Why Ponta do Ouro is the most popular beach town
“In Ponta do Ouro you will be sure to find beautiful white beaches, dense dune forests, amazing diving and an ever-stretching azure sea. A traditional open air market, several “cantinas” (little shops) and eager curio sellers will quench your thirst for shopping before you make your way to one of the rustic restaurants in town.” ~ Mozambique Tourism
Some 500 years ago ‘Sao Gabriel’ the flagship of Vasco de Gama’s armada sailed the turquoise seas of the Indian Ocean. Through rather cruel conditions and craggy coastlines, those fearless men navigated dangerous voyages in unchartered waters.
But it was there, aboard that carrack with its gentle sloping bow, square-rigged lateen sails and astonishing black paintwork that those legendary Portuguese explorers named the village of Ponto Do Ouro (Point of Gold). However, legend reveals that the expedition may have been misinformed! Unfortunately, due to the inaccuracy of their map, upon arrival the crew soon learnt that the many sand drifts only deposited black titanium; there was in fact zero gold!
Ponta do Ouro lies across from the South African border opposite Kosi Bay, and today is known as a small frontier beach town. For decades though it was considered a no-man’s land and has only really been on the map since the 1960’s.
Chaotic criss-crossing routes of wind-blown sand roads govern the village and its surroundings, making it fit for only a 4×4 vehicle (There is safe parking at the border to park your car and it is possible to arrange a transfer into the village should you not have a 4X4). Depending on how one defines adventure, there was certainly some element of excitement for us amidst these neglected sand ways. And I say this with a far-away smile as I reminisce my first ever visit to such a soulful village to celebrate my birthday amongst good mates!
Soon after crossing the border in our white Toyota Fortuner (with trailer in tow) Natasha in low range gear undertook to align our vehicle in previously made tyre tracks. But we were faced with several challenges of no signboards for kilometres and crater sized potholes amidst this soft loose sand. My head striking the roof with crashing blows I whistled relief that it was not me driving. But Natasha did a stupendous job steering these criss-crossing paths with sufficient engine power to plane along the sand.
We made it into the village centre; elated we smiled as we stepped inside Fernando’s to enjoy a much needed refreshment. This tropical African scene completely decked out in wooden benches, cluttered memorabilia and famous for its R&R (rum & raspberry Sparletta) was my first taste of Ponta do Ouro. And next on our itinerary… we would soon be checking into Gala Gala Eco Resort. Or so we thought…!
Not even a kilometre from the resort the sand finally bogged us down, the trailer far too heavy. Five of us vacated the car, deflated the tyres and started pushing, but the vehicle would not budge! The whirring of silver rims spinning was digging deeper and deeper into the sand. We had no choice; we had to remove the trailer. Still no matter how much force we exerted this Fortuna was not budging, and by this stage many locals had joined in our rescue mission.
Hot, mucky, and exhausted we were on the brink of giving up! Then, Natasha suddenly cried “One final push guys, come on we can do it… one… two… three… push!” And miraculously, I still don’t know where this energy came from but the Fortuner slowly progressed forwards! We did it!
Finally here we were checking in at Gala Gala, and by its setting a lodge that is effectively in touch with its natural surroundings. On first surveyance, the tropical Moroccan style décor of the poolside ‘boma’ liberally landed my attention. A happy mix-and-match of sunset coloured cushions were scattered across outdoor lawn seats. While the centre piece comprised a deep bronze iron fire pot enveloped by the rim of a truck wheel. It’s a spot we became accustomed to many an evening after an eventful day. We would restfully gather around the burning wood-fire reflecting and laughing upon the day before sleep engulfed us.
The lodge has 3 private cabanas with en-suite facilities, 9 reed cabanas which have shared facilities and 10 camps sites which each have their own bathroom. Mandy Nel, co-owner says, “We have developed a space which promotes the fauna and flora of the area and is conducive to being alone and quiet but is also a great space for fun interactions in large groups.”
They are set up as a self-catering lodge, and don’t have a restaurant or bar. Mandy goes on to explain, “This is because we find it detracts from what we are trying to encourage in our space as an authentic escape. But we do offer catered packages for those who don’t want to cook for events and celebrations.”
‘Birdie’ enthusiasts will love the extensive birding list and that they are currently in a development phase of creating birding tours of the area. They also offer excursions to experience the local village, snorkelling opportunities and they work in conjunction with Blowing Bubbles Dive Operator for the diving enthusiast.
Before arriving in ‘Ponta’ I had already harboured my own perception from stories that this was a party town. But I was pleasantly surprised at its target for outdoor enthusiasts. And as an ‘outdoorsy’ type of person, I certainly planned to prosper on my opportunities…
So alongside my mates at Mango Tropical Café (which became our favourite daily haunt, with their fresh and well-presented food) we planned out a 4 day itinerary of activities, commencing the following day.
Day 1 (My Birthday Celebration):
Not yet light we set off early Saturday morning, approximately at 05h40 as we were not sure of the location of our destination. We were booked for 6am on a sanctuary to sanctuary dolphin encounter through Angie Gallun, Founder & Owner of Dolphin Encountours Research Centre in support of DolphinCare-Africa. But with one wrong turn after the other by 06h30 we were lost, and I was downright disheartened!
But alas out of nowhere Angie careened past us in her branded vehicle. With simultaneous whoops from our car she spotted us and chuckled. She said, “I sent you an SMS (none of us had our phones) as the encountour has been moved to 9am due to unconducive sea conditions…“ I beamed, and shouted “Yea”! We were heading out….
On time we sat down to our thorough briefing, where Angie emphasized, “This is not a ‘Flipper experience! These dolphins are wild. First timers, don’t cut your time short, spend a couple of days with us on a tour, just in case the dolphins are absent, or not feeling sociable on one of the days”. It is true that we are visitors in their territory, some dolphins choose to socially engage, others avoid contact, or perhaps they simply on another mission in their daily routine.
With both Angie and Mitchel Niemeyer, our captain, at a speed we broke shore, drenched from ramping wave after wave. I inhaled my coastal surroundings as we cruised by the 4 lower bays of Mozambique: Ponta do Ouro; Ponta Malongane; Ponta Madejanine; and Ponta Mamoli. The search was on…
It wasn’t long though, and we spotted our first pod of bottlenose dolphins (the in-shore variety). Nerves all of a sudden struck me with Mitch’s words, “Ok folk, it’s time to slide in”. I actually had to jump in this deep blue ocean, in the middle of no- where! My fingers clenched the side of the boat! But then I closed my eyes, released my fingers and silently slid in. There were moments of panic as first-timers were adjusting to the water. Angie offers good advice, “Practice some snorkelling before embarking on a dolphin encountour, also try and limit expectations. The dolphins will give what they give.”
It became evident to us that the more time we spent with Angie in the water, that following 20 years of swimming with them, she has developed a relationship built on love, trust and familiarity as they raced around her. She says’, I am just so honoured to know four generations of the dolphins of Ponta”.
Subsequently we were blessed with 2 further pods of dolphins which included Mindi and Kit, as well as Gilly with her son Gandalf and Bo’s little boy Blu. And each time swimming with them became more surreal, almost hallucinatory in this wonderland. Swiftly they glided in and out of us in almost a dance like state, the rest of the world muted except for the dolphin’s trill-like sound; I couldn’t get enough of this real-life ‘fantasia’ on my 37th Birthday!
This morning we were grateful for a little extra shut-eye time. Mandy, was taking us snorkelling and as low tide was only expected at approximately 11am it afforded us a relaxing start to the day.
Heading out just past Ponta Mamoli, the picturesque route previewed us a glimpse of a series of interconnected lakes, which is home to a diverse eco-system. Travelling along we were surprised by numerous ‘traffic jams’ along the way, and by this I mean a couple of 4×2’s getting stuck in the one lane sand road. Of course this ensued in a pile-up on either side of the vehicle, but we had plenty of time on our hands.
Once parked, with picnic baskets in hand we strolled towards the beach, approximately a 500m walk to where we would swim. Of course, snorkelling was top priority, and eating would come later.
With low tide the untouched beach was scattered with large enclaves of rock pools, allowing for much discovery. The water fairly warm and with much aquatic extravaganza I disappeared for close on 2 and a half hours. I was elated when Mandy pointed towards a crevice as she spotted a lionfish. A fascinating fish with its display of venomous spiky fin rays and fan-like pectoral fins, it’s commonly known as an expert predator. They are also known to ambush their prey and once cornered they swallow it in one single motion.
Following this Mandy also directed my attention towards the rare sighting of a juvenile semicircular angelfish. Different from the lionfish in that it is an omnivore and feeds off of both crustacean species and marine algae.
My day had concluded well with these two flagship sightings, and exhausted from both sun and sea we headed back up the coast.
Eager to tick off a long-standing bucket-list activity, Mandy booked both Natasha and I for a surf lesson with Spig’s from @ Surf’s Up, c/o Beach Bar.
Obviously excited, but as time neared I anticipated powerful grasps of the ocean waves ricocheting me in somersault motions, and swallowing copious amounts of sea-water. But on the contrary our low tide session produced no beating about from the waves. With average conditions, Spigs patiently exclaimed, “What is important when learning is that we don’t want to be ‘dumped’ by a wave! We are looking for a rolling wave that’s not huge but rolls along enough to get our feet and then we slide along.”
Tash and I certainly had an hour of amusement trying to glide our long pink soft top boards through the surf, continuously having a giggle at each other; elated when we nearly stood for but a second. If there is one connected variable in surfing it is that the size of the learner surfer’s smile, and that of a seasoned pro-surfer, is in fact identical!
Spigs has been a diving instructor and charter skipper since 1994, and teaching surf lessons since 2010. Finishing off with a drink from Beach Bar, Spigs enlightens us, “Surfing to me is the most challenging of all board sports, no two waves will ever be the same and no two days will ever be the same. It is constantly changing, dynamic and it takes practice! I surf because it’s what I love to do! And sharing what I love is important to me!”
With all these water sports done, on our last day we decided quad biking was the way to go. It was interesting how it gave us a completely different perspective of being more in touch with ‘Ponta do Ouro’. With this freedom to explore we could clearly see the daily movements and interactions of the locals. As well as the influences and detail of the Portuguese architecture, and the fine characteristics of the round Zulu huts and square Changana huts. One thing was evident though and that is that the remnants of the civil war are still throughout.
Following Mozambique’s Independence Day from Portugal on 25 June 1975, their economy was left in disarray. In addition the eruption of the Mozambican Civil War destroyed the remaining wealth and left many homes in absolute disrepair, and many of the people still live in squatters and unfinished homes.
In convoy we traversed the many traditional restaurants and bars of ‘Ponta’ each with its own array of cocktails, rugga type music and personal touches. Starting at Jenny’s with its dark wooden deck leading on to a spectacular and wide open view of the entire coastline. For the very energetic, one can climb down 178 stairs to an unspoilt beach for a quick dip in the ocean (But remember what goes down must come up).
Next up was Jack’s, a simple thatch canopy with beach sand flooring, (and only one rule which is to take off your shoes) overlooks the sand dunes of Ponta Malongane. Last on our agenda but by no means least was Come to See a rustic venue all in white which is famous for its golden sunsets over the surrounding Lake Sugi.
Notable of all these bars and restaurants from Ponta do Ouro to Ponta Malongane is that the music doesn’t stop once the sun goes down… the vibe just jazzes on!
I realised that despite all of its poverty Ponta do Ouro is a special place where crime is virtually non-existent and residents live intimately with their native wildlife. Its people really make it work and entrepreneurship has become a way of life for them.
Now satisfied I had seen and experienced many aspects of Ponta do Ouro, and that Gala Gala Eco Resort had provided me with the necessary environment I had craved to escape the hustle, bustle and techno world. I had successfully managed to live my days tranquilly in every moment of ‘Ponta’.
Ponta do Ouro holiday ideas
To book a dolphin experience visit Dolphin Encounter Research Centre.