For Hermits Crab
Quilalea Private Island
Feature by: Nicky Furniss, Snr Editor, TCB Media
If Quilalea belongs to anyone, it’s to the hermit crabs, which scurry – in shells of all shapes and sizes – across its paths, beaches and forest floors. The brave ones will keep walking as you pass by, while the more timid will quickly retreat into their shells until the “danger” has passed. As well as being shelter from the elements and predators, their shells must also be comforting homes, snug and warm, where they can escape the worries of the world for a while. And that is exactly what Quilalea Island is to its guests – a supremely comfortable and luxurious hidey-hole where real world concerns are left far behind, the air is perfumed by warm ocean breezes, and romance rules supreme.
There was a timid knock on the door of our villa. Rousing ourselves from the kind of delicious afternoon nap you can only have after a morning of soaking up sun and sea, we answered it to find Vita, our host – much like a personal butler – on the doorstep. “Could you please come down to the bar?” he asked. It was close to sunset, which meant it was time for the requisite sun downer “cocktail of the day” – always a delicious alcoholic surprise – so we slipped on our flip-flops and followed. There, with cocktail in hand, we lounged on beanbags on the deck, watching a dhow make its way sedately across the turquoise blue horizon, lulled by the sound of the waves lapping on the beach below. It was the perfect evening and the perfect African sunset, but it was about to get better.
“I’m ready,” said Vita. “Please follow me.” Intrigued, we let him lead us back to our villa, where we found a giant tub resting on our deck, with the largest dome of bubbles
I have ever seen rising from its rim, liberally decorated with flowers and vines – our very own tropical bubble bath for two! We immediately grabbed the bottle of bubbly out of the fridge (French, no less), stripped and waded in. Finding the water under the bubbles was the biggest challenge, but soon we were happily ensconced in our tub, toasting our good fortune as the sun sank. The lovely thing about Quilalea – and all Azura retreats, in fact – is that just when you think you have experienced the highlight of your stay, they surprise you with another. Vita kept us guessing, with almost every meal in a different location – under the dappled shade of the trees one lunchtime, on a cosy corner of the sand one evening, and for our last dinner, we simply followed the candles all the way down the beach, most of which was exposed due to the low tide, where we found our table surrounded by romantic hanging lanterns, our table napkins shaped into swans, and out butter dish decorated with a hand drawn picture. (It became a ritual at meal times to see just what picture Vita would draw on our butter, and just what shape we would find our napkins in!).
Beautiful settings call for beautiful food, and with the virtually untouched waters of the Quirimbas Archipelago spreading out in every direction, most of it came from the sea, just-caught and delicious. We feasted on line fish, crab, lobster, seafood curry (served in the pod of a Baobab seed) and calamari to our heart’s content, all paired with the perfect selection of wines, or a caipirinha cocktail – a Mozambican institution. The only seafood not on the menu was oysters, but then who needs an aphrodisiac on an island so imbued with romance?
It’s also little wonder that South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale fell so in love with the place that he bought this little piece of Mozambican paradise for his own. And the biggest draw card for him? Apparently the 1,000-year-old Baobab trees that dot the island. And who could blame him? These behemoths of the plant world are so quintessentially African and the thought of everything these trees have seen in their lifetimes, so intriguing. Paths wander around the island past many of these beautiful trees, and it is worth it to go exploring, even more so at low tide when you can mix your forest exploration with a marine one, as the exposed rocks yield up rock pools with all manner of little critters in them. On the opposite corner of the island from the hotel, you will happen across Turtle Beach – a lovely stretch of sand, bordered on one side by mangroves. You’ll often find it completely deserted, making it the perfect hideaway, especially when Vita has come before you, drawn a gigantic heart in the sand and placed two bean bags inside it, along with a cooler box filled with cocktails and snacks!
Despite its name, we did not see any turtles on Turtle Beach, but a whole host made our acquaintance on the house reef which stretches out just in front of the hotel’s main beach, and can be reached by simply wading through the shallows. This makes it ideal for both snorkelers and divers, and our dive yielded not only the aforementioned turtles, but also an abundance of reef fish, and a “manicure” at the shrimp cleaning station. The seas around Quilalea are liberally dotted with dive sites, many just a short boat ride away. The resident scuba team is excellent, and with the lodge managers, Claudia Pellarini-Joubert and Leon Joubert, being not only dive instructors, but also professional underwater photographers
(www.bittenbysharks.com), you are guaranteed of memorable dives filled with picture-worthy sightings. We were rewarded with sting rays, potato bass, verdant coral gardens, lion fish, and brightly coloured sea slugs and nudibranchs. Each time we surfaced, it was with massive grins on our faces – there’s no better feeling than doing something you love with your special someone.
It was our last day and our helicopter would soon be arriving to wing us – reluctantly – back to civilisation. As we said goodbye to our beautiful villa, complete with its swinging hammock and private beach, I picked up one last hermit crab. He eyed me for a while before disappearing into his snug home. I wished I could do the same, hole up indefinitely in this beautiful place. But then, every hermit crab knows that sometimes you have to swap one shell for another… but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be lucky enough to one day revisit an old one.
Azura Quilalea Private Island is located in the Quirimbas Archipelago, off the coast of Northern Mozambique, and is accessible by helicopter on Archipelago Charters (www.archipelago.co.za) from the town of Pemba. The island is one of properties of Azura Retreats, which also has hotels in Benguerra, Mozambique and Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. For more information, visit www.azura-retreats.com