Arriving at Azura Benguerra Island is like being a terribly privileged castaway. A 10-minute flip in a Eurocopter from Vilanculos deposits you gently on the island. The central area and the villas are designed for maximum privacy, with a fusion of indoor-outdoor living and ‘mullet’ cuts in the roof thatching to maximise the view but ensure you are screened from your neighbours. You need only share your infinity pool with a riotous palette of tiny exotic birds as they do their toilette in the fresh water at dusk. If birding is your thing, venture to the island’s only vlei, which is dotted with flamingos churning up the mud in search of delicacies, their feet moving in a kind of choreographed moon walk.
Like any island, catering for guests on a luxury scale means ‘little somethings’ on demand. Here, supplies are delivered late at night, the dhow landing softly on the beach and fresh goods being carried by the locals, balanced on their heads. The service at Benguerra is just as discreet. Each guest is assigned a butler who ensures that you want for nothing and yet are left in absolute privacy. From the cocktails and snacks delivered to your villa at sunset to breakfast and dinner, you, and only you, are his focus of attention. The service, the excellent local cuisine, including fresh seafood and a selection of the owner’s wines, especially flown in from their chateau in the Loire Valley, is utterly seductive.
The lure of the island and its available activities are incentive enough to get off your lounger and take a tour. See the school that the Rainbow Fund has built, or the neat villages, or take the island’s signature excursion by boat to the reef and then to Pansy Island for a private lunch on the beach.
The dolphins are playful marshals as the boat heads out to sea. It’s just a slip off the platform and you are snorkelling above the reef, metres from the fish and turtles. Next: Pansy Island. Considering the rarity of the sought-after shell it is named for, visiting the island is like being overwhelmed by a well-stocked candy store… The shells lie half-exposed on a small sandbank the size of a living room. Even though there are hundreds of them, you are told to admire and leave them in this marine national park (and tread very carefully).
A French white, fresh fish and fruit
The staff set up lunch on a private stretch of beach – the décor artfully sculpted in the form of 3D turtles and a border of small shells, while flowers adorn the table and umbrella. Replete with a chilled French white, fresh fish and fruit, all that remains is to enjoy the peace until you are nudged gently back onto the boat.
Alongside the ultimate guest experience is the incredible work that is being done on the island by the community and the lodge. Azura Benguerra positions itself as the first luxury eco-boutique retreat in Mozambique. Everyone understands the working of an ecosystem with great clarity. In the unlikely event that a local or visitor doesn’t respect the importance of preserving this little gem in the Indian Ocean, ex-army personnel guard the small island – fiercely.
Because the island is isolated, every commodity is precious. Candles are recycled, the lodge bottles its own still and sparkling water, they use grey water on the vegetable garden and refillable bottles for shampoo and shower gels in the villas. Kara says they are starting a chicken farm to produce the 8 000 eggs they use annually, and the chicken manure will be used as fertiliser.
The 100 or so employees at the lodge are all from the local community, and Sujado, who guided us around the island, believes the symbiotic relationship between the lodge and the local community is key to the longevity of both.
Visit azura-retreats.com for more information.
Original article by Kathy Malherbe shortened for online publication