze upon these beautiful creatures. The rest of the animals in the park are also skittish, but the scenery more than makes up for the scarce fauna. Grasslands, lakes, mangroves, forests and Insta-worthy beaches create a moving scenery that changes as you drive.
To camp here is to camp with no facilities provided - you only have a hole, albeit a nicely setup hole depending on who you camp with - for all your toiletry needs.
The sunrise urged us onwards on our journey, and for the next destination - Santa Maria - you can only get there by going through the reserve if you're going by 4x4. The road is made for those with a strong stomach and by the end you'll feel like you need to hug the ground for a while to make the world stop rattling. On the way we passed households tending to their gardens, selling alcohol on skew posts, and a stray goat or two.
Soon (give or take a couple of hours) Santa Maria was in sight, but it took a bit longer to orientate ourselves to find our accommodation. A popular hangout for locals and tourists is Bemugi's Place, which also offers camping and a high-rise spot to sleep in. Bemugi himself is eager to greet visitors, a local who built up his own place where he can make his mark, and his first offer is a variety of activities that he can organise for us.
Santa Maria has everything a beach holiday destination has to offer - snorkelling, deep-sea fishing, swimming, kayaking and comfortable lounging on the beach sipping a classic RnR - the national cocktail.
Right across from the beach you'll easily spot Inhaca Island, which has some of the best coral reefs and tropical fish to gawk at underwater. Part of its coast is a protected marine reserve, and a watchful ranger makes sure that there's no fishing to disturb the peace. The snorkelling here is superb, and the best time to go is during high tide, but even in low tide we saw spectacular sights.
The island is also lined with mangrove forests filled with enough birds to start a new mobile game. The best way to experience this is a meander with kayaks, where you don't have to fight the current - just the mosquitoes.
The long expansive beach in Santa Maria was perfect for watching the sunset, especially with classic dhows in the foreground and mangrove forests lapping at the edge of the waters, their roots raised out of the ground thirsty for oxygen.
At night Bemugi presented us with Tipo Tinto rum and the biggest lobster you will never see in South Africa - big enough to take out a cat. What felt like an eternity was well worth the wait when the cooked lobster finally made its debut, and everyone eating it looked like they were about to marry it.
As the night bid us to our beds - some camping and some sleeping in mosquito-resistant luxury - I slept knowing that I had definitely made the most out of my time here, and you might have to drag me with much difficulty back to South Africa.
QUICK GUIDE TO MOZAMBIQUE: Visa-free travel for South Africans
*Disclaimer: Gabi Zietsman of Traveller24 was hosted by Bhejane 4x4 Adventures on a road trip through southern Mozambique.