Both routes involve traversing the Kruger National Park, making it only sensible to spend a night or two at one of the excellent rest camps on your way.
Keep in mind, though, that the speed limit in Kruger and the Parque Nacional do Limpopo on the Mozambican side is 40 to 50 km/h. So with the time taken up at entry and exit gates, you need at least eight hours to get from Phalaborwa to Xai-Xai if using the Giriyondo option, and about 16 hours from Pafuri Gate to Vilankulo.
The Pafuri route has no fuel or accommodation facilities (not even camping) on the 550km between Punda Maria in the KNP and Mapinhane, on the EN.1 near Vilankulo.
On the Giriyondo route, fuel is available at Chibuto, 330km from Kruger’s Letaba Camp.
If you purchase an mCell Giro starter kit for around R15, your cellular phone will work from Mapinhane onwards on the Pafuri route, while on the Giriyondo route you will get a signal in and around Chibuto as well as from Massingir to Aguia Pesqueira camp.
If you plan to take the Pafuri route to Vilankulo, keep in mind that the level of the Limpopo can, at any time of the year, be too high to cross. Travellers must also consider that they will be tackling an extremely remote track where there are no amenities or facilities for 500km, and any medical or mechanical emergencies will have to be dealt with on your own.
And when it rains, much of this route quickly becomes waterlogged and extremely muddy, turning what is an easy, if quite slow, drive in the dry season into a really slippery “Camel Man” adventure.
With four people travelling in the Honda, a Thule Ocean 100 roof-box was fitted. This swallowed a surprising amount of our lighter gear such as the mattresses, sleeping bags, chairs and two amazing Explore Planet Earth Speedy tents that could be pitched in seconds.
It was freezing in Johannesburg when we left for Waller’s Camp (also known as Pafuri River Camp) on the border of the Kruger Park just before the Pafuri Gate. About 40km of badly corrugated and very loose gravel proved that the CR-V was quite well endowed in the traction department, but with our heavy load, ground clearance was going to be a big issue if the roads got much worse in Mozambique.
Waller’s Camp is just 5km from the Pafuri gate and its rustic – but very comfortable – chalets on stilts overlook the Pafuri River.
At the Pafuri border the South African side is quite organised and has modern amenities (but no fuel), while on the Mozambican side it is so laid back that if you decided not to stop no one would notice. The house on the left is where you must get the vehicle registration paper and pay R20 for a temporary import permit, while the right-hand house is where the smiling immigration official will stamp your passport and relieve you of R150 for third party insurance. Non-South Africans can get a Mozambique visa here for R185 – it takes about 10 minutes.
As we purred (this engine is as smooth as a Persian cat’s fur) down the rough, rutted and rocky track that follows the southern bank of the Limpopo, I drove with one wheel on the middelmannetjie to avoid damage to the undercarriage.
By now I was wishing I had left most of our load at home (60 litres of ultra-low sulphur diesel added to the weight). When ULS diesel is available throughout Mozambique, drivers of Honda CR-Vs will not have to carry any extra fuel as we made it to Vilankulo with (according to the computer’s read-out) 150km worth of diesel still in the tank.
Crossing the Limpopo at Chicumbane – also called Xicumbane – is what usually causes the most concern for 4×4 owners pondering the Pafuri route.
When we arrived we found that it was a few hundred metres of very thick sand rather than the water that posed a problem. We walked the river, with the water reaching about halfway up our shins. Back at the Honda we saw that quite a queue of South African 4x4s was waiting. Some drivers were casting doubtful looks in our direction and – ironically enough – reducing tyre pressures.
By now I was quite comfortable (and very impressed) with the sand-driving abilities of the CR-V, and we made it to the other side with the greatest of ease.
We camped in the bush for two nights on the road between Pafuri and Vilankulo. From Machaila the road becomes a real “twinspoor” track with numerous deviations where the local drivers have created detours around stretches of very soft sand. The clearance limitations of the Honda became quite an issue and at times my wife had to walk ahead to point out hidden tree-stumps or to remove branches.
At Zimane, about 70km from Machaila, there is a steel “Bailey” bridge over the Lichangalingue River. I was very glad that I stopped to take a good look before crossing. The ramp on the exit drops too steeply for a low vehicle, so we had to consider our options.
A small herdboy pointed out faint tyre tracks that left the road before the bridge, gave the water pools a wide berth and rejoined the road on the far side. I walked the detour, reckoned the CR-V was up to it, powered through the riverbed and suddenly felt I could take this baby all the way to Cairo.
Apart from the astonishing traction and the quiet ride (this is a diesel, after all), the most remarkable aspect of the Honda’s performance so far was the fuel consumption of less than 6,0l/100km.
The choice of where to stay on the first night in Vilankulo after “roughing it” is very important. While there had been reports that the town had been “flattened” by cyclone Favio, the beaches, reefs and islands were still near perfect and the backpacker’s paradise, Zombie Cucumber, with a new swimming pool, was better than ever.
I went down to Sailaway, the longest-established dhow-safari outfit in town, to confirm our outing for the next day.
Every spot has its “secret” and in Vilankulo it is Stephanie’s seafood pizzas. Apart from the prawns and calamari, most of the ingredients are from Steph’s own garden, and we went to bed in our little chalet perhaps a little too well fed that night.
Sailaway has a two-mast dhow that feels big enough to get you to Madagascar and beyond, if the wind is right. However, our destination was Magaruque, the nearest of the four islands that make up the beautiful Bazaruto archipelago and where the snorkelling is excellent and beaches brilliant white.
Our fish was braaied over charcoal inside the dhow, and then it was time just to sit under a palm tree and dream of nothing much in particular while the kids collected shells and were shown how to tie knots by the crew.
Next we headed for Blue Water Beach Resort, just an hour to the south, and checked into en-suite rondavels. The camping area would have been just fine, too, as it is shady, well-grassed and has excellent ablutions.
It is just a stroll down a few stairs to a wild and pristine beach. There is also a large swimming pool and a bar/restaurant with ocean views.
Next issue: Nova Mambone, Inhassoro, Morrungulo and home via the Giriyondo route.
The Honda CR-V 2.2 i-CDTi in action
The Honda CR-V is powered by one of the new generation of diesel engines designed for ultra-low sulphur (ULS) diesel, to enable the manufacturer to meet the same strict exhaust gas emission standards (in Europe) as petrol-powered vehicles.
Low-sulphur diesel contains a maximum of 500 parts per million of sulphur, while ultra-low sulphur diesel contains a maximum of 50 parts per million.
I took along 60 litres of Sasol Turbodiesel ULS, which did add a lot of weight to my load, but with a range of 880km per tank I only had to top up with 20 litres in Mozambique.
Limited ground clearance problems aside, the Honda is probably the most responsive, comfortable, safe and well-built vehicle I have driven in many years. On tar it is whisperquiet and runs on about as much diesel as comes out of the exhaust of many “real” 4x4s.
On good bush roads I put it in fourth (it has six gears), took my foot off the accelerator and we rolled along merrily at 40km/h, with my best trip computer figures being 5,8 litres per 100km and a range of 961km!
After hundreds of kilometres of corrugations, sand and jagged potholes, not a squeak or rattle disturbed the hushed interior (the excellent sound system notwithstanding), and this is one truly dust-proof vehicle!
In thick sand the Honda thinks it’s a beach buggy and the much improved traction system made short work of the “notorious” crossing of the Limpopo River at Chicumbane (Mapai). However, I would certainly avoid this route if the water levels were anything more than a trickle.
While the boot space is more than adequate to pack in your bags for a normal holiday, to haul anything more than two kids, four large suitcases and a guitar you will need a roof-box. Thule’s extensive range of carriers and boxes has become accepted internationally as one of the best and safest ways to carry anything on your roof.
Once the rollout of ULS diesel reaches our neighbouring states, we’ll no doubt see many more diesel Honda CR-Vs at Mozambique’s marvellous beach resorts. If you have the equally good petrol version, you can go now as unleaded petrol is available throughout Mozambique.
EPE Speedy Tents: Smart Tent in Ferndale Industrial Park, Randburg. They also import the Oztent range of RV tents and other outdoor gear. 011 793-5063; [email protected]; www.smarttent.co.za
Thule Show Room Store: 20 Waterval Crescent, Woodmead, Sandton.
011 804-2215 / 9522; [email protected]; www.thule.co.za
Dhow Trips to the Bazaruto Islands: Sailaway 00 258 293 82385; 00 258 823876350; [email protected]; www.sailaway.co.za
Pafuri River Camp: Waller’s Camps. 082 785-0305; [email protected]; www.pafuri.co.za.
Kruger National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/Zombie Cucumber, Vilankulo: No bookings possible. 00 258 82 8049410; [email protected]; www.zombiecucumber.com
Blue Water Beach Resort: Bruce Turner 078 618 1969; [email protected];
Pafuri: Immigration: 013 735-6882/5777.
SAPS: 013 735-5777/9. Ask which vehicles have been passing through and from where
they have come – to find out who and what (if anything) is presently crossing the Limpopo.
Border hours: 08h00-16h00.
Giriyondo: SAPS 013 735-8930/1. Immigration 013 735-8919/21. Border times: 1 Aug to 30 April: 08h00 to 16h00. 1 May to 31 July: 08h00 to 15h30.
RSA Border Information Service:
Excellent website that includes all contacts and even has expected waiting times:
Anything about Mozambique: www.mozguide.com