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We experience one of the most exclusive private island resorts in Africa

We experience one of the most exclusive private island resorts in Africa

On an island off the coast of Mozambique, Cathy Wagstaff finds a post-safari retreat of white sand, vibrant reefs and natural beauty.

Our helicopter swoops to the right and we catch our first glimpse of Azura Quilalea Private Island. From the sky, we look down on an emerald islet edged with four white-sand beaches and Mozambique’s brilliant cobalt seas. Magnificent villas perch at the water’s edge in a picture of rustic elegance.

We are about to experience one of the most exclusive private island resorts in Africa and one of the finest eco-retreats in the world. Quilalea has its roots in a Swahili word meaning ‘place of rest’, and it offers refuge not only to curious travellers but also to wildlife.

The 35-hectare island is a marine sanctuary; an important nesting site for green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles; and is visited by humpback whales. It is also the only isle in the Quirimbas Archipelago with a house reef, allowing guests to stroll out of their villas and into an open-air aquarium. On land, dozens of birds make their homes in and around the 58 ancient baobab trees, dating back, it is said, between 1,500 and 3,000 years.

A romantic bubble bath as the sun sets at Azura Quilalea
A romantic bubble bath as the sun sets at Azura Quilalea

Into the aquarium

To maintain this pristine ecosystem, there are only nine villas, each a handcrafted oasis of coral stone walls and thatched roofs with simple, natural interiors: cotton, rope, pebbles, rattan and a padlocked chest that serves as the in-room safe.

Our Kusi Villa, one of four, also features an outdoor shower, a beach sala and plunge pool. Best of all, it enjoys a privileged position on the northeastern side of the island, just a few steps from that reef – the moment I wade into the water, I’m surrounded by a school of silvery bluefin kingfish, darting between my legs. The sun sparkles on their scales and I can’t help but laugh out loud.

Diving at Azura Quilalea
Diving at Azura Quilalea © Claudia Pellarini

Plunging into the water reveals even more wonders: opalescent parrotfish, yellowback fusiliers, elegant angelfish and a whole garden of coral. You can go deeper on a dive, but we opt for a sunset cruise aboard an authentic dhow, reclining on oversized cushions with piña coladas.

Pearls in the Indian Ocean

The Quirimbas Archipelago – strung along the northeast coast of Mozambique up to Tanzania – is also a fascinating post-safari destination for history buffs. A 10-minute helicopter flight from Quilalea is the island of Ibo, a treasure trove of ruins and forts.

The former Arab and Portuguese trading (and slave) port is now known for its silversmiths, who make beautiful jewellery. On nearby Quirimba, Azura Retreats has built a school amid coconut palms, while Quilalea’s sister island, Sencar, is a popular place to kayak through the mangroves.

Dinner on Azura Quilalea’s main deck
Dinner on Azura Quilalea’s main deck

Travel file

Azura Quilalea Private Island is joined by sister beach resort Azura Benguerra Island in Mozambique.

Overnight at the glamorous AtholPlace Hotel & Villa in the tree-lined, upmarket suburb of Sandton in Johannesburg.

Getting there Qantas flies from Australia to Johannesburg. Fly with South African Airways to Maputo, Mozambique, or Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and then on to Pemba on the Mozambique coast. A state-of-the-art helicopter transfers guests from Pemba to Azura Quilalea Private Island.

This article originally appeared in Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.