Malagasy fisher folk who camp overnight rather than row their wooden pi-rogues to a neighbouring Mitsio Island.Pictures: Adrian Rorvik
Malagasy fisher folk who camp overnight rather than row their wooden pi-rogues to a neighbouring Mitsio Island.Pictures: Adrian Rorvik
I sighed - a lot. Lamentably my departure from the dot on the map that is Constance Tsarabanjina coincided with a (free) birdwatching tour, though I had spied and heard a good few previously unknowns while on this idyllic island resort off the mainland of Madagascar.

One of the rarest raptors, the critically endangered Madagascan fish eagle, could be seen soaring overhead. So too the greater frigate birds and Indian Ocean icon, the white-tailed tropic bird. The splendidly crimson little fody male and fiercely territorial white-throated rail were frequent visitors to my beachfront villa, dipping in the bath meant for removing beach sand from your feet.

On an island walking tour we were delighted by the Malagasy kingfisher and the rock formations and met the only other, temporary, residents - fisher folk who camp overnight rather than row their wooden pi-rogues to neighbouring Mitsio Island. There are others on the island, though our guide was loath to take us to the burial ground on the rocky headland where bodies are not interred but lie exposed.

It took about an hour to walk around the island and it took me about the same to swim around it with fins, enjoying the abundant sea life and giving turtles their space.

Lounging about, though there is a beach volleyball court and shaded table tennis, seems the most popular land-based activity among Europeans working on their tans, but snorkelling and scuba diving in the ridiculously clear and calm sea are the main water-based activities.

Dive courses are a great way to make the most of your stay. Constance Tsarabanjina incorporates a partnership with Akio (shark) Diving, headed by vastly experienced Riccardo Bonvissuto, with Daniele Monti as his lieutenant.

I’m not the most experienced diver but have travelled with a jaded dive magazine editor who, contrary to his contrary nature, was very impressed with Madagascan dive sites, conditions and operations.

Riccardo heartily agrees. When he arrived in 2010 he thought: “Wow! This looks like the Maldives did 35 years ago - before El Nino - with coral gardens so unspoiled, so virgin.”

What’s great is that, apart from the odd passing yacht, you will never have other divers dropping in.

There are 10 dive spots ranging in distance from a swim away to within 18 minutes by boat, with a further four within an hour and several further off.

If you want to learn, Akio offers an array of courses and even rents out GoPros for any activity or excursion. I can’t think of an easier place to get started.

Down among the turtles, with massive shoals of fish obscuring our grinning faces and lobster, mantis shrimp, stingrays and much more - in volumes - I thought my dive computer was broken as it registered 30ºC while we explored the reefs in the mildest of currents.

What a pleasure. My only regret - and cause for another sigh or two - is that I could not partake in a night dive as my flight home was the following day (a health risk).

Nobody wanted to catch that flight. Group sighs!

Resort manager Henri Arnulphy and staff waved us off as our boat left the beach for Nosy Be Island.

We reminisced on the boat ride and while awaiting our departure and more seasoned travellers than me opined that Constance Tsarabanjina was top of the pops. André and Conny Lessing, having just enjoyed their second visit, were seriously contemplating a third within a year.

Then it was back to Jozi and a different kind of five star - D’oreale Grande at Emperors Palace. So convenient with shuttles to and from the airport. I reflected over dinner at Aurelia’s, where I’ve had the best kudu steak ever, but chose seafood, naturally.

Their grilled sole is outstanding and helped to keep me in the island spirit, before a restful sleep, brekkie (D’oreale has a staggering selection) and my flight to daily life.

www.constancehotels.com