Dolphins and dugongs

The “Wow!” factor on first sighting Indigo Bay Island Resort would be memorable for even the most seasoned traveller.

When, like me, you’ve travelled six tiring, hot, dry, thirsty hours from a dirty, litter-strewn Zimbabwe border, redolent of long-neglected latrines, and left behind debilitating shortages, horrible hyperinflation and endless wearying queues, the visual impact of this tiny bit of heaven is riveting.

Indigo Bay is on Bazaruto Island, 30km out in the shallow, see-through, warm, blue, green and turquoise Indian Ocean, 750km north of Maputo and a 20-minute transfer by Cessna from Vilankulo in Mozambique.

It’s the largest of five almost too-good-to-be-true, coconut palm-fringed, lush islands straight from the pages of a pirate novel. At exclusive Indigo Bay, the almost empty, frequently raked, soft, warm, sandy beach is the colour of pure gold.

The sea is inviting and safe for swimming, snorkelling, scuba-diving and a score of other water sports. I experienced a frisson of delicious fear when surfacing amid a shoal of blue jellyfish, but the countless varieties of multicoloured tropical fish seen underwater made it worthwhile.

On the exhilarating 30-minute speedboat journey we saw dolphins and dugongs — the sea-cows allegedly mistaken by sailors long ago for mermaids. Between two and four metres long and weighing up to 400kg, they look like a cross between a seal and a whale; grey-brown and they live to 70 years. (Those old-time matelots must have been really hard up to confuse them with maidens of the deep!) Bazaruto is a marine national park and boasts the last dugong colony on the East African coast, with a population of about 80.

To put the place in perspective: Indigo Bay, owned by Rani Resorts of the United Arab Emirates, has been patronised recently by members of the British royal family, George Michael and (separately) Richard Gere. Cheap it ain’t!

The “cultural tour” ranked low on my priorities as, in my opinion, once you’ve seen a kraal anywhere between Kaapstad and Conakry, Luderitz and Libya, you’ve seen them all. This trip, though, largely skipped thatched huts, carvings and marimbas and focused on multicoloured birdlife (the hotel claims, conservatively and almost certainly inaccurately, 189 species) and fascinating indigenous flora: palms, mangrove and wild cashews. Huge crocodiles flourish in brackish and freshwater lakes, nestling under the steepest sand dunes to be found on any island in the world. The island is home to red duiker and the coastal samango monkey: different from the samango found in Zimbabwe’s Upper Vumba.

Later that day we visited the sand dunes and (some of us) dune-boarded at breakneck speed down the sheer drop. If Lawrence of Arabia is ever remade, here’s the location.

A real treat was an hour’s cosseting in Indigo Bay’s luxurious Sanctuary Spa, recently rated third best in the world by Tatler magazine. I felt a new man after 60 minutes’ pummelling and oiling from an ace masseuse, whom I later learned was the daughter of an MK general. Fellow guests opted for reputedly rejuvenating full facial mud masks.

The splendid food — served mainly buffet style — deserves a meritorious mention: Rani is owned by an English-educated Dubai Arab, who insists smoked kippers and sharp Oxford marmalade are among the breakfast options at all his African island and mainland hotels.

Smoked salmon was available at each meal and I grew tired of rich lobster, crayfish, tiger prawns, calamari, kingfish and sand oysters. Fruit, vegetables and salads were varied and delicious; the breads and pastries superb.

Supper could be as many courses as you could manage. Several times I ate Karoo lamb, as roast, chops or fruity curry. Lunch was a sizeable hunk of delicious freshly caught kingfish, pan-fried, served with big potato wedges and pureed petits pois.

The wine and cocktails list is enormous and Mozambique chilled lager in 440ml cans or 550ml bottles was so addictive I drank a splendid sufficiency on the island, one or two on the road and at a bar 20km or so from the border where we relaxed, psyching ourselves up for the inevitable blood pressure-raising chaos of the frontier.

The lowdown
Depending on season, an entry level beach chalet starts at US$330 a person, a night sharing, peaking at US$557; presidential villa $1 800 to $2 600. Add to that the cost of getting to Vilankulo (usually flying, only Zimbos self-drive!) and transfers and you’re in for more than R10 000 for the first night!

Dusty Miller was a guest of Rani Resorts

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