The Eurocopter flies out of Pemba over the string of islands making up Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago and deposits you gently on Azura Quilalea Private Island. It’s an airborne appetiser to a platter of barefoot paradise, indulgent service and gourmet food.
The experience is part of the restorative experience on this 35-km2 island, which has cheekily adopted its own time zone. It is part of the Quirimbas National Marine Park, a candidate for UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve status. Azura Quilalea is free of single plastic – even the straws are beautifully crafted bamboo and everything is recycled on-site or taken back to Pemba for recycling.
Azura Quilalea is one of two luxury destinations in Mozambique run by Azura Retreats – Azura Benguerra being the other. Both were mercifully left intact after Cyclone Kenneth recently reached landfall and ravaged many parts of the country. But the staff who live in the mainland were affected and were given time off to be with their families, as well as financial support.
A Just Giving crowdsourcing campaign has been set up by Azura’s Rainbow Fund charity. The public are invited to donate to help those in need after the destruction of Cyclone Kenneth.
Azura Quilalea has achieved the perfect balance between luxury and eco-friendly mindfulness. The proximal coral reef is a palette of colour and undisturbed marine life, and is home to nesting turtles. The annual humpback whale migration adds to its reputation of being a scuba diver’s utopia. The island is home to over 100 species of bird life, including the Madagascar bee eater.
Night snorkelling is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as the coral glows in the moonlight, coming alive with feeding sea critters. A hawksbill turtle moves unperturbed and languorously through the water. As he takes a breath of fresh air, I hold mine, knowing I am privy to something really special. I had just swum with one of the oldest creatures on earth, and I couldn’t have felt more alive.
For a small island, there is so much to experience. Fishing trips for guests often return with that evening’s dinner. The fresh haul is prepared with local Arabian and Portuguese flavours, producing an unforgettably fragrant and fresh dish. It is delicious, unpretentious cuisine. The resort also supports the local fishermen, their dugouts arriving daily to offer a smorgasbord of fresh line-fish, calamari, mangrove crab, lobster and prawns.
For light lunch, the menu often includes chilled avocado and lime soup, spinach and pomegranate salad with honey-lime oil, and mangrove-crab-claw tempura with wasabi mayo. The fresh white snapper ceviche with lime and chilli is a real treat. It is topped off with home-style organic mango sorbet, which provides a cooling respite from arguably the best and hottest chilli paste on the globe.
Then there is a dinner amongst the giant 1-200-year-old Baobabs, the lights reflecting off the grey, wrinkled bark – not unlike the skin of an elephant. The lowhanging Baobab fruit is a superfood, as it contains a lot of antioxidants. It is ground up and used in much of the food on the island.
What certainly should not be eaten is the giant trevally, or “GT”. It’s a game fish and a fighter, and people travel thousands of kilometres to test their strength and endurance against such a formidable foe. It’s a catch-and-release only activity though, as it’s one of the most important apex predators in this habitat.
Pampering on Azura Quilalea is a given. The spa is built discreetly into the rocks of Limestone Karst, a maze natural blowholes and sculptured rock formations. The gentle, revitalising massage is best enjoyed at high tide, when the water pushes through the blowhole, ensuring an awe-inspiring natural spectacle.
Even the kayaking through meandering canals in the mangrove forest on neighbouring Sencar is laidback and tranquil. Expeditions are perfectly timed so that you float in with the tide and out with the turn. It is so silent that you actually hear the mangrove leaves break off the tree, flutter down and drop into the water.
Alternatively, you can sit on the deck at your villa, watching the weavers stopping for a quick sip of water as they continue their tireless nest-building task. As the sun sets the day-shy Cape dikkops emerge. Their long, spindly legs bend and straighten as if doing squats. As the night darkens, bats swoop in. Like blue-white ghosts they flit back and forth, taking in the first insects of the night. Here, doing nothing but take in nature is mesmerising. Azura Quilalea Private Island has the only beach in the Archipelago which is accessible even at low tide, and through the centuries has become known as the “resting beach’” among Arab and Portuguese traders. “Lalea” is an adaptation of the Swahili word Ulala which means “nice resting place”.
And Azura Quilalea is a resting place and more, making it really hard to wrench yourself away from ask your stay comes to an end. For more information, visit www.azura-retreats.com. Azura Quilalea forms part of Tourism Corporation Africa. For more information on the other properties in their portfolio, please visit www.tourismcorp.co.za. Tourism Corporation Africa Celebrates 25 Years.
Text: Kathy Malherbe
Photography © Azura Quilalea | Claudia Pellarini