Azura Benguerra… an unspoilt island with deserted beaches, soft white sand, and turquoise seas. A place where colourful dhows set sail into the deep blue and fishermen ply their trade, where palm trees sway in the gentle breeze and your days are numbered purely by the rising and setting of the sun. Paradise found? Absolutely…
Getting there is easy – all it takes is a 90-minute flight with Airlink and you’ve traded the hectic city environment of the Johannesburg for the relaxed coastal vibe of Vilanculos. And before you know it, you’re buckling up for a quick eight-minute helicopter flight with Archipelago Charters to Benguerra Island. The views are spectacular; low tide reveals shades of blue within the shallows, dhow fishing boats dot the horizon and before we know it, we’re flying low across the white sandy beaches and verdant vegetation of the island.
Azura Benguerra Island lodge in Mozambique is one of only a handful of lodges on Benguerra Island, and its location within the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park ensures that locals and guests alike can enjoy its pristine environment.
After a warm Azura team welcome and an introduction to Pedro, our Benguerra Island born butler-host, and quick Covid-19 protocols, it was time to get acquainted with my luxury villa and the activities on offer during our stay.
From relaxing in my private beachside sala to exploring the shallows at low tide and swimming in the warm Indian Ocean when the tide comes in; lounging on the deck with a good book and taking a dip in my secluded pool; long early morning walks along the stretches of beach to an occasional run on the sandy island roads followed by restorative massages at the treehouse spa – it’s a case of ‘do as much as you like, or nothing at all.’
A good start to our activity list was the island tour. Departing on a game viewing vehicle we meandered our way along the sandy island roads, through indigenous bush abundant with local flora and fauna, as well as several villages where kids waved at us with exuberance and adults went about their daily chores undeterred.
Our guide Paulo demonstrated the wonder of the devil thorn plant at creating moisturizing shampoo, showed us how to make a toothbrush from the magic gaurri tree and explained how fishermen of old used the ‘poison fish tree’ to catch fish – this was done by crushing roots then throwing them into the water, this would kill the fish by blocking its oxygen and it would die when it came to surface. Thankfully this practice was stopped when the island became part of the Archipelago, and fishing rods and nets became the norm.
We pass the clinic and Paulo explains that the much-needed maternity ward was funded by the Azura Rainbow Fund. And then we visit the Benguerra Island Primary School, it’s weekend so we are allowed to alight for a quick tour with teacher Palmo. He tells us that there are eight teachers for 495 kids in four classrooms! There are morning and afternoon classes, and some are done outside under the trees. It really is a humbling experience. (Read more about the Azura Rainbow Find HERE)
Along the route is the police station and post office, and one of three lakes that are home to large Nile crocodiles as well as a 60m high dune. Our hike up the Red Dune is a relatively easy climb, and we were rewarded with spectacular views of Benguerra Island and the Indian Ocean beyond, and an ice cold 2M local beer once we were back in the vehicle. The spectacular Flamingo Bay with its azure blue waters, resident flamingos and fish corrals is worthy of a photo stop, as are the beached dhows that dot the shoreline.
We stop for lunch at Azura’s Peri-Peri Beach Club, which as its name suggests is all about lounging at the beach bar or pool… and of course, lunch. It’s a feet-in-the-sand kind of place, so shoes are dispensed with, and icy beverages ordered. The menu offers vegetable spring rolls, fresh 2M battered fish with a lemon buttered sauce, sizzling chicken espetadas with per-peri sauce (Mozambican obviously!) and a selection of build-your-own pizzas, cooked in the wood-fired pizza oven. And if there’s space for dessert, grilled pineapple served with Nutella sauce – yum.
I take time out and enjoy some me-time at the spa. Here, the location is as much part of the experience as the treatment. Barbara welcomes me with a smile and beckons me up a set of rustic wooden steps to the treatment room. In what is referred to as ‘the treehouse’, with views over the coastal vegetation and open to the gloriously fresh sea breeze – nature’s air-conditioning. Barbara’s strong, yet gentle hands, work miracles whilst I relax and enjoy the soft background music accompanied by the swishing of palm leaves and rustling leaves. Heaven!
The Bazaruto Archipelago is made up of five islands, so it figures that island hopping would also feature highly on the activity list. Pristine islands, secluded bays, and deserted beaches as well as coral reefs and an incredible diversity of marine life awaits.
My fellow traveller, Dawn Bradnick, took to the ocean while I enjoyed the spa, this is her experience…
“On Bazaruto Island we hike up the 100-metre-high dune for unsurpassed 360-degree panoramic views of the Archipelago. Go snorkelling on Two Mile Reef with its astounding number of tropical fish species, rays, turtles, coral, and invertebrates – you might be lucky and see the highly endangered dugong. Dolphin sightings are common and humpback whales may be seen during their annual migration throughout the winter months.
On an isolated sandbar nestled between Bazaruto Island and the Mozambique Channel you’ll find Pansy Island, so named for the abundance of pansy shells, which aren’t a shell at all but each one is in fact the skeleton of a sea urchin. Its pansy name comes from the five-petal flower pattern on top of their skeleton.“
Other island and ocean experiences include a visit to Paradise Island, located in far north of the Bazaruto Archipelago, which is renowned for its beautiful white beaches and fantastic snorkelling and is also home to the ruins of an old hotel and a church from the days of Portuguese rule.
As well as scuba diving: these waters is often cited as the best off the east coast of Africa, and the Bazaruto Archipelago offers a range of depths and reef topography to suit beginner and experienced divers alike. With seasonal visits from whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales there is much to entice even the reluctant into the depths. Add to that the chance of seeing loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles, a wide variety of reef fish as well as hard and soft corals in abundance.
If you aren’t keen on a full-day island hopping experience, then a sunset dhow cruise is just the thing. After wading through the warm water and climbing up a very rudimentary ladder onto the vessel, Paulo our guide pushed us into deeper water and raised the sail.
Nothing beats the feel of an ocean breeze and gentle sea spray… especially when accompanied by a chilled glass of Chardonnay. We watch fishermen returning with their catch and pelicans on sandbanks trying for theirs, all whilst the sun slowly descends towards the horizon. What could be better than this? Dinner under the stars with our feet in the sand.
Pedro welcomes us back to shore with martinis on a tray – the cocktail of the day. There, set in front of our villa is a fairy-tale setting for a private dining experience complete with candlelight and lanterns. As with all meals at Azura, menus are based on what is available, fresh simple ingredients with an abundance of fish and seafood fresh from the ocean, much of it sourced from local fishermen. Our meal complete, we decided to take dessert on our beachside sala and watch the moon reflecting on the sea.
There is much to love about an island experience, but it was our Azura hosts with their genuine warmth, wide smiles and wonderful stories that make our stay memorable.