All-Access Archipelago

Exploring Benguerra Island and its surrounds involves as much or as little effort as visitors want to expend amid magnificent natural beauty

 

A quick eight-minute helicopter flight from Vilanculos had us arriving at Azura Benguerra Island lodge in Mozambique. It is one of only a handful of lodges on Benguerra Island, and its location in Bazaruto Archipelago National Park ensures that locals and guests alike can enjoy the pristine environment.

From relaxing in a private secluded pool to exploring the shallows at low tide and swimming in the warm Indian Ocean when the tide comes in, to long early morning walks along stretches of beach to an occasional run on 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.’

For an island tour, we meandered our way along the sandy island roads on a game viewing vehicle, 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, which can be used to create moisturising 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 the tree’s roots and then throwing them into the water, killing the fish by blocking their oxygen. Thankfully, this practice was stopped when the island became part of the National Park and fishing rods and nets became the norm.

We pass the clinic, police station and post office and visit the Benguerra Island Primary School, which hosts 495 kids during the week. Arriving at one of the island’s three lakes – home to large Nile crocodiles – we enjoy a relatively easy hike up the 60m-high Red Dune, where we are rewarded with spectacular views of Benguerra Island and the Indian Ocean beyond, along with an icecold 2M local beer once we’re 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.

Down the chain

The Bazaruto Archipelago is made up of five islands, so it figures that island hopping would also feature highly on a list of possible attractions. Pristine islands, secluded bays, deserted beaches as well as coral reefs and an incredible diversity of marine life awaits. On Bazaruto Island, we hike up a 100m-high dune for unsurpassed 360° panoramic views of the Archipelago. Snorkelling on Two Mile Reef reveals an astounding number of tropical fish species, rays, turtles, coral and invertebrates – and you might be lucky and see a highly endangered dugong. Dolphin sightings are common and humpback whales might be spotted during their annual migration throughout the winter months.

The Bazaruto Archipelago is made up of five islands, so it figures that island hopping would also feature highly on a list of possible attractions. Pristine islands, secluded bays, deserted beaches as well as coral reefs and an incredible diversity of marine life awaits. On Bazaruto Island, we hike up a 100m-high dune for unsurpassed 360° panoramic views of the Archipelago. Snorkelling on Two Mile Reef reveals an astounding number of tropical fish species, rays, turtles, coral and invertebrates – and you might be lucky and see a highly endangered dugong. Dolphin sightings are common and humpback whales might be spotted during their annual migration throughout the winter months.

Paradise Island, in the far north of the Bazaruto Archipelago, 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. The snorkelling is amazing, as is relaxing on the deserted white sandy beach, enjoying a picnic.

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 shells at all, but rather the skeletons of sea urchins. The ‘pansy’ name comes from the five-petal
flower pattern on top of their skeletons.

Beneath the waves

Scuba diving in 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 swimmer into the depths. Add to that the chance of seeing loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles, a wide variety of reef fish and hard and soft corals in abundance! If you aren’t keen on a full-day island hopping experience, a sunset dhow cruise is also an option. After wading through the warm water and climbing up a rudimentary ladder onto the vessel, Paulo pushes us into deeper water and raises the sail. Nothing beats the feel of an ocean breeze and gentle sea spray, especially when accompanied by a chilled glass of wine. We watch fishermen returning with their catch and pelicans on sandbanks trying for theirs, all while the sun slowly descends towards the horizon.

Pedro, our Benguerra Island-born butler-host, welcomes us back to shore with martinis on a tray. Set in front of our villa is a fairy-tale setting for a private dining experience complete with candlelight and lanterns. Dinner under the stars with our feet in the sand. 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 is our Azura hosts, with their genuine warmth, wide smiles and wonderful stories, that make our stay memorable.

 

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