Going off the beaten path at Mozambique’s Ponta do Ouro
By Whitney James
My travels have taken me near and far these past few years. The top of Australia’s Sydney Harbor Bridge at sunset, swimming with wild dolphins off the shores of the Galapagos Islands, and most recently mountain biking to a remote waterfall in the mountains of Colombia. But what makes travel so special isn’t just epic destinations or experiences—it’s the people and cultures who bring them to life. For this, there is one place that stands out in my memory. Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique.
Roughly a five-hour drive from the nearest airport (Durban in South Africa or Maputo in Mozambique), Ponta do Ouro sits just above the South African border and is named “tip of gold” in Portuguese after the pristine stretch of sand that extends out from the southern side of the beach. I was lucky enough to spent the weekend here during a month-long trip to southern Africa a few years ago. My boyfriend grew up in Durban, but had never been to Ponta. He was lured by a rumor of a nice little wave that peeled off edge of the golden cape. All he had to tell me was that dolphins often play in the wave, and I was on board.
With my boyfriend’s family in tow, we piled into the cars with a whole bunch of surfboards but not much of a plan. We knew we would leave the rental car at the border (a sketchy endeavor in itself), hitch a ride to the beach house, and get really, truly off the map for maybe the first times in our lives.
It was to be uninterrupted, beachy bliss authentically off the grid.
We spent the next three days lounging on the beach, attempting to stand-up paddleboard along the shoreline (much to the amusement of the neighborhood kids), and shopping the markets just down the street from our beach house. We clamored aboard a skiff in search of dolphins, watched a local fishing competition transpire in the bay, and commissioned an intricate hand-crafted wooden 4×4 from an artist meant to look like my truck at home. Evenings were spent watching kiteboarders chart miles back and forth over the bay, sipping on frosty Savannas (a cider drink the locals enjoy year-round), and feasting on fresh seafood and fruit smoothies.
Now a few years later, I can still see the gleaming smiles of the vendors saying yes, of course I could take their photo, and hear the sounds of the the fishermen launching their boats into the surf by hand. I had never been to a place that felt so wonderfully far from home; where not a syllable was understood between myself and the locals, replaced instead by the universal language of smiles, laughter, and gestures, with the occasional pointing at items on the menu and nod of the head.
With any luck, the sandy access roads and sheer enormity of distance required to get to Mozambique from North America mean it will be almost impossible to blow up the spot in coming years. But even if Ponta do Ouro becomes more popular for us tourists, it will always remain that perfectly unspoiled place on the Indian Ocean in my memory. Just as it should be.