A visit to Vamizi Island, Mozambique

June 2009

Vamizi Island(external link)

Taking advantage of my position in our industry is not something I do often. The occasional look see at new facilities is part of my work to keep up to date, so I usually only stay a night or two. But to ask a company for a ‘deal’ to stay for a week is pushing it a bit far! Over the years, Nomad Tanzania has been wonderful in this regard and as a way to celebrate a wedding anniversary, a few years ago, Nomad gave my wife Marina and I a ‘10 day deal’ for a stay at Greystoke Mahale-this was my wife’s first visit to Mahale. So I was a little shy in asking for a stay at Vamizi Island for 6 nights- again with my wife Marina. I needn’t have been shy – they were as gracious as ever!

A string of Islands (The Quirimbas Archipelago – dubbed the new Maldives) lies just off the coast of Northern Mozambique and they have always interested me. But being remote these islands were quite difficult to get to from Arusha or anywhere in Tanzania. Not any more. Now 3 weekly flight in a Cessna Caravan departs Dar es Salaam (Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday-exiting immigration there) and flies along the beautiful southern Tanzanian Coast to land in Mozambique at the mainland ex military airport of Mocimboa da Praia which I can envisage being quite a hub in a few years. But now the officials there have to be called in for each flight to process our entry. Laid back does not describe the atmosphere! From this easy entry point the flight to the Vamizi air strip takes only 15 minutes. So the entire journey from Dar to Vamizi is less than 2 and one half hours. EASY!

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A bumpy land rover ride took us to the lodge and we were soon walking along a deserted beach to our room. The classic luxury without the silly OTT items that are becoming the norm these days was welcome and I cannot remember a better first impression at such a beach resort, and I have seen many in my day. The first sunset, the first dinner and the did nothing to change my mind- this was a fine place, a special place, some where I would feel I could recommend right way.

With only six rooms (our room was where Nelson Mandela had stayed we were told) and a few more under construction the utter feel of space and ocean tranquility seduced me entirely. I relaxed at once.

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It was quite strange for us that only a few of the staff spoke Kiswahili as most were from southern Mozambique – Portuguese being the national language of this country. My wife speaks Spanish, Italian, French, German, English and Kiswahili but still with some staff we couldn’t communicate well. All the main staff did however speak English so some extent. We Europeans and Americans are quite lazy on the whole when it comes to languages but remember most Africans speak 3-5 African tongues as well as at least one European one. All the Vamizi staff couldn’t do enough for us and were professional enough to know when you wanted to be left alone…they seemed to read our minds and were discrete at all times, impressive I must say.

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The deserted beaches we walked along were very deserted and I wondered why? Looking at the plan to develop Vamizi in the conservation office later that second day, I gained an insight to the future here and an ambitious one it is. The investors of this project have leased 3 islands and a main land area for development into tourist facilities and community based conservation projects and the zoning of community activities and tourism was quite clear in its rationale from looking at the project write ups. I was given a full copy of past and recent reports on the conservation work so that afternoon and evening I read it all to try and understand more. I suppose the success of it all is dependant on the project selling/leasing off private villas to the well healed not only on Vamizi but also on the other two ilands destined for investment. How much has already been put in at Vamizi and from where these funds come I cannot say but judging from the work ongoing both in solid assets and conservation efforts I would say many millions of dollars have already been put in. The six roomed lodge must be running at a awful loss and seems a flag ship to attract more investment. The lodge itself and the standards of service as well as the diving equipment etc are all absolutely first class and it rare that I cannot fault such a facility. I am impressed all-round I must say. Weather or not the grand plan succeeds or not will depend on so many factors, if I had 3 million dollars to play with…..would I invest? Ask me again when (if) I have 3 million dollars to play with!

The entertainment in the evening included impressive fire stick dancing and the atmospheric lighting at night was beautiful. The food and wine were excellent, the diner settings varried and a great deal of effort obviously goes on behind the scenes. Well done Vamizi I have to say. Nomad’s involvement was unclear to me but I was on a vacation so I didn’t enquire too much on that detail. They are certainly not cutting any corners when providing their varied services. We were spoilt all the way. I cannot think of a finer beach experience for those wanting luxury.

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However I was into the natural history and environmental impact of course and set off on foot alone a few mornings to explore and look behind the scenes of everything. I sometimes walked for 5 hours and never saw another person. The bird life was interesting if not varied and some of the reptiles seen were unidentified. One evening we were called out of the bar to drive and watch a green turtle lay her eggs. We also released some recently hatch turtles- ones that had floundered on previous evenings when trying to get into the Ocean waters- the research staff had rescued them. My walks were along tracks cut running parallel to the beaches and one of these tree lined vehicle tracks led to a 500 year old lighthouse, which will be converted into a whale watching platform I was told. On every morning walk along these pristine beaches I found turtle tracks from the previous evening’s laying attempts and that was a delight. It looked as though a tractor had come out of the Ocean. They take their turtle conservation seriously here and the turtle viewing was strictly controlled. Some of the investors were there that evening and I could tell that the turtle meant a lot to them. Perhaps the financial endeavour will struggle to meet its projections but I feel that these turtle populations are benefiting here. Well done Vamizi again! I have some minor quibbles about the project and have communicated them to the conservation management so I won’t mention them here. This island has very little if any, fresh drinking water and the 1000+ members of its fishing community depends on passing dhows to deliver drinking water! The lodge has built a desalination plant for their needs! Our snorkelling trip was beautiful, the coral diverse and healthy and again the staff were superb. We didn’t dive but one guest that did said that it was some of the best he had seen anywhere in the World. And he seemed well travelled!

Here are some links for you
Vamizi Island ~ the sea(external link)
Vamizi Island ~ conservation(external link)
Vamizi Island ~ the land(external link)

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Our six nights passed far too quickly and my sun kissed and exercised body was grateful, would I return……oh yes! Vamizi is a trully beautiful and clean Ocean getaway.

Many thanks to Nomad Tanzania for ‘the deal’ and I wish Vamizi and all its investors, management and staff all the success their efforts deserve!

Paul Oliver