Ben, my travel companion, and I set off from Harare at 5 am on Friday 15th November with the goal of assessing the alternative routes to Archipelago Resort, Vilanculos.
We travelled to Chivu, where we turned left on to the Gutu road. At the t-junction of the Masvingo
– Birchenough Bridge road we turned left & travelled for 2kms, then turned right at the service station and took the Zaka-Buffalo Range road to Triangle. That journey took 4 hours and was found to be a much quieter and safer route than the Chivu-Masvingo road.
We stopped to investigate potential accommodation at the Triangle Club. They have 44 rooms with twin-beds, and some of the rooms have inter-leading doors. All have refurbished bathrooms ensuite. There is DSTV and AC in every room. They are clean & comfortable. There is an a la carte restaurant. Monday through Thursday rooms $80 per night, Friday through Sunday they are $25.
From Triangle, we proceeded on the Triangle-Ngundu road for approximately 10 – 12 kms, after which we turned left onto the gravel road and travelled 54kms through Nuanetsi Ranch to Mbizi Siding. We then turned left and travelled to Sango on the Rutenga-Sango Road for 120kms. This road is good, all-weather but is slightly corrugated. 80 kms/hour was an acceptable speed. It took 2hours to get from Triangle to Sango. Both the Zimbabwean and Mozambican sides of the Sango Border Post are modern, clean and efficient. Please note: You cannot get visa or third party motor insurance at this border post.
We proceeded to the Chicualacuala railway station hotel, which is run by a South African called Derek (+258 827 286 701 / +258 826 311 772). The rooms, which sleep 2, are basic but clean; they have fans but no AC. The ablutions are communal: cubicle shower room and separate toilet. The rate was 1000mets / night (approximately $30).
The Chicualacuala Railway Station Hotel By then it was 3 o’clock and we decided that it was too early for us to stop so we decided to carry on our journey. This was naive as there was no where else to stay until Xai Xai. The distance to Xai Xai is 450kms. This route is definitely off-limits, as there are numerous wash-aways & detours.
However, I was surprised to find 3 major civil construction companies building the whole route from Chicualacuala to Chokwe. Obviously this road is to attract export freight to Maputo. When completed, this will be a lovely route for tourists to travel on their way to Xai Xai, which is on the main Maputo-Beira highway. We found accommodation for the night at 1 a.m. !
The following morning after breakfast, we got onto the EN1 heading north for Vilanculos. We drove approximately 500kms on an excellent highway with spectacular views of the inland lakes.
Ben and I loved our afternoon at Archipelago Resort, and we treated ourselves to a sumptuous seafood platter for dinner! The following morning, we proceeded to the Mabote junction on the EN1, which is by the village of Maphinhane. This junction is approximately 30kms south of Tambara, the turn off to Vilanculos.
We drove for 110kms at approximately 80kms/hr on a good, wide, all-weather road to Mabote, passing en-route a South African construction unit installing new gas pipes and a Chinese construction unit installing overhead telecom cabling.
This village has cell phone signal, and I would recommend setting up Econet roaming before you leave Harare.
We proceeded through the town heading towards Machaila. The 145km section from Mabote to Machaila is varied; parts of the road are narrow and sandy, other parts have Mopane forests which create dips. This section is slow, approximately 40kms/hour and you have to be careful about oncoming traffic. The driver must be vigilant and experienced. We travelled this road without having to use our four-wheel drive, however in the rainy season, I would recommend parties to travel in pairs, with at least one vehicle with 4 wheel drive and the other with high ground clearance.
It took us three and a half hours to get to Machaila, where there is a police station and supermarket. En route, we found the villagers to be friendly and helpful. From there, we took the road to Mapai (“Pafuri”). This road is an all-weather, wide gravel road, however it is being repaired in several places along the way, and requires vigilance. This section is approximately 120kms and we travelled at 80 kms/hour.
Arrived Mapai and filled up the car at their new service station. We drove the 86kms back to Chicualacuala and the Sango Border Post, after which we proceeded towards Chiredzi, where at the Lundi River, the bridge is down. For this reason, we went into Chipinda Pools, which is beautiful and stocked with animals, and would make an excellent place to stop on your way there or back. It’s approximately 110kms from the border to Chipinda, on good, all-weather gravel road. For those overnighting, these are the tariffs:
Tented camp: $70/per tent per night or $90 per tent if more than two people. Each tent sleeps six people, is serviced, and a cook can prepare your food. Campsite: between $10 & $15 / person / night. Conservation & vehicle fees also required.
We returned to Harare via the same route and arrived at 10 p.m. on Sunday night. Whew! Geoff