The form to fill in before having a spa treatment at Anantara Medjumbe Island Spa, on a remote tropical island off the far coast of northern Mozambique, asked: What are your stress levels from 1(low) to 10 (high)?
I answered 2. But what wasn’t clear was whether the question referred to before or after arriving at the Medjumbe – the most perfect desert island you could ever wish to find yourself on. I’m a relaxed 2 on a normal day (hey, I live by the sea in Cape Town – one of the most laid back places in the world), but after just one night at Medjumbe I was minus-10 on the stress chart; that’s as untroubled as is humanly possible while still being conscious.
I had to chuckle when the equally chilled-out Spa Therapist Joanne Davies, said that all the journalists from Johannesburg – part of the small group on this ridiculously pampered, exotic press trip – had recorded nothing less than a stress level of 8! While they were crowding around the weak Wifi signal adjacent to the office to Blog, Tweet and text their loved ones, I Jumped in a Kayak and Paddled Around the Island.
Medjumbe Island is just 1km long and barely 300 metres wide, with a little airstrip that will have you in the absurdly clear aqua-marine ocean if the pilot overshoots the mark. When you are given directions here, they really do mean, “you can’t get lost!” As a journalist, I am supposed to take notes and ask questions, like what’s the story of the lighthouse at the far end of this tiny island. But I was far too relaxed to ask, so I don’t know the answer. But what I do know is that Medjumbe is located where the south Equatorial Current meets the African coast and is just one of 32 islands in the Quirimbas Archipelago, considered a site of outstanding universal value for its terrestrial and marine biodiversity. It’s also an important feeding area for turtles, crab plovers and migratory birds and a nursery for bottlenose and humpback dolphins and whales.
Snorkelling, Diving, Sunset Cruises, Lobster Barbeque and Pina Coladas…I died and went to heaven!
You get the picture? Here I am on a teeny weeny desert island with just 12 charming beachside chalets, coral reefs and sandbanks all around and water a heavenly 28°C. It’s paradise! And I’m drinking either a piña colada or caipirinha and eating lobster and prawns that arrived out of the big blue on a local dhow. There are other things to wax lyrical about too; excellent snorkelling, sunset cruises, watersports of many persuasions, big game fishing about 7-miles out to sea, Robinson Crusoe-style barbeque on an uninhabited islet (with meat in case you’ve had enough lobster, crayfish, prawn, calamari…. me never!). There’s Gym-in-a-Basket with in-room dumbbells, resistance bands, skipping rope and a yoga mat. But you are encouraged to get into the ocean in numerous ways, one of which is diving – which I’m told is highly rated. I certainly saw a beautiful assortment of fish and coral by just snorkelling in about 3-metres of water.
I was however, troubled to see that about half the hard coral is dead, due I was told to net fishing, which indiscriminately pulls up the coral. So it came as a relief to hear that the Dive Instructor is working on a programme of sustainable fishing and marine education for local villagers. Anantara Medjumbe is also doing its best with a water desalination plant and its own waste treatment, but there’s no recycling yet because Mozambique hasn’t got the facilities. Don’t let that make you think that Africa doesn’t re-purpose, re-use and recycle – they do and nothing useful goes to waste. Hopefully with the influx of international businesses arriving in Pemba to exploit offshore oil and gas, there will be heightened awareness and implementation of environmental good practice (or am I smoking something?).
Quick and Easy flight on an Airlink from Joburg to Pemba
South African visitors make up 63% of Anantara Medjumbe’s guests, with less than 10% each of Brits, Italians and Portuguese and a smattering of Germans, French and Americans. It’s perceived to be “far away” and of course it is, but once you are in Joburg there’s nothing stopping you from doing what I did; jumping on a scheduled Airlink flight to Pemba, then a 20-minute low-altitude hop over a few islands on a charter plane to Medjumbe, with maybe a stop at Ibo to disembark a couple of passengers. And Airlink is a member of South African Airways Loyalty programme ‘Voyager’, so you can use your air miles.
Dining by Design
Anantara’s signature private dining concept ticks all the boxes for a romantic rendezvous, with linen drapes flowing in the breeze around a gazebo on the beach, at low tide by the lighthouse, or on the long sandspit that extends the island by a few hundred metres when the tide is out. Executive Chef Nicholas Semple will craft a menu to suit your tastes and the ever-helpful barmen will put the bubbles on ice.
Chef Nick also leads Spice Spoons lessons, where you get to learn to cook some local dishes. So click here for his recipe for Prawn Matapa and get a taste of island life in your own kitchen.
How To Get There…
Airlink the Regional Feeder Airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA.
Route Specific Information: Direct scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Pemba, Northern Mozambique.
Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travellers connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways Loyalty programme -Voyager.
Flight Bookings: Online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations on +27 11 978 1111.
I also stayed overnight in Pemba at the very comfortable Avani Pemba Beach Hotel & Spa; formerly a tourist destination, it’s now catering for oil and gas business people, sometimes for several months at a time in 80 purpose-built apartments. Will the sleepy town of Pemba wake up I wonder? I rather like it slightly dozy.
Here’s an image of regional flight routes out of Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport…now you can get a sense of where Pemba is – on the far north coast of Mozambique close to the Tanzania border. Have you been to this area? Tell me about your experiences.