STUNNING Indigo Bay on the Indian Ocean island of Bazaruto, off Vilunkulo, in the now thriving, once war-torn, Mozambique, would be a pleasant eye-opener for even the most jaundiced traveller.
But when jaded latter-day Gullivers are journos from a Zimbabwe seemingly in terminal decline – dead but refusing to lie down —the contrasting lifestyles between neighbouring states was amazing.
Indigo Bay is one of several extremely luxurious Mozambique complexes (and Stanley & Livingstone Lodge, Victoria Falls) owned by Rani Resorts of Dubai.
The resort shut for months recently while a makeover ate up US$15 million.
Three months on, Cyclone Flavia battered its way through low-lying Inhambane Province, —— the hotel airstrip’s only 8m above sea level —— still recovering fitfully from 40 years’ strife.
Bottom line was another US$9 million to fix nature’s ravages, which owner Adel Aujan approved instantly.
Harare folk said Mozambique’s highways were poor. They aren’t. The scenic route from Mutare, to the Vumba, was far worse.
Many Harare thoroughfares are atrocious compared to Mozambique’s main roads( the trip from Mutare to Beitbridge and South Africa is a nightmare) and Mozambique was busy repairing and patching the sort of highway damage Harare ignores.
The run from Forbes border post to an impressively engineered Save Bridge was immaculate. South of the bridge (small toll north-bound traffic only!) drivers must watch pot-holes. But it’s no worse than roads in suburban Harare or Bulawayo.
Told the drive would be at least seven hours of “sending it”, it took exactly six hours, mainly at the 100kph limit, often cut to 80 and 60kph stretches as a dusty kraal, usually brightened by straggly garden blooms, flowering in thin grey soil, was bisected.
Indigo’s general manger is genial highly efficient Zimbabwean Karl Snater, ably aided by wife, Nicole, of cool Scandinavian descent, with film star good looks.
They met when Karl – who went on to become youngest ever gm of 5-star Meikles Hotel, Harare—was deputy gm at the world-famous Victoria Falls Hotel and she was a trainee.
They’ve run the lush, green resort, surrounded by soft golden sands, set in a kind, warm blue-green sea for four very busy years: including almost rebuilding twice.
Staff number around 250, serving (cosseting, rather) a maximum of 114 guests. We heard just seven were Zimbabwean, but seemed to recognise more friendly ex-Harare and Vic Falls faces: management, waiters, barmen, chefs and, of course, Blessed Mpofu, the ubiquitous head of many often adrenaline-pumping, nerve-challenging, “activities”, coming from a similar job at Stanley & Livingstone. Roddy Meiring, son of Meikles Africa Hotels ceo Roy Meiring, is guests services manager.
Someone thought Karl like the “mayor” of this small community. “Major” was more appropriate. (It’s the same root). He commands a company-strength staff (from deputy gm and resident pilots, expensive boat skippers and masseurs at the hotel’s Sanctuary Spa, voted third best in the world by Tatler magazine, down to vital team members like kitchen hands, room cleaners, gardeners and porters); some workers have dependants on site; and is responsible for the rich-and-famous and more everyday guests.
Prince Harry and his squeeze, Chelsea, stayed there recently. So did Richard Gere and (separately) George Michael. (Cheapest off-peak room is US$330, rising to $557 per person per night sharing; the Presidential Villa hits US$2 200: serious wonga!)
We took a short trip across gentle waves: colours every hue of blue: from palest baby-blue, to deepest Prussian, via cornflower, cobalt, electric, powder, navy, royal, aquamarine, ultramarine…even indigo! with hints and tints of emerald and leaf greens, in a throaty twin-engined speedboat.
All the food and wines were incredibly, unbelievably good and will be covered in a separate article, but we’d a manna-like seafood braai, cooked under canvas shelter on a blindingly white coral-sand beach, appropriately named Paradise Island, swimming and snorkelling in brilliantly clear blood-temperature water, lapping the low-lying islet, officially called Santa Carolina.
Rani Resorts will rebuild the once much- loved family hotel there, abandoned by Portuguese owners when Frelimo took Mozambique; since pummelled by countless cyclones.
Ironically, this idyllic setting was once a Portuguese penal colony: Lusitania’s version of Devil’s Island or Alcatraz.
In the 1960s, after James Michener put the then Lisbon colony on the map in his beat generation novel The Drifters (which “made” Torremolinos, Spain), Bob Dylan composed a song dedicated to, and titled, ‘Mozambique’ on the piano of the hotel’s splendid palm court lounge.
Portuguese trader Lourenco Marques, after whom the capital (now Maputo) was first named, fell in love there with a hauntingly beautiful Moorish slave princess.
It is a place in —— or with —— which it would be easy to fall in love.
More on Indigo Bay in Sunday’s issue of The Standard.
By Dusty Miller