The helicopter flies over azure seas with mangrove-edged islands a contrast in green. It looks like the Maldives, Tahiti or The Seychelles, but it is none of those. We are in Mozambique and our minds are about to be officially blown.
We are flying from the beachside city of Pemba to Azura Quilalea Private Island, one of the southern most islands in the Quirimbas Archipelago. On the short flight, we marvel at the network of reefs in a patchwork of turquoise and swoop into land on our home for the next few days.
Azura Quilalea Private Island, Mozambique is the perfect partner for a safari, with guests able to truly relax after the perennial quest for sightings in the game parks. The very eco-friendly island has nine villas hosting 18 guests in absolute luxury. My villa is steps away from the water, the house reef my playground several times a day. This island has the only house reef in Mozambique, and being in a marine sanctuary, the array of coral and fish is quite astounding. I also have a plunge pool and day beds for further chilling out, and I can feel myself totally relaxing for the first time in months.
Diving is a popular activity for guests and the friendly water activities staff, led by the ever-smiling Preddy, conduct guided snorkelling tours should you want to go further than the reefs around the island. There are a number of other activities, including a sunset sail in an authentic dhow. We step on board the locally owned and built vessel and enjoy a pina colada as the sun drops towards the horizon with a vibrant orange glow.
We also choose to do a tour to nearby IBO (it stands for ilha bem organizada or ‘well organised island’). The short helicopter ride gives a great aerial view of neighbouring Quirimbas Island before landing at IBO, a gaggle of shoeless local children coming to the sole airport building to say ola. Azura guests have a private tour, and during our time on the island we hear about its past with Arab, Dutch, Indian, and Chinese settlers that sailed through using it as a base and learn about its colonisation by the Portuguese. The once grand buildings were left untouched when the Portuguese up and left, the crumbling walls now doing battle with vegetation. Highlights of the island are Vasco de Gama’s house, the Pentagon-shaped fort and the traditional silversmiths who create beautiful jewellery before your eyes.
Back on ‘our’ island, we follow a lantern trail and enjoy a magnificent meal under three of the island’s 58 baobabs that are aged between 1,000 and 3,000 years old. On another occasion tables for two are set up on the beach, spaced suitably apart to offer everyone privacy, but all guests enjoy pre-dinner drinks together at the poolside bar first, where bartender Timatao shakes up killer pina coladas that are the best I have ever had.
At the table under lantern light, sand between my toes and the sound of waves caressing the beach, I can see why many guests keep coming back here and stay at least a week. If only I could have stayed that long, as this place really stole a piece of my heart.
Photography by Azura Quilalea Private Island and Helen Hayes.
WHERE TO STAY
Azura Quilalea Private Island in Mozambique: A real jewel in a wonderland of coral reef sand baobabs. azura-retreats.com
Pemba: Avani Pemba Beach Hotel & Spa is right on the coast and its Arabic style is divine. avanihotels.com
To book a stay at Azura Quilalea Private Island, go through Classic Safari Company. They can look after every aspect of your trip and can add other African locations including The Serengeti. classicsafaricompany.com.au