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When an invitation appeared in my Inbox to visit Mozambique, I was hesitant at first. Not being much of a beach person but more of a bush gal, I pored over the itinerary and would definitely need some convincing. But when I saw that Nicky Arthur was the host, I knew that this would be too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Our journey from Cape Town to O.R. Tambo International airport starts at 5am. Upon arrival at O.R Tambo International, we are met by Nicky at the Airlink counter where a friendly ticket agent checks our luggage in and issues us with our boarding passes. We join the queue through security and passport control and meet up again at the boarding gate. The bus delivers us on the tarmac right next to the plane and as I negotiate the five steps into the Embraer ERJ 135-LR cabin, I am surprised with how spacious it is inside the aircraft. With a maximum of 37 passengers, a single row of seats on the one side, a double row on the other, you will never feel squashed.
Doors closed, the captain starts the engines and after a short taxi, we are up in the air. Reaching an altitude of 36,000 ft and a cruising speed of 800 km/h, we are soon well on our way to Pemba, Mozambique. During the 2 hour 50 minute Airlink flight, we are presented with a delicious in-flight meal and a very welcome beverage.
Stepping off an air-conditioned aircraft into the blistering heat and humidity at Pemba airport can be overwhelming, so dress appropriately (light and airy clothing) and have your bottle of water handy at all times.
We are assisted through customs and passport control and out the other side by an Azura representative, fast-tracking the process of getting us going for the third leg of our journey. We are met by the two pilots from CR Aviation, who usher us into the waiting Cessna 208B Caravan I. A short turn and taxi on the runway and the plane bursts into life as it takes off into the blue sky. From my window seat I am completely mesmerized by the views of the islands and the crystal-clear water. Soon we land at Quirimbas, where we drop off two honeymooners and take off again to our destination – Ibo Island.
Steeped in antiquity, Ibo Island is a must-see for the historian in you. Situated in the far north-east of Mozambique, you can sense the turmoil that took place here, dating back to the year 1600. The Arab influence recorded earlier turbulence, with the influx of traders using the coastline to create fortified trading posts. From this port of call, slaves, gold and ivory got shipped to the Arab world.
A visit to the fort of St Joao Baptista has you witnessing the fine art of hand crafted jewelry being made by a local silversmith, using ancient Arab technique sand tools. During a guided stroll through Stone Town, you will notice many buildings in ruins while others have been lovingly restored.
Dhow safaris are all the rage and clambering on to the deck of this vessel gives you a bird’s eye view of your liquid surroundings. Whether you fancy breakfast on an exposed sandbank or a swim with the dolphins, this can all be arranged. According to Nicky, the experience of snorkeling in the underwater marine world is remarkable and seeing dolphins mate right beneath her surprised her as much as it did them. Another highlight was snorkeling around the century-old coal steamer’s shipwreck and seeing the different types of corals.
Ibo Island Lodge is the place to stay if you want to rest your head where rooms date back over 100 years and have been sensitively restored.
Excitement is evident as we board the dhow and are collected in the middle of the ocean by speedboat. We are heading to Azura Quilálea in the Quirimbas Archipelago. Upon arrival, we are met quayside by the management team, Claudia Pellarini-Joubert, Leon Joubert and our butler, Ferai. We are offered cool refresher towels and while our luggage is whisked to our rooms, we are given welcome drinks in coconuts.
Claudia discusses our itinerary with us and once we’re done, I scurry off to my room at breakneck speed to attempt to look presentable. The tropical climate has taken its toll on me and I need to cool down.
My front door is ‘locked’ with a wooden beam that has a beautifully carved out elephant on it. As I open the front door of my Villa, I am met by the most spectacular sight of all the mod cons I could wish for on an island 11 degrees south of the Equator.
After a refreshing shower, I feel somewhat human again and inspect what my accommodation has to offer. A king size bed with a mosquito net, an air conditioner, a bookshelf with some books should you get bored (that will never happen!), a desk to sit by if you wish to mail a postcard to yourself or loved ones back home, a seating area in the corner, some more chairs, an inclusive mini-bar, a coffee-making station, a bathroom with double vanities, shower, powder room and at the end of the bed an ice bucket with a bottle of French champagne! You would think that’s plentiful – but there’s more! I open the doors to my veranda and wow – I have my own beach! Plus an outdoor shower, some loungers and a daybed. Could this get any better? Yes!
The food here is beyond compare. Our first night’s dinner is served on the beach and pre-dinner drinks are Piña Coladas. On the menu is sweet potato & coconut soup, chef Julio’s shrimp and avocado with Quirimba island sauce for starters. For main course, there is a choice between baobab mangrove crab curry or Portuguese rump steak. For dessert the chocolate cheesecake is a winner!
A great night’s sleep beckons and I awake early the next morning to take a walk around the island. The birds are twittering about and a hermit crab scampers across my path. Breakfast with delicious cappuccinos is served, sliced fruit plates and an enormous variety of hot options – from bacon to baked beans.
Today is scuba diving or snorkeling day. While the scuba divers are kitted out by Claudia and Leon, I opt for a spa treatment ‘too much fun in the sun’. My therapist, Alima, goes to work and lathers my sunburnt back with the wonderfully soothing TheraNaka hydrating Aloe Ferox gel. She wakes me up so that I can wash the remaining product off my skin under the outdoor shower. Back in the Spa, she proceeds to send me back into a lull with the application of TheraNaka African recharge body oil.
Fresh from her scuba with the consummate professional scuba instructor pair Claudia and Leon, Nicky reports that scuba diving off the house reef is something extraordinary – they saw turtles, ribbon eels and fish nurseries.
This afternoon, we will be enjoying a picnic lunch at Turtle Beach. After a scenic walk, we are met with the phenomenal view of four bean bags placed on the beach and behind that, a table laid to perfection. The menu kicks off with avocado & lime soup, followed by spinach & pomegranate with feta and the most mouth-watering grilled prawns & lime espetada and chicken wraps with roast vegetable cous cous. For ‘sweet endings’ the juiciest fruit kebabs, made up of watermelon, mango, melon and kiwi fruit are served.
A dip in the ocean concludes our picnic and as we head back, we notice a storm brewing on the horizon. Our secret location dinner is cancelled due to the weather and instead a glorious feast is served in the jellyfish restaurant, comprising of the most spectacular mix of seafood – prawns, lobster tail, crab claws and for the carnivores there is grilled fillet of meat. Dessert is mini banana tempura bites with vanilla custard & chocolate sauce or sorbet.
Sunrise on our last day is a sight to behold – golden hues peer out from the edge of the horizon. After breakfast, we go on a low tide marine adventure walk on the exposed substrate to experience the array of marine critters and bird life. We take a quick dip in the cove off the beach where dozens of crabs are climbing up the rocks as the tide hasn’t come in yet.
It is time to check out and after a brief lunch, we make our way to the waiting speedboat for our 20-minute transfer to Quirimbas island. We are taken to the airstrip by Land Rover where the same two pilots from CR Aviation collect us for our flight of fancy back to Pemba airport. Down below, the mangroves, palm trees and islands beckon. The azure colour of the water looks so inviting that I make a silent promise to return again. This was paradise uncovered.
Airlink – the Regional Feeder Airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA. | Route Specific Information: Direct scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Pemba, Northern Mozambique. | Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travelers connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world. | Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways Loyalty programme – Voyager. www.flyairlink.com | Flight Bookings: Online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations on +27 11 978 1111. For transfers by air in Mozambique, your best option is CR Aviation. For destinations in Mozambique, visit their website http://www.craviation.co.mz/en
WHERE TO STAY:
Ibo Island Lodge on Ibo Island is the perfect choice if you wish to spend time surrounded by history. http://www.iboisland.com/ | Azura Quilálea can only be described as heaven on earth. Part of Azura Retreats, it is clear why they are the preferred choice of accommodation. http://www.azura-retreats.com/azura-quilalea/ | It is a great idea to plan a combination trip to Ibo Island and Azura Quilálea as you will experience the best of both worlds. This can be booked via Ibo Island on firstname.lastname@example.org / Tel: +27 21 7852657 or via Azura Retreats on email@example.com / Tel: +27 11 4670907.
*** Thank you to Lee-Ann Morrison from Nicky Arthur for making all the arrangements.