The climax of your Mozambique holiday might well be spending time on a sandbar, far from shore. These sandy slivers only reveal themselves at low tide: peaceful, picturesque and altogether paradisiacal. An expedition to a sandbar to have a beach picnic and while away an idyllic day is a wonderful, off-the-grid experience.
Our tropical-island lodge in Mozambique overlooked the calm waters of a secluded bay. A long white beach curled into the distance, lapped by a turquoise sea. A deep channel led straight out to open water, allowing for swimming and boat-launching right off the beach. At low tide, I could make out a series of alluring sandbanks on the horizon.
From our cabana, tucked away under coconut-palm trees, my partner and I could step straight down onto white sand and into warm water. It was, in short, idyllic. So idyllic, in fact, that we whiled away our afternoons watching the play of light on the water from our huge, four-poster bed.
As you can imagine, it was hard to muster the energy for the dhow cruise to a remote sandbar. We actually considered skipping it and continuing our lizard lounging. I’m so glad we didn’t, because the trip to the sandbar turned out to be the highlight of our Mozambique holiday.
Late one morning, as the tide was going out, we went down to the beach in front of the lodge. We waded out to an anchored dhow and Vasco, our skipper, helped us aboard. As there was a gentle breeze from the right direction, Vasco decided to forego the engine and hoist the sail. The dhow was a fine vessel whose timbers had been worn to a silvery grey by sea and sun. It was about 12m long and had a triangular, lateen-rigged sail.
One of the crew pulled up the anchor and laid it on the foredeck. The lateen sail unfurled, billowed and set in a magnificent triangle of white cotton. The dhow cleaved away from the beach through water of a luminous turquoise colour that seemed otherworldly. Ahead of us, I spotted a low-lying, white shape. It looked a bit like an upside-down saucer.
‘Vasco, can you tell me how these sandbars are formed?’ I asked.
‘Certainly, senhor. They are natural phenomena where sand and sediment are transported by ocean currents and build up in certain areas,’ he said. ‘Sometimes they form close to the shore; at other times further out. Their positions are always changing, never the same, offering a unique destination every day.’
We crossed a stretch of open, dark-blue water, the dhow heeling to the wind. Vasco anchored us beside a particularly handsome, crescent-shaped sandbank.
We climbed over the side and stepped ashore – just like modern-day Robinson Crusoes – to play ‘castaway’ for a few delightful hours. While we swam, the crew set up a Bedouin-style tent complete with blankets, towels and pillows. Then they set out a true beach picnic spread that included oysters, prawns, octopus, mango salad and coconutty-roast chicken. It was pure island decadence.
The beach unfolded with the retreating tide, revealing a sugary spit. The thought that this experience would be slightly different for everyone who did it, never recreated exactly the same because of the shifting sands, reminded me how special this moment was. I cracked open an ice-cold Dois M beer … and life was pretty much complete.
The crew left us and sailed back to the lodge. Now we were truly marooned. It sent a thrill of delicious anxiety through me: what if they forgot to collect us on the rising tide?
My partner lay in the shade with a good book while I went snorkelling. Just a few metres from the sandbar, I came to a reef that thronged with colourful minnows. There were parrot fish, Moorish idols and clownfish. At one point, my mask was surrounded by a school of butterfly fish, their yellow shapes dancing just centimetres from my face.
Later, hand-in-hand, my partner and I took a walk around our little patch of paradise. The bleached white sand was coated with pansy shells (also known as sand dollars) and surrounded by crystal-clear water.
By now it was late afternoon and the tide was coming in fast. Our kingdom was shrinking by the minute. With some relief, I spotted the dhow returning, its white triangular sail gliding towards. In no time, the crew had dismantled our encampment and we were heading back to the lodge. Bottlenose dolphins joined us on the return journey, escorting us and playing in the dhow’s bow wave. Then, just as soon as they’d come, they disappeared into the deep.
Nearing our luxury Mozambican beach lodge, the dhow glided over a reef and I glimpsed the darting shapes of tropical fish just below the keel. Then our prow kissed the beach and we climbed over the side, thanking Vasco and his crew for a most magical sandbar day. There was just enough time to grab a shower and change before sundowner drinks followed by dinner, set up at our own private table on the beach under the tropical stars. What a day.