Mozambique’s Bazaruto

Text Vanessa Raphaely, Photographs Vanessa Raphaely, courtesy of Rani Resports I first heard of Mozambique’s Bazaruto archipelago as a child during a holiday on a windswept, rain-sodden and freezing Garden Route. I’d picked up a book about a child’s holiday there. I remember burying myself deep under my duvet and drinking in its tales of azure seas, aqua skies, breathtaking reefs, crystal-clear water, seashells, dunes and sun. Oh, and many, many Lourenço Marques (now known as Maputo) prawns and langoustines. I was a pleasure-seeking little heathen, even then. I cannot remember the name of the book or much about its plot, but the rapturous descriptions of its locale – which was, of course, its true hero – stayed with me. I also remember that, as well as finding pansy and cowrie shells, the family in the book found God, which resonated less vividly with me than my fantasies of the sunny islands. Fast forward many years and I found myself shivering at my laptop during a brutal Cape Town winter storm when a cheery SMS popped up on my cellphone. It was from my extremely privileged and well-travelled ‘princess’ friend: ‘Sitting at Vilanculos airport, just back from the world’s second most beautiful place. Bazaruto! Benguerra! Unbelievable! On your doorstep! Go!’ There were also rave reviews from other women friends who had visited the islands, whose lives and requirements mirrored my own needs more closely than those of my globe-trotting princess pal. (‘Get me somewhere close, gorgeous, child-friendly and not boring.’) Passionate – and unpaid – PRs for the region were everywhere. Fans of Indigo Bay, Bazaruto’s largest resort hotel and spa, were particularly vocal. Friends with children raved about its beauty, its activities, and very importantly, the friendliness, gentleness and patience of the hotel staff. They mentioned riding horses, and swimming them in the sea. They burbled on about finding and collecting rare pansy shells. They told stories about dune surfing, diving off coral-covered reefs, snorkelling and having picnics on deserted, pristine islands with magical ruins of old hotels for their children to explore. They looked wistful as they remembered vast buffets of kid-friendly food and reassured me that the fact that I did not consider myself at all a ‘resort person’ would not prevent me from being seduced by the place. So obey them all I did, and took myself, my husband and our children off to Bazaruto and Indigo Bay Island Resort and Spa to see if the archipelago could match up to the enduring images from my childish imagination, and whether the hotel could live up to its five-star reviews. The archipelago – comprising the six islands of Bazaruto, Benguerra, Margaruque, Santa Carolina (Paradise Island), Banque and Pansy Shell Island – is truly on South Africa’s doorstep. After a quick two-hour hop on Federal Air from Oliver Tambo International Airport to Vilanculos, and a short wait followed by a 15-minute CFA charter flight over a sea one million shades of indigo, you will find yourself wandering the long, palm-lined beaches of Indigo Bay, on Bazaruto itself, by mid-afternoon. The entire archipelago is a national park and has no tarred roads, no shops and no tourist attractions, save the majestic golden dunes that form the hotel’s backdrop. The hotel itself is comfortable and welcoming, rather than bang-up-to-the-second stylish, which adds to its relaxed and friendly atmosphere. There are 44 accommodation options, including reed, thatch and luxury wooden chalets that hug the beach, or the more recently built Bayview Villas, which perch along the ridge looking over the bay. The rooms and common areas are spread out over the estate and transport around the resort is by golf carts driven by smiling, helpful staffers. So far, of course, so predictable. The world, as my well-travelled friend will tell you, is filled with resort hotels that offer exhausted parents a palm tree under which to read their Stieg Larsson novels and plentiful facilities such as children-only swimming pools with which to distract their offspring. But even the most exclusive luxury commodities seem to blur together over time and become indistinct. The very best resort hotels can suffer from a lack of identity and personality. I suppose their fans like their predictability: you know what you’ll get. But, as I said, I am not a ‘resort person’. One day, to me, spent reading a bad novel under a palm tree, no matter how pleasant, is much like another. One spa treatment, regardless of how pampering and luxurious (and Indigo Bay’s spa, which sits right at the top of the ridge with the hotel’s most magnificent view, is one of the loveliest I have visited) can drift into the next. But unique experiences? Unique experiences are what make holidays memorable. It’s the moments to share with the people you love, those that linger in your memory, which make you insist to the next harried and tired mother who you encounter that a particular hotel is where she must go the next time she hankers after something different, yet doable. The magic of Indigo Bay Island Resort and Spa is what it offers that other destinations do not. We rode willing and happy horses along magnificent dunes at sunset, and even one night in the moonlight. Another evening we swam the horses deep into the sea as swarms of flying fish circled our bare legs. We dune surfed at sundown. We loved Pansy Island, which delivered bucket loads of shells and a brochure-perfect picnic destination. It’s impossible to forget the kindness and warmth of the staff, who fed our children endless plates of specially made calamari, happily allowed them to career around the resort on their golf carts, circled endlessly as they fell off their water-skis and knee boards, and sat and stared calmly out to sea as we all overstayed our welcome, snorkeling on the reef. I’m no longer the girl who dreamed of the islands while shivering under a duvet. But how did my childhood fantasy fare when experienced by me as a mother all these years later? I didn’t find God in Bazaruto, but we certainly found somewhere close to paradise. Getting There in Style Flying from South Africa to Bazaruto is quick, easy, convenient and luxurious with Federal Air – right down to the tea and coffee, which are served in china cups. Federal Air has more flights from Johannesburg to Mozambique’s recently inaugurated Vilanculos Airport (where Federal Air has their plush new offices) than any other airline. And it takes just two hours to get to the beautiful Bazaruto archipelago. With Federal Air, you can choose whether you would prefer to fly from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, or combine an African bush experience with an Indian Ocean Island escape, and depart from Nelspruit’s Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. For keen fishermen and divers, there’s an extra 10kg luggage allowance for fishing and diving equipment upon request at booking confirmation. Children’s rates are also available on request. Daily flights from Johannesburg to Vilanculos, Mozambique Three flights a week from Nelspruit’s Kruger Mpumalanga Airport to Vilanculos 24-hour online bookings at, email or call 011-395-9000 All Mozambique lodge/island transfers can be booked directly through CFA Air Charters. CFA specialises in flying into remote parts of Africa, including all islands in Mozambique., 011-312-0196. To book an Indigo Bay Island Resort and Spa travel package, contact Rani Resorts: Rani Resorts Central Reservations Johannesburg, South Africa: 011-658-0633 0861-77-RANI (South Africa) +258-21-301-618 (Mozambique). Email or visit This article was originally featured in the March 2012 issue of House and Leisure.