Coral islands, tropical fish and a luxury resort await
The dhow’s creamy lateen sail billows proudly against sapphire skies and the sleepy 8km stretch of Indian Ocean between northern Mozambique’s mainland and Medjumbe, the private island on which I’m standing. From here, the distant craft resembles a toy moving lazily with the wind; however, traditional Arabian wooden boats such as this have navigated these waters with intent for more than 1200 years. In addition to the unhurried beauty the vessel lends to the scene, I’m reminded how far I am from home.
One of 32 islands in the more than 200km-long Quirimbas archipelago, Medjumbe hosts a single luxury property, the 12-villa, adults-only Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort, accessible via a 45-minute helicopter transfer from Pemba airport. En route, we whizzed over humpback whales teaching their calves the tailslapping choreography of the sea; some of the mangroves, reefs, and sandbars that link this archipelago to the mainland; and eight other lowlying islands, including Ibo, an ancient settlement with a traditional culture and historic buildings that Medjumbe guests can explore on an optional excursion.
The only dated architecture on Medjumbe is a disused 1930s lighthouse, now the lonely haunt of egrets and other sea birds as well as the best place to catch the sunrise. The resort itself – a casually airy, thatched main building housing the restaurant and lounge bar, spa villa, dive/watersports hut, 12m swimming pool, and the guest villas – was built in 2005 and most recently refurbished in 2016. While some guests dabble in the archipelago’s history via an excursion or two, Medjumbe is more of a place to relax, commune with the ocean and feast on the fresh seafood – lobster, crab, squid, fish and prawns – that dhow fishermen deliver daily.
DAYDREAM FROM YOUR VILLA
The 36sq m villas face the northern beach – five west of the main building and seven to the east. All have thatched roofs, exposed beams, whitewashed floors, king, queen, or twin beds, and walls adorned with cheerful handmade baskets and textiles. A complimentary mini bar with beer, wine and sodas along with plunger coffee and chocolate shortbread ensures regular refreshment, and a private outdoor shower complements the indoor bath and shower. The villa’s most relaxing element, though, is the private outdoor deck which, with its lounge chairs, table, plunge pool, and beach and ocean views, inspires bouts of laziness, reading and contemplation.
PARTAKE OF A MOVEABLE FEAST
Rates include all meals (as well as local house wines, beers, and spirits), and it’s possible to dine in your villa for no extra charge – some guests take all their meals there, says resort comanager Michelle Pretorius. But as inviting as the villas are, it’s worth stepping away occasionally.
Restaurant seating options include the beach, a terrace, and indoors. A more intimate option is Dining by Design, where staff members create a table and seating in the sand, further down the beach. You have to be cautious (you don’t want the sand “furniture” to collapse before you finish dessert), but the canopy of stars and the romance of the setting make any ginger motions worthwhile.
The most exclusive meal location, though, is on another island. Smaller Quissanga Island – deserted except for a rustic pavilion and security staff – is just a 15-minute boat ride west.
Some couples elect for the Star Bed Experience, where they arrive for sunset, tuck into a gourmet picnic hamper, and spend a night on the beach, stargazing from a comfy fourposter bed. If you can’t tear yourself away from your villa’s ensuite, though, visit Quissanga for a sumptuous lunchtime picnic of fresh grilled seafood, salads and South African wine, also taking the opportunity to explore Medjumbe’s anemone-rich house reef en route.
Even if you overnight on Quissanga, you’ll return to Medjumbe for breakfast, where a menu suggests items such as Island Benedict (served with lobster and curried hollandaise sauce) to accompany the papayatopped Bircher muesli and freshly baked Portuguese custard tarts, croissants and pastries. This, however, is the only menu you’re likely to see. Instead, executive chef Carlos Azarias will pop by your table to chat about options for lunch and dinner which, depending on the catch, might include seafood dishes such as Mozambique prawn curry and red snapper sashimi, along with non-seafood choices such as beef espetadas and vegetarian pasta.
EXPLORE AN EXOTIC SEASCAPE
Hollandaise sauce and buttery baked goods aside, the fare is mostly healthy. Still, your mind and body will thank you for some gentle exercise. A walk round the 1km-long island takes about 30-40 minutes – at low tide, the beach can extend another 600m out to sea. At this time, a western sandbar appears – venture here when the tide is falling and you’ll feel you’re floating into a surreal work of art. Paddle boarding towards passing dhows is another way to draw yourself into this exotic seascape, as is the dhow sunset cruise.
Between August and October, migrating humpback whales frequent these waters.
Ten dive sites of varying difficulty are within a short cruise of the island for vibrant coral and tropical fish.
THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF ANANTARA MEDJUMBE ISLAND RESORT
Discover a private island far, far away, and feast on fresh seafood at the adults-only Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort.