Maputo - I am on a board whooping down a 30m sand-dune. Around me is silence, my senses captivated by the scent of Cobra lavender polish with which I had waxed the board and a 360 view of Bazaruto island with its blinding white sand spits, sapphire ocean and endless beaches.
Reaching the bottom in a blur, I figured that, surely, this is where a good holiday is meant to be spent. Near enough to home but far from the everyday.
Thirty five kilometres off-shore the village of Vilanculos, Mozambique, the Bazaruto Archipelago – five islands sliced off the mainland in tectonic movement thousands of years ago – lies in a solitary ocean tableau of delicate blue shades, talcum sands and coral outcrops.
A two-and-a-half hour flight from Joburg on Airlink – and a further 10 minute hop by small plane from the mainland – Bazaruto Island is a slender finger of land upon which Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort and Spa lies, set on a singular stretch of marzipan coast, kissed by a sea of shameless transparency.
Fishermen believe this is paradise (the All Africa record for barracuda is captured in black and white in the resort’s bar) while, if you’re like me and want to soak in the eloquence of nothingness, Anantara Bazaruto is as good as it gets.
It’s a carefree escape for families, honeymooners or castaways from the wired world and the two-roomed villas – with wrap-around terrace and plunge pools over-looking the bay – are the essence of elegant escapism.
Inspired by discrete Afro-Arab architecture, the villas and bungalows all have teak beds with mozzie nets, cool marble floors and bath-rooms which look out to sea and my personal favourite, outdoor showers
I’m the kind who has to experience everything. After waking the next day to a dreamy montage of ethereal, pop-eye clouds mirrored in a cobalt sea, we dash down to breakfast and then to the Clube Naval (Boat Club) where we haul a kayak down the sand and into the ocean.
An epic little journey, it was with a feeling of great freedom that we cut through the wavelets past the resort’s last bungalow to wash up on our own deserted beach where we lingered, lolling in the rock pools and watching the fishing dhows ply the sea as they have in these parts for centuries.
In the 10th century, the islands were part of Muslim trading settlements at the edge of the legendary Sea of Zanj, an ocean sprinkled with spell-binding islands, where adventurers traded for pearls (the Queen of Sheba was a client), dugong tusks and ambergris (a grey waxy substance then used in perfume-making, secreted brutally from the intestines of sperm whales).
By the 16th century, the Portuguese had taken control of the region and it was here that the trader Lourenco Marques and a Moorish princess fell in love on Santa Carolina, which later became known as Paradise Island – an exotic destination for Southern Africa’s belle monde in the 1960s.
But along came the civil war and the hotel, bar and cobbled-stone villas on Paradise Island were shuttered, and remained so, for almost three decades.
Today though, tourism is one of Mozambique’s main economic drivers, generating jobs and enabling an island such as Bazaruto to sustain not only the populace but the environment as well. (Paradise Island itself is now a great excursion from Bazaruto, 40 minutes by boat.)
The Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, 150km2 in extent, takes in all five islands in the chain as well as the surrounding sea. On Bazaruto itself, Anantara Resort has built community centres, schools and access to water for islanders and formed a partnership with local communities to conserve the ecosystem and assist national park staff with transport, communication and health facilities.
In teaching the importance of conserving local marine life and working with the authorities to counter illegal fishing activities, a tag and release policy for fishing activities has been encouraged in conjunction with Durban’s Oceanographic Institute.
This is not environmental chump change for the Bazaruto Archipelago is one of the last places on earth with sustainable populations of the Dugong, famed “mermaids of the sea” who adore the vast sea meadows of the area, including Neptune’s Nursery where we are off to now, the dive boat slicing through water the colour of forged glass.
A beginner’s reef for snorkelling, its emerald underworld reveals pot-bellied parrot fish and schools of Moorish idols, their dorsal fins slapping like sails in the current.
Mostly though, I have always loved the idea of just being in a boat with my family, powering through the ocean with a tropical breeze in my hair and it’s an alchemy which has never failed to invite happiness.
Back on land, contentment was also inspired by a crayfish Caesar salad and pizza margarita lunch, then allowing the day to unpack in reading, lazing and taking another kayak flip before heading to the spa.
Set on the highest point, the spa’s ocean view is spell-binding and the hydro bath is a magically tranquil spot to watch the sun descend in a blonde haze over the mainland.
For the kids, the resort has numerous supervised activities during the holidays along with a Qolf course, a fun yet quite frustrating cross between green grass putt-putt and chipping, though I’m more partial (and competitive) to table-tennis.
Away from the beach, Anantara keeps a stable of fine horses for cantering along the beach or taking a cultural tour of the local village – and there are the towering dunes for sand-board riding.
But what makes Bazaruto and Anantara Resort such a great getaway is the sense of abandon, articulated by lizards which laze on stone pathways, wild gardenia and deep green trees which shroud a blue infinity pool.
On our last morning as I sat on the deck and looked out over the shades of blue, a statement faintly drawn on a picture in Anantara’s bar made complete sense. It read: “In nature every aspect has been carefully considered”.
If You Go...
Getting There: Airlink flies from Johannesburg to Vilanculos on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The airline also flies from Nelspruit, Kruger to Vilanculos on Thursdays and Sunday, making for a bush and beach holiday.
CFA Air Charters handle inter-island flights from Vilanculos to islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago. Call 011 312 0196 or www.cfa.co.za.