So you’ve dropped off the kids with grandma, Ubered to the Gautrain and ensconced yourselves in the Slow Lounge. Halfway through a seared tuna wrap, it’s time to board your flight to Vilancoulos. An hour later, the world below has shifted from East Rand sprawl to a jaw-dropping kaleidoscope of aqua-marine sea and pale, tide-washed sand.
The tin roofs of several thousand houses blink and flash in the sun, and then you’re taxiing towards the airport. Our driver Macamo is waiting at the carousel. Like a bouncer at Fashion Week he whisks us out of the building and into a big black 4x4. En route to the harbour there’s a glimpse of a primary school, a new clinic and a bustling central market.
It’s only when you get to the beach, roll up your True Religions and walk into the Indian Ocean that the penny drops. You’re in the Peter Stuyvesant ad that you loved as a teenager. Bazaruto Island is just 45 minutes away by powerboat; ahead lies a weekend in nirvana.
Today’s main event is a snorkelling trip to Paradise Island, an uninhabited dot on the map between Bazaruto and Vilancoulos. Just off-shore, skipper Alberto Massane drops anchor and seven of us flop off the stern. Massane
cautions that the sea is “chopper”.
The people are
genuinely friendly, the shallows truly turquoise, and the
palms, well, frondy
I soon get what he means because despite my Herculean fin action the
boat’s doing an alarming disappearing act as the waves gain momentum. Our fellow snorkeller is an irrepressible sun worshipping Norwegian named Alf Roald Sætre. He owns the legendary Cornelius seafood restaurant on a pristine island near Bergen, and is clearly relishing these warm southern waters.
“I dive all the time for the restaurant,” he says cheerfully, amid a host of risqué jokes and Nordic affability. He’s been fortunate to venture to countless tropical islands around the globe, and declares Paradise to be one of the most beautiful he’s ever seen. In Mozambique’s pre-war heyday, this island was known as Santa Carolina. A party palace of a hotel built here in 1962 is now a crumbling concrete ruin shaded by melancholy pines.
I discover when I get home that a lady in my yoga class remembers it well. “I was sent to Santa Carolina as a nurse in 1968. I was fresh off the boat from Ireland and I met a gorgeous Frenchman!” she tells me. “A lot of wealthy Rhodesian and European families would come to the island for fishing holidays. It was absolutely idyllic.” After a sublime lunch on the beach (tuna, landed
earlier by the Scandinavian) it’s back to the resort. Unsullied by sunscreen, Sætre is beaming and pretty much crisped.
We’re up at seven for a horse-ride. A bit like kite surfing or truffle hunting, the idea of cantering along an unspoilt beach has a cool, edgy allure. Secretly though, I’m hoping for a horse that’s a bit of a plodder. What the world doesn’t need is an off-piste journalist galloping headlong into the dunes, all flailing stirrups and manegrabbing like some demented Velvet Brown.
The lovely trainer Arnaldo soon allays my fears and pops me onto Manuel. Intractable is perhaps the politest word for my steed, who stops for a grass snack every 30 seconds or so. Getting from the stables to the beach takes as long as the actual ride, despite Arnaldo’s cheery imprecations to “pull the reins and kick!” I desist from overdoing this as the speech bubble above Manuel’s
head reads “just try that, amateur, and we’ll see how you handle a full-on sprint”.
So we bring up the rear, ambling at a dignified pace along the gilded sand. Stretched out like a bolt of blue silk, the Indian Ocean rolls away to Madagascar. After breakfast it’s off to a sun-lounger for a few hours of sweet blow all. Clouds and palm trees are mirrored in the rim-flow pool, the air is a balm, the caipirinhas frosted to perfection. At sunset it’s a short drive to the dunes, a spectacular ridge that runs down the island’s eastern side. Our guide James Murrime deftly waxes the boards, and in that pearlescent light we whoop down the steep slope in a mix of terror and glee.
Wake up, get tangled in the artfully draped mosquito net and stumble off for a last swim. Pondering on a travel piece I wrote years ago, I remember an editor suggesting that I tone it down. “It’s not the bloody Taj Mahal,” she’d said. In this pristine setting though, it’s hard not to wax a little lyrical. The people are genuinely friendly, the shallows truly turquoise, and the palms, well, frondy. It’s a place to be Energizer-bunny busy, or marvel at a million stars with your feet in the ocean.
Either way, it feels like we’ve been away for a week. Paradise does that. Best place for a cocktail The sunken bar where you sit immersed in water as your caipirinha’s mixed from scratch. Coolest place for an Instagram pic get into the pool above and hold your phone as close to the water as possible. Pool and ocean merge into one. Best after-snorkelling bite the spicy chicken prego roll at Club Naval is the tastiest bad boy bar none. Best Breakfast treat sure there’s gorgeous tropical fruit and seafood omelettes. Far more important are the mini doughnuts and teeny almond croissants to go with your coffee.