Jewel of the Quirimbas

MAY 2011 – A mere slither of an island with a white sandy beach shaped like a question mark, Medjumbe sits among pristine coral reefs in the remote Quirimbas archipelago in northern Mozambique. With only 13 palm-fringed chalets, it’s the perfect spot to escape the world …

Banking around gently to land on the teeny strip of runway that appears to rise out of the sea and end on the beach, the charter plane that brings guests to Medjumbe flies over turquoise waters below which – these new visitors will soon discover – are coral reefs alive with tropical fish and marine life of all shapes and shades. It’s a multicoloured paradise just waiting to be explored….

Just one kilometre long and 300m wide, this private island in the northern Quirimbas archipelago is an idyllic haven for honeymooners who wish to do nothing more than be together – walking the beach, relaxing with a freshly mixed caipirinha on their private deck, or spending blissful hours dipping in and out of the pool. Most guests, though, can’t wait to head out for their first snorkel in the marine reserve’s aquamarine waters – that reach pleasant temperatures of up to 30°C in summer and rarely less than 27°C in winter. It’s not long before they’re chatting about sweetlips and pufferfish (or did they spot triggerfish, perhaps?) as they bob above the reefs on the dive boat. Soon enough, kayaks can be seen circumnavigating the island, with nature lovers stopping often to gaze down at the reefs or to watch birds and even dolphins as they explore. Or a spot of sailing or windsurfing is organised with the fulltime activities staff.

But it’s Medjumbe’s exquisite underwater wonderland (combined, of course, with the attraction of ultra-comfortable chalets that cater for the every need of discerning travellers) that undoubtedly draws game fishing enthusiasts and experienced divers from around the world. The Quirimbas archipelago’s 27 islands are dotted within the 1 500-square kilometre Quirimbas National Park – a protected sanctuary for leatherback, loggerhead and green turtles (baby green turtles were recently spotted hatching right in front of the chalets on the beach), dugongs, dolphins and humpback whales (between August and October), as well as tropical and pelagic game fish.

Intrepid divers come in search of little explored coral reefs as well as 12 acclaimed dive sites, including deeper wall sites of up to 40 metres where the bigger groupers, snappers and unicorn fish mix with black- and white-tip reef sharks. But ask the PADI dive master about the most breathtaking dive and he’ll give you a challenging smile before sitting down to share the awesome experience of the Edge of Reason – the auspicious name given to the dizzying 800-metre drop off the continental shelf not far from the island. The game fishing, too, is some of the best in the world. The deep Mozambique channel, unspoilt and largely unexplored, runs past the Quirimbas archipelago and is rich in kingfish, queenfish, barracuda, dorado, sierra, wahoo, sailfish and yellowfin tuna – some of the most exciting big fish to do battle with. And with deep water so close to the island, guests don’t have to travel far for thrilling encounters. However, Medjumbe (part of Rani Resorts) is committed to protecting the archipelago’s resources, so operates a strict tag-and-release policy.

Back at the island, blissful hours are spent simply gazing out at the clouds gathering over the sea from the comfort of a hammock, dipping in and out of the pool when the tropical heat gets too intense. It‘s a gentle pace interrupted only by languorous lunches, siestas and romantic candlelit dinners. Seafood lovers feast on the day’s catch at both lunch and dinner, whether it’s crayfish tails, melt-in-the-mouth calamari, spiced crab curry or the freshest tuna. Food here is seasonal but the chef does have one particularly good non-fishy trick up his sleeve: come rain or sunshine, day in and day out, his pastries feature on the breakfast menu. They arrive at the table in unremarkable baskets, wrapped in white linen napkins, but as they approach there’s the unmistakable waft of buttery pig’s ears. You could be sitting in a café in Paris, save for the unmistakable outline of an Arabian dhow catching the early morning breezes just off the shallows.

For the rest of the day, time stands still – or works around you, depending on energy levels in the tropical heat. It’s perfectly acceptable to loaf around in the Moroccan-styled living area reading some of Medjumbe’s well-thumbed books on marine life or birds, or simply sipping local beer from the privacy of your hammock or air-conditioned chalet.

What is certain, though, is that towards the end of the afternoon in late summer, white cumulus clouds will begin to puff about in the sky, changing shape by the minute and building to such a height that they no longer fit into your camera viewfinder. The sea rises almost to the deck with high tide and a stormy wind turns the clouds a turbulent grey, so they drop a fleeting rain shower that passes in a flash – and brings with it a welcome rush of cool air. This is nature’s cue for a quick nap, because before long the sun comes back, shining brilliantly on dripping tropical bushes laden with scented lilac blossoms – and just in time to set the scene for spectacular sundowners.

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