Where is This Paradise Island?
This tiny island is off the north coast of Mozambique, with palm trees barely surfacing above the tropical blue Indian Ocean surrounding it. Medjumbe is the desert island dream location Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort & Spa, one of a few small Quirimbas Islands. It's here that the south Equatorial Current meets the African coast, in hopelessly blue tropical seas.
The form to fill in before having a spa treatment at Medjumbe, 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 Medjumbe – the most perfect desert island on which you could ever wish to find yourself. I’m a relaxed 2 on a normal day (hey, I live by the sea in one of the most laid-back places in the world – Cape Town), 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, 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! I think it was because of a tiny pocket of wireless internet at the lodge entrance, where they were furiously answering emails, blogging, tweeting and texting. I restrained myself easily from any form of contact with the world and jumped in a sea kayak and went for a paddle around the island.
Medjumbe is Tiny!
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 were to overshoot the mark - which is what you think will happen as you come closer and closer to it on descent. When you are given directions for a stroll, 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 just one of 32 islands in the Quirimbas Archipelago. The area is 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.
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, literally out of the big blue on a local dhow.
There are other things to wax lyrical about too; wonderful 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. 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?).
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 to get a taste of island life in your own kitchen.
It’s Quick and Easy on an Airlink Flight from Joburg to Pemba and 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 (if that airline is still operating after all its woes).
Anantara Medjumbe comes top of my list right now for a bush and beach holiday combining South Africa safari with its Mozambique neighbour for a desert island dream ending.
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: There are direct scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Pemba in far northern Mozambique. Connectivity: Through 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. Website: www.flyairlink.com
This review was written in 2016
For more barefoot luxury in Mozambique, see my review of Anvil Bay Lodge.