sexta-feira, 20 de julho de 2007

Pemba Beach paradise...

As our Airlink flight from Johannesburg soars gently down into Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province in far northern Mozambique, I'm keeping a beady eye out for all the trappings of tropical paradise. Palm trees, turquoise water, coral reefs, traditional dhows plying the water, crayfish big enough to be seen from the air... you know the deal. But baobabs on the beach? I realised then that a flying visit to Pemba was going to be more than your average tropical escape.
Situated on what is said to be the third largest natural harbour in the world, the town of Pemba — thanks to increased air access via direct flights on Airlink — is fast becoming the gateway to the fantastic beaches this coast has to offer and the islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago further north.
There's a range of accommodation on offer in the area — from guesthouses to backpackers — but undoubtedly the most luxurious place to stay is the impressive Pemba Beach Hotel. Arabian wind towers, terracotta walls and Moorish arches are a gentle reminder of the days when the calm waters of East Africa were a popular stomping ground for Arabian slave traders to load up their deadly cargo.
Thankfully nowadays the dhows you'll see offshore will be full of tourists and fishermen catching your dinner rather than slaves off to servitude in a distant land. Dhow cruises in the bay are just one of the many options popular with the tourists who come here to enjoy the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean... whether you're in the mood for adrenalin action or something a little more sedate there'll be something to drag you away from that sun lounger.
Under da sea
With warm waters, fantastic visibility and incredible array of marine life, diving is a popular option and the Pemba Beach Hotel offers a fully-kitted dive centre where you can do anything from a fun recreational dive right through to advanced certifications. Boat dives (with no launch through the surf!) can take you to a choice of sites within minutes, so you can easily spend a few days blowing bubbles.
One of the most popular sites is 'The Gap', where the reef drops off the edge of the continental shelf all the way to 120m below the surface. If that's a bit extreme for you, there are snorkelling spots just off the beach in front of the resort (equipment provided at the Club Navale) or you can hop on one of the regular snorkelling trips ($25) by boat to coral reefs further afield.
More of a hunter than a watcher? Andre Bloemhof runs regular fishing safaris (either full or half-day) where you can troll for Marlin, Kingfish, Wahoo, Dorado and Tuna on deep-sea reefs and in and around the stunning Quirimbas Archipelago. Starting at $300 per person it's an expensive day out, but is sure to get your heart rate going. For cheaper thrills you can also throw a line off the end of the resort’s jetty, where you might bag yourself a small Kingfish or Snapper.
Drop the locals a line
If you want to get a feel for how the local fishermen do it though, hop onto one of the dhow trips run by Kaskazini tours (at Pemba Beach hotel). Run by the ever helpful Genevieve, you can book yourself on well-priced dhow trips ranging from a sunset cruise with their local skipper to a five-day safari exploring the southern islands of the pristine Quirimbas Archipelago.
Sound like far too much exertion? The Sanctuary Spa is the latest addition to Pemba Beach, offering a range of treatments from this well-known South African spa group. Book yourself in for a bit of pampering with a front-row seat to the Indian Ocean.
When evening rolls around, the Quirimbas Restaurantr is the place you want to end up, tucking into the buffet that stretches on into the distance. Fragrant curries, fresh marlin and tuna on the skillet, crayfish tails to your heart’s content and a pile of prawns that does Mozambique’s reputation justice. White tablecloths, excellent service and the musical accompaniment of the Indian Ocean complete the picture of a perfect dinner in the tropics. The beachfront restaurant at the Club Navale is also an option for something more casual, but it’s a place best enjoyed at lunchtimes, eating barefoot with your toes wiggling in the sand.
Hit the town
Of course you don’t have to — and shouldn’t — spend all your time in the resort. The town of Pemba doesn’t have the impressive Portuguese architecture or attractions of some of Mozambique's larger towns, but a stroll through the market and Old Town are well worth a few hours, if nothing else to see a little of daily life in Cabo Delgado. The dusty streets occasionally reveal a quaint craft stall or carpenter at work, but the beach is really the place to catch a glimpse of day to day life in Pemba.
Start at the reed village of Paquitequete — a mostly Muslim community of fishermen where a 'Salaam' will elicit a warm smile and perhaps an offer to take their photograph. Children lay in the dust, women sell their catch on the beaches and talented carpenters fix their traditional dhows using the most rudimentary tools; while almost everybody pitches in to haul the fishing nets laden with sardines up the beach.
There are a few roadside markets in town where you can pick up colourful local cloth to take home, but if you’re souvenir hunting your best bet is the Makonde Co-op on the road from town to Wimbe beach, where men and children use rudimentary lathes and chisels to skillfully carve out statues, bowls and masks from enormous logs of indigenous hardwoods. It’s also just a few hundred metres from the airport, so a good place to stock up on souvenir for friends and family back home just before you leave.
And you’ll want to take home a souvenir or three. With a wonderful lack of the ‘bakkie brigade’ who descend on the resort towns further south, Pemba is the kind of place you’ll want to remember. The buildings may be crumbling, but the town still holds an air of Mozambique in days gone. The people are as friendly as ever, and as long as you don’t stray too far from Hylton’s hotel buffet you’ll never go hungry.
For more info…
  • Visit the Pemba Beach Hotel & Spa website for more information and to book.
  • Airlink flies direct from Johannesburg to Pemba twice weekly, on Tuesdays and Saturdays. For more information on Pemba and the airline's 25 other destinations, visit or call 011 961 1700.
  • Kaskazini Tours are as close as you’ll get to an information bureau in Pemba, and can assist with booking anything from accommodation and tours to flight. Their website should be your first stop when planning a trip.
  • Wimbe Beach is the most popular strip in town, and offers a range of guesthouses and restaurants to suit all budgets. If you’re staying at Pemba Beach Hotel it’s still worth a visit for an evening drink with the sand between your toes.

Richard Holmes - Thu, 19 Jul 2007 - In

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