This piece was published on the Africa Geographic blog in July 2014.
Heralded as one of the continent’s most remote and untouched regions, the northernmost Mozambican provinces of Cabo Delgado and Niassa are unknown, rugged and more beautiful than the reputation that precedes them. Characterised by untrammelled wilderness, sublime tropical islands and a sprinkling of logistical headaches, this region is as magical as it is transient – courtesy of the natural gas discovery.
While organised activities and ‘Big Five’ wildlife sightings remain limited, what is left are the idyllic conditions for intrepid, independent (and fully self-catering) adventurers. Having spent months exploring Northern Mozambique, these five regions are what I would absolutely prioritise visiting:
As the only inhabited island in Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago, Ibo – debatably a Portuguese acronym for the ‘well organised island’ – is a mangrove-laced sanctuary of ocean activity, on-land adventure and sensational cuisine. Life here is entirely guided by the habits of the tides and the skills of the fishermen. It is however, hardly inexpensive. Five star retreats and three course meals are most certainly the norm, though the ever-charming Baobibo Guest House does provide a happy rest for budget-savvy wanderers. In spite of having no more than 15 other visitors on the island at a given time, this is the most popular destination in the region.
If you are seeking remote and uninhabited islands, you will have to sail further afield from Ibo on a privately hired dhow. Though the logistics are complicated – and ‘uninhabited’ is no longer entirely accurate – the tiny island of Rolas remains more than delightful. I could spend days snorkelling the perfectly clear waters, searching for the delicate seashells that allegedly possesses the soul of Samora Machel. Nights were a welcome relief from the unforgiving sun and limited island shade. Hours quickly disappeared around a fire with a fish caught by our captain, while the stars and moon lit up the ocean around us. Had we more supplies, we would have likely stayed far longer.
Niassa National Reserve
Touted as one of the last remaining ‘true’ African wildernesses, Niassa captures the hearts of those who crave uninterrupted and unmaintained bush. While wildlife remains elusive and skittish beyond the main camp perimeter, hiking opportunities up granite inselbergs are innumerable. A minimal park authority leaves this reserve entirely yours to discover. Bring a GPS, a well-cushioned food supply and extra petrol – supplies and support are both distant and limited, as we learned the hard way. The bush however is not. Upon straying from the primary road, dirt roads provide potential days of exploration through woodlands, rocks and rivers.
On the mainland of the Quirimbas National Park, it feels as though a human presence in the park is almost expanding into what should technically be wild and remote. A few tiny undisturbed havens do remain for those who look, with Mareja being arguably the most successful among them. A semi-converted Portuguese colonial farmhouse acts as a rustic base for walks twice daily into the bush. While chances of spying a resident elephant or kudu are low, signs and sounds of activity are plentiful, keeping the search exhilarating and authentic. Management of this lodge is generally haphazard, but if you appreciate independence and immersion, you are likely to be as delighted as I was.
Wedged between the edge of a fishing village and coral point in the Indian Ocean you will find Hashemi’s campsite. Palm fringed with an ever-evolving sea view that shifts dramatically from cobalt to a vibrant sky blue, a few thatched mud huts and shaded tent sites make for a basic yet restorative retreat. The daily deliveries of lobster, squid and octopus to my sandy doorstep by fishermen still drenched and with snorkels in hand was routinely a highlight. While of course, human waste and garbage do knock a few points off my imagined paradise scorecard, the village’s seclusion and authenticity make it one of the essentials on my top five list.