Harare to Morrungulo via Chicualacuala by X-Trail

Niall created the topic: Harare to Morrungulo via Chicualacuala by X-Trail

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Well I thought I had better post a trip report on this in case anyone else decides to give it a go. With all the Renamo shenanigans on the EN1 and road from Mutare to the coast at the End of February, my cousin Ruari and I decided to take the road less traveled and go via the Sango/Chicualacuala border post to the coast. There was no recent information on this route so we thought we would go and have a look.

The first stretch was from Harare to Gonarezhou via the Zaka road. This was fine apart from a few minor potholes closer to the Triangle end of the road. We got to Gonarezhou Chilojo campsite Number 1 without much issue, though we did need 4x4 to get over some of the steeper inclines getting over the cliffs towards Chilojo. It was hot, damn hot (47 deg C in shade), but the view made this little stop well worth it.

After some alternator trouble and a detour to Chiredzi we were on the road again and back in Gonarezhou with the intention of crossing the drift over the Runde near the National Parks main gate and taking the road down the outside of the park all the way down to Boli and from there down to Sango. This is where it started to get a little rough. While the rains had not really come properly this season, we were a little daunted by the Runde drift crossing in an X-trail. Upon seeing a pod of hippos on one side of the drift and an assorted collection of flatdogs on the other I decided that perhaps walking the drift first might not be such a great idea and so we just went for it.
The drift was mostly intact and the water was a lot higher than I was hoping for coming up about a foot and a half with a pretty constant current, but after a pretty rapid and bumpy ascent we were out of the river and onto the other side. I probably would not do this crossing again until winter.

The perimeter road started off fine with light corrugations and the occasional pothole. It steadily degraded and we managed a range of speeds between 30 Kmh and 60 Kmh. It took us about two and a half hours to get to Boli.

The road from Boli got a lot worse with more serious corrugations and potholes. It took us another couple of hours to get to Sango, so basically the whole morning on pretty rough roads for a soft roader. It would have been a lot worse if it had been raining. This route goes through the communal lands and so there are occasional villages along the way and the odd light vehicle going very slowly to one or another of them. Bottom line, if you don't mind taking it slowly this road is fine but uncomfortable.

The Sango border post was a bit of a pain because despite having my National ID and original log book for my vehicle the police chappie at the border (in mufti) was not inclined to let us pass without a police clearance letter. The only reason they could not give us a police clearance letter at the border was because they did not have the stationary, which we had also tried to acquire from Harare. We did not have enough fuel to come back the way we came and did not fancy our chances with the Runde crossing again. It took us five hours trying to make a plan to get one from Harare showing photos of the car and docs. There was no Econet data service out there and so we had to find someone to go across to Chicualcuala and get us a Movitel Sim Card and airtime so we could co-ordinate with Harare. Eventually after some incentivisation this chap called CID in Harare for clearance and we duly got through just before the border closed. A word of warning on this border post... make sure you have a police clearance letter on an official ZRP Light Vehicle police form as well as all your original log book and try to find the Engine and Chassis numbers before you get to the border or else you may be there for some time. These guys only get about five vehicles a day going through so they are quite happy to take their time. The customs and immigration people were quick and professional on both the Zim side and the Moz side, the only issue being that there was no place to get Seguro contra tercieros (Third party insurance) anywhere on the Moz side. (In fact this was impossible all the way down to Macia but that came a little later.)

Having got to Chicualacuala with no real plan for accommodation other than the knowledge that there was a railway hotel in the town we were relieved to find the HOTEL ESTAÇÃO and to find that it had vacancies. chicualacuala.wix.com/hotelestacao The owner Derick Lemmer was out of town and the staff were a bit disorganized to start off with, but as soon as we made our intentions clear they became a lot more helpful. They also had cold beer and hot food. We had rice, chicken and some ice cold beers for dinner that night. Isaac was particularly helpful and put us in touch with money changers and advised on local fuel and supplies availability. A twin room was MT 1000 for the night with a shared shower and loo. This was not such a salubrious establishment as it looked like it might once have been, but it was quite adequate and those icy cold Cervejas de Manica certainly helped us to unwind after the roads and border ordeal. Dinner was about MT200 each and the beers were MT50 each.

The town of Chicualacuala didn't have a lot going on. There is a church, a school, and the train station. We managed to change money at the hotel at a fair price and found that the only fuel in town was in little 2 litre chigubus at the local market. Also our alternator had packed up again and the local auto electrician did not look too hopeful. Fortunately, I had a couple of spare batteries and so we decided to push on to Mapai where we were told that there was fuel. The fuel station at Chicualcuala was still being built at the time we were there but it looked almost finished. Interestingly there are passenger trains three times a week from Bulawayo to Sango with NRZ (for about $10) and from Chicualacuala to Maputo with CFM (for about MT500). This might be a cool way to go for backpackers if it was timed right.

The road from Chicualacuala to Mapai was beautiful. We thought our days had rough riding corrugated and potholed roads were over. Sadly this was not to be the case.
After filling up with fuel at Mapai and failing to find an auto electrician, we decided to take a risk and push on to Chokwe with our three fully charged batteries, where we hoped to find an Autoelectrician to fix our suspected faulty Regulador and Rectificador. Not long after leaving Mapai we came across the beginnings of this half completed new road that is meant to connect Chicualacuala to Maputo and thus open up a road link for cargo from Zim to Maputo. Sadly, it seems that someone has pinched all the money for this as it remains half-finished to this day. There was a raised and graded section of the road with huge dumps of soil every hundred meters on one side, and a dirt track with big dips on the other…..and then it started to rain.

The rain that had been holding back for months this rainy season started to come down in droves. Very soon we were crawling along the road with no aircon (trying to save the battery) and no idea of where the potholes in the road might be. We drove into a couple and very soon the dips in the road were full of water and were every 100 meters or so. We tried to go round them wherever possible, but in some places we just had to gun it and drive right through. Now for a Landrover or a Landcruiser or some similarly built vehicle, this would not be a problem, but in an X-Trail it is a daunting manoeuver. We almost got stuck in a couple of these ponds. We pressed on through all this, changing our batteries out a couple of times, and eventually about 20km north of Chokwe, the roads began to return to some semblance of normality.

In Chokwe we managed to refuel and find a Hotel to stay in for the night. The Vilus Hotel was about USD $60 for a twin, had aircon and was very clean and well-appointed with ensuite bath and shower. There was a NGO conference going on at the time and we suspected it was the only place for miles of this standard. We also found an auto electrician (Ita) around the corner from the hotel who replaced our alternator with some parts scavenged from a couple of others for $100. Chokwe had a couple of nice restaurants and a Pizzeria as well as a couple of bars. It felt pretty safe and people were friendly.

The last thing on our to-do list before heading off to Xinavane (and our former family sugar estate) and then on to the coast was to acquire Third Party Car Insurance. This was finally done in Macia from Austral Seguros for only about $20 and from there on, our road troubles were behind us. Our Alternator issues continued however throughout our trip. Three alternators and about $500 later we decided to stock up on batteries for our return trip.

By the end of our two weeks at Xinavane, Tofo and Morrungulo, Renamo were still harassing vehicles on the EN1 and around Honde and Muxungue. The convoy system was proving to be little better than a bullet magnet at Muxungue and the general situation was all a little disappointing. There is nothing quite like a lead sedative to upset your whole morning and discretion being the better part of valour we decided to take an even more circuitous route on our way home. We returned via Maputo, Resano Garcia and Beitbridge, and the roads were perfect all the way. We stopped in Lydenberg for a couple of days on the way back where Falcon motors finally identified the root cause of our alternator problem and sorted it properly. I can’t recommend these guys highly enough. Ansie and her team were very friendly and professional, and went above and beyond to help us out, and the repairs were very reasonably priced. Jam Jar restaurant in Lydenberg was also well worth a visit for its excellent food and eclectic décor. The only issue we had was on the RSA side of the border at Beitbridge where customary irritation was the order of the day with long queues and such dense officials that their Mozambican and Zimbabwean counterparts looked positively first world in comparison.

We enjoyed this trip a great deal, even though the car issues were getting a little boring by the end (the root cause turned out to be two wires going into the alternator that had melted their plastic, probably up in Gonarezhou, shorting against the chassis and causing feedback into the alternators thus blowing the regulator diodes and stuffing the rectifiers.) The facilities in Moz, even in Maputo, were unable to diagnose or fix this issue. Despite these challenges, the Mozambican beaches were as pristine as ever and the beers cold and the peri peri prawns hot. The Indian Ocean was warm and the general atmosphere of amanhᾶ contributed to a very pleasant break from hectic Harare. Would I do this particular trip again? Probably not the route via Chicualacuala in an X-Trail in the rainy season. The South African detour was however a pleasant surprise and a very beautiful route through Mpumalanga’s mountainous landscape via Nelspruit and Lydenburg, with a stop at Hops Hollow craft brewery contributed to a very memorable holiday. The beach at Morrungulo, our eventual destination, is still the finest in the world as far as I am concerned, in high season or low season, it is very hard to find a better slice of paradise.

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Niall replied the topic: Harare to Morrungulo via Chicualacuala by X-Trail

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I can't seem to be able to load pics in this forum so if anyone wants to see pics of the road you can check them out in my shared pdf doc trip report...

onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=6CD1EE5191...Ec&ithint=file%2cpdf

Enjoy.

N

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mozman replied the topic: Harare to Morrungulo via Chicualacuala by X-Trail

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Thanks Niall (and cousin Ruari)

What an evocative, humorous and very informative trip report. Sometimes adventure can be a result of poor planning, but then good planning is for wimps (!?). You should sell this to Nissan as a promotion for the X-Trail, a vehicle that I have long held respect and admiration for. Your alternator troubles and the way that you attempted to solve them are on its own worth a short-story.

I know the route that you traveled quite well, and was, for a while, transported to those borders, quirky hotels, exasperating officials and smiling locals. Well done and if I had an award for "best attitude despite the odds", it would go to you two.

If you email them to me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., I will attach some of your photos to your story.

Respect and envy...

Mike

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