• Richard Brown

Sensational Sava

Sava Dunes, a luxury eco lodge near Inhambane in Mozambique, is serene, secluded and ideally situated for all kinds of ocean adventures

I’ve been diving on the Mozambican coast since I was tall enough to strap a cylinder on my back, but never have I enjoyed staying anywhere in Mozambique as much as I did at Sava Dunes, a new eco lodge located between Tofo and Barra.

Oui, Sava!

When I arrive at Sava Dunes on a warm but pleasant June day, lodge managers Sam and Keanan Houareau offer to show me around the recently revamped lodge (formerly called Blue Footprints under previous owners).

The first seaside offering in Sun Destinations’ stable is sufficiently secluded so that the stretch of sand in front of the lodge is virtually an unofficial private beach, but also close enough to both Barra in the north and Tofo in the south that a walk to either is possible. Five off-grid and wholly solar-powered suites look out over the warm waters of the Indian ocean, and each has a private deck complete with a hammock so comfortable that I would lose hours in its embrace over the following days. The room itself is comfortable with beachy decor and plenty of light streaming in, a big feathery double bed and en-suite bathroom with large shower.

It might be June, but it’s hot enough for me to seek some reprieve from the heat in Sava’s sparkling pool.

That relief is doubled when I sidle up to the sleek sliding windows of the swim-up bar, and gladly accept an ice-cold 2M beer from ever-smiling barman Luis Domingos Santos.

It feels positively paradisiacal here; like some far-off tropical island. Palm trees, thatched canopies and inviting wooden loungers surrounding the pool only add to the island-like ambience. While I cool off, the sounds of Sava are further balm to a city dweller’s soul. The ocean’s relentless and reassuring drone is complemented by Luis’s selection of chilled local tunes emanating from the bar, while frequent chirrups can be heard from the prolific population of dark-capped bulbuls and tropical boubous that flit about the sour fig and other emerald shrubbery that cover the dunes around Sava.

Plunge into paradise

The next day I rise early, as there is adventure on the cards. Keenan is so kind as to give me a lift into Tofo, where I sign up for a deep dive with Liquid Dive Adventures, a well-oiled Finnish-owned dive charter in Tofo.

The manager, a lanky South African with a strong Scottish accent having spent some time there, informs me that there’ve been multiple sightings of manta rays and whale sharks in the last week.

Once I’ve managed to shimmy and squeak myself into a wetsuit, we receive a quick safety brief and then boat our way towards Giant’s Castle – named after the popular Drakensberg peak because of the reef’s colossal wall, along which four big ‘cleaning stations’ (where all kinds of marine animals wait their turn to be cleaned by swarms of smaller fish and crustaceans) present the opportunity to get a glimpse of variety of larger aquatic life.

‘Right, remember we are doing a negative entry, everyone! Have fun, and keep your eyes peeled! Regulators in, masks on! 3… 2… 1… go!’ comes the nasal instruction from the divemaster who already has her mask secured to her face. I somersault off the boat into a blue world. I haven’t yet reached the bottom when a silvery stripe whips past: a barracuda with menacing dentistry on full display.

We’re doing a drift dive, meaning we enter the reef at the south end and let the current slowly drift us along the massive wall towards its north end. Near the second cleaning station I encounter frogfish, a lionfish – its array of slender spines on deadly display – and a gorgeous honeycomb eel peeking its head from a hole.

I’m trying to get a good photo of the rarely seen frogfish when, annoyingly, clouds obscure the sun and I lose the necessary light needed to get a picture at 25 m depth. I look up. Turns out the ‘clouds’ are two enormous manta rays passing above our heads. The under-water flyers have wingspans of four metres, and they plunge everything they swim over into shadow. Astonished at the sight of these graceful creatures, the frogfish is instantly forgotten and I try and capture the manta silhouettes, but without much luck. I follow the big rays for a while, until I lose them in the blue haze.

We ascend and do a safety stop at five metres, and I keep my eyes peeled for whale sharks. Instead, a huge school comes torpedoing past, flying so fast that I barely have time to identify them as giant trevally. Their powerful tails propelling them at enormous speed.

Faan Daaning

Back on land, we celebrate our good diving luck with a 2M and an exquisite dim sum lunch at Sumi, a wonderful little Japanese restaurant in Tofo. Later, I hike the eight-or-so kilometres along the beach back to Sava, and spend the rest of the afternoon hammock-locked and buried in a book, until I’m summoned for supper.

One of the many highlights of a stay here is the food. Keenan, a qualified chef and co-manager of Sava, oversees the kitchen and prepares dishes so delectable and fresh that it would ruin all other seafood restaurants for you forever. Keenan spears or catches each night’s fare off the reef directly in front of Sava every morning, or buys it straight off the boat at either Barra or Tofo.

‘Chicken or lobster for you this evening?’ he inquires. Of course, I don’t have to think very long on that choice. Naturally, I opt for the lobster. If you’re going to have lobster anywhere, it’s here. It doesn’t disappoint, either. The meat, although firm, practically falls out of the shell at the slightest encouragement, and – with an accompanying lemongrass and butter sauce – it melts in the mouth.

Unbelievably, the plates drifting from the kitchen to my table during the rest of my stay only get better. Expertly prepared, and with subtleties and nuances one could expect from the finest fine-dining establishments (complete with sorbet palate cleansers between courses), guests at Sava dine like royalty.

I spend the rest of the week getting a vitamin D fix on Barra’s sprawling beach, swimming in the ocean in front of Sava, snorkelling with dolphins on an ocean safari, perusing the colourful markets of Tofo and, of course, spending more time at my favourite swim-up bar at Sava or swinging in my hammock.

If you need to get out of the rat race for a bit and recharge those batteries, the serene seclusion of Sava will set you straight, and if it gets too quiet, the array of adventures on offer in these parts will definitely keep you occupied.

Know this

• Sava Dunes is situated on the Inhambane coastline, north of the seaside hub of Tofo (5.5 km) and close to the south of Barra beach (1.5 km).

• The lodge sleeps 10 people total (five suites), and rooms can either be a double or twin configuration.

• Book your stay by calling +27 21 712 5284 or mailing reservations@sundestinations.co.za or visiting savadunes.com

Liquid Dive Adventures

• Book a dive with Liquid Dive Adventures (the staff at Sava Dunes can assist in this regard).

• Diving, snorkelling, ocean safaris, kayaking and surfing are available through Liquid. Various dive courses (through PADI) are also available.

• They also have 11 ocean-font chalets, with all the amenities a diver could need, and only two-minutes’ walk from bustling Tofo market and restaurants.

• Call or WhatsApp + 258 84 82 76 026, mail info@liquiddiveadventures.com or visit liquiddiveadventures.com

Images cred: Em Gatland

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