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A Taste of Madagascar's Bluest Safari

by Iroshini Chua
15.06.2017
Off the northeast coast of Madagascar lies a luxury island resort that will open your eyes to the breathtaking wonders of land and sea

Standing still in the middle of a dry forest west of Cape Du Diable, I was out of my element. Despite the lack of dangerous animals lurking to devour us on Madagascan soil, we were silently feeding hungry mosquitoes as we waited for Simon, our guide, to return. He had trekked further ahead to locate the elusive Golden-Crowned Sifaka, one of the most endangered species of lemurs found only in Madagascar. Between the fading streams of amber sunlight and shifting curtains of green shadows, a sudden flash of gold appeared in my peripheral vision – had that been the evasive creature? The helicopter pilot and my husband swiftly scanned the horizon to pinpoint it, but to no avail.

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Simon appeared just as we had given up searching and pointed to the canopy directly above us. “They’ve probably been watching you for the past 20 minutes and laughing!” Expertly balanced on branches, about half a dozen lemurs eyed us suspiciously.

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In a serendipitous meeting in a remote bush airport in Namibia a few months before our visit here, a travel insider had raved: “It’s going to be the hottest luxury resort opening of 2017!” I had wasted no time in contacting A2A safaris to plan our journey and turned out to be one of the first guests on the property. We had arrived in Nosy Ankao, the largest of five islands in an archipelago off the northeast coast of Madagascar by helicopter.

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Nosy Ankao can only be accessed by a brief helicopter ride from the nearest international airport in Antsiranana in Diego Suarez, sitting high on the northern point of Madagascar.
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Nosy Ankao can only be accessed by a brief helicopter ride from the nearest international airport in Antsiranana in Diego Suarez, sitting high on the northern point of Madagascar.
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Nosy Ankao can only be accessed by a brief helicopter ride from the nearest international airport in Antsiranana in Diego Suarez, sitting high on the northern point of Madagascar.
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Nosy Ankao can only be accessed by a brief helicopter ride from the nearest international airport in Antsiranana in Diego Suarez, sitting high on the northern point of Madagascar. (Image: Iroshini Chua)
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Nosy Ankao can only be accessed by a brief helicopter ride from the nearest international airport in Antsiranana in Diego Suarez, sitting high on the northern point of Madagascar.
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Nosy Ankao can only be accessed by a brief helicopter ride from the nearest international airport in Antsiranana in Diego Suarez, sitting high on the northern point of Madagascar.

Departing from Diego Suarez, we flew over the magnificent Bay of Diego. Hein, our pilot, thrilled us with stunning aerial views as we swooped over rugged mountains, century-old shipwrecks, deserted beaches, cavorting dolphins and graceful manta rays. Beneath us, the ocean shimmered in vacillating hues of aquamarine, emerald and azure blue, its clarity revealing the coral in the shallows that awaited our discovery.

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A stay at Miavana – a new private villa lodge on the island of Nosy Ankso off the northeast coast of Madagascar – is your gateway into a realm of lush forest trails, strange-looking chameleons, and endangered lemurs.

From Algae Farm to Beach Villa Fantasy

Belonging to the owner-operated Time+Tide collection, Miavana is the first of its kind in Madagascar – an uber-luxe resort for the jet-setting glitterati with 14 contemporary villas, a well-stocked wine cellar helmed by one of South Africa’s finest sommeliers, and a fleet of boats and helicopters for the exclusive use of its well-heeled guests.

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Surrounded by stunning seascapes, Miavana makes concerted effort to protect and rejuvenate the marine environment.

Once an algae farm, it has been lovingly transformed with a strong ethos of conservation and responsible tourism at its heart. Miavana has an enviable self-sufficient water purification system, a high-tech sewage system and its own vegetable garden. Sustainable long-term employment is provided for the local community while the kitchen sources some of the produce from the nearby farms including Zebu, vanilla bean and cocoa.

Designed by award-winning architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, our sensational abode set on a stretch of sugar-white sand was every bit a beach villa fantasy. Two massive bedrooms feature daybeds, sunken tubs and no less than five indoor and outdoor showers, while a separate study, living room and staffed kitchen have been outfitted with all things modern to spoil and pamper. Glass sliding doors reveal an expansive outdoor pool deck and invites a constant breeze throughout the villa. Keen and attentive, our butler was always on hand to chauffeur us around, coordinate our activities and manage our daily schedules. She even surprised us with refreshing concoctions of her own design.

(Image: Iroshini Chua) 

The most compelling attraction in Miavana is undoubtedly its incredible seascape. Part of an approximate 15,000ha of protected marine area, it teems with technicolour marine life. Snorkelling just steps from the beach, I encountered Round Moonies gently gliding in unison in their hundreds beneath us. Around the reef, we spotted pretty butterflyfish and silver schools of glimmering juvenile Giant Trevally. There is no shortage of diving spots a short boat ride away nor opportunities to spot exotic species of fish such as the rare Napoleon Wrasse. Other than snorkelling and diving, the activity centre arranges sailing trips, whale watching expeditions, paddle boarding, fly fishing and deep-water fishing as part of its Blue Safari experience.

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Marine life is aplenty in the waters of Nosy Ankao, housing endangered species such as the green sea turtle.
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Residing in the uninhabited area of the Nosy Ankao archipelago on the Indian Ocean, vibrant coral reefs are a common find on the island of Miavana.
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The luxury lodge was designed with the nature-lover in mind, arrayed with activities spanning from fly-fishing to kite-surfing.
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The luxury lodge was designed with the nature-lover in mind, arrayed with activities spanning from fly-fishing to kite-surfing.
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The luxury lodge was designed with the nature-lover in mind, arrayed with activities spanning from fly-fishing to kite-surfing.

Eco Edification

There is an ongoing effort to rejuvenate the marine environment surrounding the island. The staff have been actively educating the local fisherman and employing them as wardens in the area to reduce netting and encourage sustainable fishing methods.  This has already resulted in an increase in the numbers of juveniles in the nursery areas close to shore.

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Simon and his team continue to create new trails on the island to enrich the visitor experience. On one of the trails winding through the surrounding semi-dry littoral forest, we were introduced to giant chameleons and indigenous trees such as the Anganaharo.

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The giant chameleons are native to the island, and is known to be able to grow up to 27 inches long.
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The giant chameleons are native to the island, and is known to be able to grow up to 27 inches long. (Image: Iroshini Chua)
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The Miavana Private Island development revamped the land by planting 60,000 endemic replacements like the Anganaharo trees.
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The giant chameleons are native to the island, and is known to be able to grow up to 27 inches long.

Our trail opened onto a stretch of untouched beach littered with skeletons of trees, and we uncovered several Hawksbill and green turtle nests in the sand that concealed incubating eggs. At one point, Simon gestured animatedly at a sand dune overlooking the pristine waters. “Soon, guests will be able to sip cocktails up there and enjoy the sunset!” he said.

Indeed, like Simon, we’re thrilled for the exciting times that lie ahead for Miavana, and can’t wait for the day Madagascar becomes the eco-tour destination in the world – if it isn’t already.
 

All images from Time + Tide otherwise mentioned. 

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