A search for a fresh experience resulted in a tourist to Madagascar linking her future to the country
Not enough people consider spending their holidays in Madagascar. Which makes it a rather special destination… Even fewer travellers think of chartering a boat to do so. But after one such holiday, we never looked back.
In 2007, we were trying to find a holiday for our family and friends that combined a bit of adventure, white beaches, some sort of luxury, no cooking or housework for mum, fishing for dad and plenty to do for the kids.
We had been tempted by all the ‘special deals’ in Mauritius, Zanzibar and the Seychelles but wanted something different and away from the madding crowd. We ‘stumbled’ across Madagascar and, with another couple and their youngest, we put together a plan that was to change our lives forever.
Nosy Be is (sort of) off the top left-hand corner of Madagascar. It is the largest of the many small islands off the coast of the ‘mainland’ and is often referred to as the Perfume Island – mainly because of the ylang-ylang industry that provides France with the bulk of the heady-scented base oil used for many perfumes.
After a (then) arduous journey via the Madagascan capital Antananarivo and an unreliable (again – the bad old days) domestic flight, we were met at Nosy Be airport by a friendly, smiling Malagasy who drove us – on the wrong side of the road – to Madirokely Beach.
Sleeping up to eight people in four double cabins (two with en-suite freshwater showers), Yacht Calypso was perfectly suited for cruising the waters of this Indian Ocean paradise. Two hulls keep her stable, so sea sickness is limited to only the very susceptible. She has a spacious deck at the front, a dive deck and further seating at the helm.
We spent the next seven days happily cruising to islands and sheltered bays, snorkelling in coral gardens with fish that I thought only existed in Finding Nemo or The Little Mermaid!
The men were kept happy with the regular sound of the running ratchet on the rods – catching kingfish and mackerel mostly (the sailfish got away).
And it just became better and better. Each night we were anchored in a different place – always safe and sheltered – where we enjoyed peace, quiet, calm water and chilled sundowners on deck. Another night, another island!
We visited Lokobe National Park on Nosy Be’s south-eastern corner from the ‘wrong’ side – this meant avoiding the touristy main entrance to the park. We reached the beach on the fringe of the forest with our motorised dinghy and were met by a delightful, knowledgeable guide. In just an hour, we were introduced to some of the incredible animals that Madagascar is known for. Aside from lemurs, there were leaf-tailed geckos, snub-nosed snakes, and boas. (There are no venomous snakes in Madagascar.) There were the smallest and the largest of chameleons and a forest full of noises.
Birds, crickets and frogs joined the chorus, wishing us farewell as we made our way back to the beach and the ice-cold THB beers on board our boat.
Other islands, bays and villages on a typical charter include Russian Bay, Nosy Iranja and Barahamamy, The Fifth Brother or Sugar Loaf, Nosy Ankazoberavina, Nosy Antsoha, Antanimora, Nosy Ofy, Kalakajora, Nosy Lava and Nosy Saba to the south or Nosy Fanihy, Tsarabanjina, Grand Mitsio, Organ Pipes, Four Brothers, Nosy Ankarea and Cap St Sebastian in the north. All of these small islands and their exotic names were to become a part of our daily vocabulary.
A typical day was spent snorkelling different reefs, walking on empty islands and beaches, endless fishing, kayaking over crystal clear water, enjoying superb meals prepared by the chef and drinking icy cold drinks and cocktails.
The girls needed a little retail therapy, so a visit to Nosy Komba was called for. Here, our senses were flooded with laughing children, vivid colours, and the aroma of cooking fires and fresh vanilla. But the greatest attraction on this island were the lemurs. These soft, furry creatures are tame enough to sit on your shoulder (if bribed with a banana) and will guzzle away in your ear, giving gentle grunts of gratitude. It’s an experience that etched Madagascar into my heart.
There was another experience, too – a friendship that started on this, my first of hundreds of trips to Madagascar, and one that developed into one of the greatest relationships of my life: Albert.
Albert was the deckhand on our first charter. His open smile, wicked sense of humour and ability to tell tales of his life and country were just some of the traits that led me into what was to become the love affair of my life.
My initial seven-night holiday was the seed that bore a dream I didn’t know I had, one that was to become a charter company in this beautiful area. In 2008, we bought Yacht Gecko and sent her to Nosy Be, where she soon became the most popular South African-owned catamaran in Madagascar. With Albert as our skipper, we embarked on what became a 15-year journey as destination specialists, a journey that has taken me to all corners of this unique land, introducing me to ambassadors, adventurers and famous people.
It also led to our association with Airlink, with whom we partnered to reintroduce the direct flight from Johannesburg to Nosy Be – a life-saving route for many lodges and businesses on the island.
Text: Harriet Millson Photography: lenisecalleja.photography
Harriet Millson is a Madagascar destination specialist and founder of MadagasCaT Charters & Travel. For more information or to book a trip, go to madagascat.co.za
How to get there
Airlink connects Johannesburg with Antananarivo and Nosy Be. Go to page 97 for schedules. www.flyairlink.com