After a short nap, and meeting the rest of the family, it was decided that we were popping off to Te Arai late morning – the swells were going to be perfect.
Te Arai is on the east coast about an hour north of Auckland and, as the whole area, is known for its surfing.
We walked up a small white sand dune where Jess’s father is staring out onto the water. “I’ve been coming here for 40 years,” he said.
“Has anything changed?”
“Not really, just more people.”
“Well, it’s good they haven’t developed it at all.” I comment.
But there’s plans to, apparently. Te Arai is the last untouched ocean beach area in the region – it is home to endangered birds, threatened geckos, and a variety of fauna and flora – but there are currently plans in place to scrap the current zoning plans for development of a golf course, housing, restaurants. It is largely protested, so for now, Kiwis can enjoy the surfing, kayaking, and beachcombing they so love the beach for.
But the swell is crashing too hard, with nowhere to turn out. This will not be the beach. We head just down the road to Forestry. There’s even less people here; clumps of about 4 or 5 hang out prepping their boards, about fifteen dot the waves. There’s more roll out here, and after another five minutes of contemplation, we decide to stay.
Our week started in the beachside town of Tofo, Mozambique, where we were hoping to snorkel, surf, and sun worship for a few days but the weather turned from slightly cool to downright cold and rainy.
Instead of frolicking in the sun we were huddled underneath the extra comforters watching movies in our fleeces! It didn’t help that the chalet we were in had reed walls and the windows were nothing more than mosquito nets, so the whole place was windy and everything was damp. At this rate, we’d have preferred to be back in Vancouver with a nice warm fireplace and some delicious shawarma!
Whale Sharks and Sunshine
Luckily, the extended forecast promised sun, so we decided to stick it out, eventually wandering out to get to know the town, and we loved it! We’re really bad for comparing every beach experience to our paradise in Mexico, and while it was no Sayulita (scruffier with less atmosphere and more persistent hawkers), it was perfect to hang around for a couple of weeks (warm waters with lots of activities and a small beach town where you could get to know everyone pretty quick).
The highlight of the whole stay, as expected, came during our ocean safari, where we jumped in the ocean to swim with whale sharks and rays! (Never saw the rays though…they’re too damn quick). It was mind blowing to swim next to such a giant and be able to see it up close.
No Bribes to Speak Of
We left bright and early the next day (4:30am) determined to make it to the South African border and beyond. We were expecting to be stopped several times – we were told by two ladies that had just driven that particular stretch of road that it was notorious for cops stopping tourists for every possible (and often false) infraction to solicit a bribe – but we weren’t stopped once!!
They either ignored us, smiled and waved us through, or flat out motioned us on so they could get to someone behind us! For what we were expecting, it was bizarre but we were definitely relieved.
The Panorama Route
Eleven hours later we entered the Mpumalanga province in South Africa and it was like night and day. We could finally see why this is considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world! We drove the Panorama route and in the morning headed to Blyde River Canyon which was breathtaking and made us really glad we decided to detour and see it (read: Moreno was glad he listened when I insisted we see it as it was barely out of the way and likely more beautiful than the photos :P).
Touring South Africa
Next up: We’re newly rejuvenated and ready to continue our two week ‘tour’ of South Africa. We’ll be heading through Johannesburg to pick up some stuff and then heading to the coast via the Drakensberg Mountains!
The twelfth week took us from the sick bed on Lake Malawi, through an interesting border crossing into Mozambique, and onto the rainy coast of Tofo.
We were planning on leaving Lake Malawi right at the beginning of the week, but since Moreno fell ill, we knew we’d have to stay another day or so. Well, he did get better, but the next day, I caught a weaker version of the bug and it was my turn to spend the whole day in bed. (For those of you keeping track, the wife of the neighbor that was sick also got sick when I did…strange….We never did figure out what it was).
Crossing into Mozambique
We arrived at the Mozambiqueborder a bit hesitant: we weren’t sure about the safety of the roads or whether we’d actually be able to get a visa on arrival, as any guidebook we consulted or other traveler we asked had the same answer: “They don’t. Except sometimes they do.”
But everything seemed to be going good until I noticed that beside my photo on the visa, bold and in uppercase was MORENO’S full name. The BS and lack of formality in these places, I swear:
“Hi, sorry. This is his name. Not mine.” I walk up and politely point to the visa.
The official that clearly screwed up and forgot to change the name when he took my photo and printed my visa, stared at my passport for a few seconds, then asked to see Moreno’s (yup, that’s him), and then shuffled off to get his supervisor. The supervisor walked up.
“This is fine.” He said after a few seconds of pondering.
“Can you change it?” I ask, hesitant but still polite.
He shakes his head and looks deep in thought. “This is just how our computer works.” He lies.
“You cannot make a new one?” I don’t want to push, but I sure don’t want to take a chance with an incorrect visa.
“No.” He shakes his head. “That is how our system is.”
Right, so from hereonin, everyone that comes in a requests a visa will be named Moreno, till the end of time?
Moreno takes over as I start muttering under my breath. “That is a complete lie!”
“And if the police check, this will be ok?” Moreno asks. We had heard that the police are notorious for fining tourists for whatever they can.
“Yes, they see you together, it’s ok.” Uhhh…
“Can you just print up a new one? Unpeel this one, and stick a new one in?”
Moreno’s logic was just too much. The supervisor, looking defeated but hesitant, gets on the phone.
“My boss will be here soon. He will see. Take a seat.”
In the end, the boss came and disappeared into the back room where we had our photos taken to issue me a new visa like I expected them to do (a Western expectation perhaps) and they managed to peel off the incorrect one and stick in the new one, and that was that. *Phewf!*
Beaches of Bazaruto
By mid week, we were finally on the coast (and I’m happy to report we had no scary incidences and only got asked for a cold drink bribe twice). We got to the small town of Vilankulos, where our main task was to take a dhow (a wooden sailboat) around the Bazaruto Archipelago. And while the beaches in town lacked a bit of “come hither-ness,” the unspoiled islands were exactly the sort of beaches we were waiting for. We boated around (more on that later), swam and snorkeled, and came back very sunburned and very pleased.
But Vilankulos isn’t known as a very safe town, at night anyway, and staying at the lodge we once again felt like we were in a guarded off compound (we technically were), so while the girl that was managing the lodge took us around the town a couple of times and we got to see it, we were ready to move on to somewhere we could actually enjoy.
We arrived in Tofo, one of the three main beaches in the Inhambane peninsula and it seemed immediately to be what we were hoping for…with a small caveat: the weather had turned gloomy and no one was on the beach!
What’s next: We hang out here for a few days and wait for the sun to come back out. We’ll go from there.
When Vancouver leans towards summer, make memories at Locarno Beach.
While everyone flocks to the water at the peak of summer, the beauty of Vancouver’s beaches often lies in the ‘not-quite-beach-weather’ days.
It’s that typical Vancouver June weather – the city just starts leaning into summer, flip flops and tank tops and surf shorts are donned but the water isn’t breached by anyone other than excited dogs and fearless children. Picnics are set up but the mini BBQs are used as heat lamps for cold hands on chilly evenings. Vancouver beaches are made for this.
And though it is just another patch of the 20-kilometer stretch of sand that the city is fortunate to have, Locarno, sheltered from the main streets, feels like it’s all on its own, remote, comfortable – Locarno’s bliss is in its coziness.
The coziness of rocky coves and secluded strands of sand hidden behind rows of bush and tall cedars that act as private beaches when the tide is low. The coziness that’s made for the most nostalgic of summer memories: for those casual coffee dates spent chatting on a log watching the sunset, for group sing-a-long bonfires that go late into the night, and romantic moments flirting well into the sunrise.
And those memories are what summers are made of.
Locarno isn’t actually that small or remote – there’s loads of picnic tables, a dog park, and six volleyball courts, but it feeeeeeels cozy. And for all those ‘non-beachy-beach-days’ that Vancouver is so well acquainted with, feeling cozy around a bonfire is just right.