There’s something to be said for tropical islands. Every one I’ve ever visited has claimed to be a “paradise” and has the obligatory palm trees lining an impossibly perfect-looking beach. And they do tend to bring out the surfer chic in me as I go for the ultimate bronze tan and the sportiest swimsuit I can lay my hands on.
So when the chance was presented for me to combine my visit to Northern Mozambique’s Niassa game reserve with a three night stay on Matemo Island, I didn’t exactly have to force myself to say “yes”!
Combining bush and beach is a fast growing trend among safari-goers, especially in this neck of the woods. Northern Mozambique’s Quirimbas archipelago lies only a few kilometres south of the Tanzanian border, and, further up the coast, the magical Zanzibar, itself only a couple of hundred ks or so from Mombasa and Malindi – Kenya’s prize coastal resorts.
Not as well-known as its more southerly cousin the Bazaruto archipelago, the Quirimbas is home to a collection of extremely pretty islands close to the mainland and Pemba – the capital of Cabo Delgado province.
Matemo is one of them, and home to one of Rani Resorts handful of island getaways – Matemo Island Resort.
Rani also owns Indigo Beach on Bazaruto and Medjumbe Private Island, a more remote, postage-stamp of an island in the Quirimbas.
Matemo Resort is tucked away on the west of the island, facing the mainland and protected from the prevailing winds, meaning that the sea is marvelously calm and perfect for swimming and snorkelling, with tiny clusters of coral only a short distance offshore at low tide.
The white sand beach is rimmed with 24 air-conditioned wooden chalets, each with its own private verandah with access straight onto the beach. Hammocks, loungers and thatched “umbrellas” complete the picture, as do what seems like a million or two hermit crabs whose antics keep guests rapt for hours.
GM Vincent Makamure has recently taken over the running of the resort, and his team is upbeat and friendly with winning smiles. Nothing is too much trouble at Matemo, whether it be a massage in your chalet or on the beach, a diving lesson, windsurfing or organising a visit to the nearby village which Rani supports.
The accommodation is gracious, the food great, and the atmosphere full of bonhomie and vibe.
Matemo’s position a few kilometres from the mainland may not fit the bill when it comes to truly getting away from it all, but its location has a surprising benefit – its proximity to one of the area’s best kept secrets and in my book a World Heritage Site in the making – Ibo.
This is a former slave post, and the site of conflict between Omani Arab traders and Portuguese colonialists of the 17th and 18th century. Control of the island see-sawed between these two rulers from early Arab settlement in 600 AD, when trade in amber, jet, ivory, turtle shell and people was what it was all about.
The slave trade became Ibo’s number one industry in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, with the local Portuguese slave lords making a small fortune selling slaves to France for work on the sugar plantations of Mauritius and Reunion, as well as trading with the Dutch East India Company and England on their routes to and from the Spice Islands.
Matemo organises half-day guided tours of Ibo, which is a 25-minute boat trip away, allowing visitors the chance to really explore the old buildings and fort, which dates back to 1500 AD. Unesco is considering Ibo for World Heritage Site status. They need to make up their mind quickly, before history like this crumbles into dust.
Back on Matemo, options abound. Guided snorkelling trips and scuba diving are offered on a stretch of nearby reef where the marine life is as outstanding as the island’s sunsets and seafood buffets.
Non motorised water sports like kayaking and sailing are free of charge. Scuba courses can be done on Matemo too. In season, whale watching cruises are offered, and fishing charters are also popular, as are sunset cruises and dhow cruises.
But for me, the opportunity to relax on a lounger, soak up the sun and occasionally immerse myself in the Indian Ocean was too much. Doing very little can be as tiring as doing an awful lot!
And there are not many places where doing nothing is as wonderfully inviting as on Matemo!
It’s the perfect “after party” to Lugenda Wilderness Camp and a wonderful way to end my Northern Mozambican safari.