Something was very wrong. I was in one of the most romantic destinations I’d ever been (think white beaches, turquoise seas, picnics on your own private island) but I was one of a bunch of five women instead of with my romantic partner. Still, it didn’t suck. Not in the least.
I’d been invited on a Mozambique adventure that started with a three-hour flight from Johannesburg. We were just 12 people on a 37-seater Airlink plane heading to the far northern town of Pemba.
Pemba sprawls around one of the world’s largest natural bays. It was hot and humid, like walking through syrup, so I was grateful for air conditioning in my room at Avani Pemba Beach Hotel & Spa. I relished the exotic architecture and fabulous breakfast buffet: fruit, pastries, cheeses, hot breakfast, even fish curries for a unique Mozambique vibe.
The others spent the afternoon at the infinity pool while I explored the hotel grounds, finishing on a bench overlooking the sea to take in a cooling breeze. Dinner at the Club Navale restaurant saw us happily scoffing Mozambican prawns, and crab curry.
Next morning we explored the hills and valleys of the town. Pemba’s architecture is a mix of Arabian influences and Portuguese colonial, now mostly faded, with what I’m almost sure were bullet-hole pockmarks from the civil war days.
We saw beaches swaying with palm trees, naked kids giggling in the water, men fixing their sun-bleached dhows. We watched people buzzing around on cheap Chinese motorbikes. We rubbed shoulders with the locals in the narrow alleys of the market as they shopped for kitchen appliances, food, hair products and clothes hanging like bright-coloured crayons. And we saw piles of litter; this is Africa, hot, sweaty, sometimes dirty, but popping with life.
Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago
Our next stop was a 30-minute flight away by six-seater aircraft, over a wonderland of islands, inlets and sandbars, small settlements with palm trees, seas changing colour from turquoise to blue and green.
Our destination was Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort & Spa in Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago. The island is tiny, 1km long by 300m wide. From the air it was an elongated comma of beach and bush floating in the clearest sea. A pod of dolphins frolicked below as we came in to land on the short airstrip to the sound of screaming back thrusters and the smell of burning rubber.
That’s when I started wishing I was there as part of a couple. Medjumbe’s cabanas with their Mozambique-style shaggy-browed roofs were right on the beach. Each had a wooden deck and its own spa pool, loungers and hammock. Without moving an inch, you could watch the tide come in to mask the rocks or go out to uncover a sandbank in the middle distance.
If we wanted, we could also knock ourselves out with water sports like kayaking, snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing and fishing. A marine biologist is joining the activity staff soon to give registered divers a deeper look at corals and reef creatures in those warm, clear waters.
There was tons for us girls to get excited about – like the food. Chef Gabriel Nhavoto and his staff made overindulgence inevitable. Everything was made from scratch – the best croissants, pain au chocolat and pasteis de nata this side of Paris or Lisbon, fluffy omelettes, bouillabaisse, lobster bought fresh from a local fisherman and served by candlelight between the pool and the sea.
We revelled in a calming massage at the beach-side spa, lazed around the salt-water pool, and drank pina coladas in a bar-with-a-view that could star in an ad for a luxury brand. We spotted terns, sacred ibis, goliath heron and whimbrel. And we had to grab our bird books to identify a mascarene egret, which only occurs in a small strip along this Mozambique coast – a lifer for us all.
On our last morning I went for a 5am walk along the beach to the old lighthouse with only scuttling crabs for company. If you come between July and October you could enjoy some whale watching too.
I’d have loved to sail on a dhow to watch the sunset from the sea, but the island’s dhow was beached for repair. Maybe you’ll be luckier when you visit Medjumbe for your own romantic holiday or honeymoon.
- Airlink flies from Johannesburg to Pemba daily except Tuesday, Sunday
- Avani Pemba Beach Hotel & Spa costs from US$310 per unit for 2 people sharing
- Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort & Spa offers reduced rates for SADC visitors, from US$283 pppn
To follow more of my adventures, see my African travel blog.