African dream

If you’re looking for a cruise with off-the-beaten-track appeal, explore a new side to the Indian Ocean


Sheltering under a gargantuan coco de mer tree, the intermittent raindrops bounced off my skin, leaving literal steam trails behind.

At the National Botanical Gardens in Victoria, the capital of Mahe island in the Seychelles, the humidity was off the scale on this changeable January day; acclimatising was proving a challenge, however, the verdant gardens helped to take the edge off my post-flight fatigue.

Within minutes, the showers stopped and I headed to watch the native Aldabra giant tortoises being fed, dozing and hauling their substantial homes around.

Exploring further, hundreds of flying insects and dragonflies hovering over lily pads and dancing together in the steamy African air almost put me into a jet-lagged trance. It was quite the display.

My first dose of vitamin sea came at Cote d’Or beach on neighbouring island Praslin, home to just 7,000 residents, located at the sleepy village of Anse Volbert and featuring the sugar white sand and warm, azure blue water that you’ll have seen on countless social media feeds.

But the Seychelles was only the first stop on my adventure southwards down the East African coastline, cruising the Indian Ocean on Azamara Quest. Few ships visit this side of the continent so until you reach South Africa you’re unlikely to spot many others en route, or at your fascinating ports of call.

Quest has a relaxed and informal attitude that enables you to relax and go with the flow too, ideal when you’re sailing solo as I was.

At meal times you can eat wherever you want, whenever you choose — including at your sun lounger when you fancy a casual lunch. And with the exception of Azamara’s renowned white themed night, there’s no need to dress up unless you feel like it.

The food selection is very varied, and there are always gluten and sugar-free options available at all dining venues. After walking a mile round the jogging track some mornings, I was thankful for the juice and smoothie station at breakfast, which served refreshing concoctions, ginger shots and detox water.

My veranda stateroom was fairly compact but cleverly planned to maximise space. And the essentials were all there — USB ports by the beds, robes and slippers, unlimited bottled water and even a bathroom night light.

Arguably the best way to beach-hop in the Indian Ocean is on a cruise, however this voyage was all about the off-the-beaten-track itinerary, with more adventures in store ashore than feeling the sand between my toes.

As well as the excursions programme, guests also have the opportunity to leave the ship for curated overnight land tours, staying in anything from luxury lodges to boutique inns.

Nature was a focus, and I opted for one of the ship’s shore tours to Zulu Nyala game reserve in Richards Bay, the gateway to Zululand and part of the KwaZulu-Natal province north of Durban.

With sunset approaching, we jumped into open 4x4 vehicles and bumped across the uneven terrain with our guide Moosa at the wheel.

Sightings were plentiful — a journey of giraffes, African elephants, water buffalo wallowing in their very own waterhole mud ‘spa’, plus territorial impala and a white rhino, who seemed far more interested in his evening meal than letting us pass.

Sailing on, a rather different island awaited. Arriving in ‘The Spice Island’ during Revolution weekend, many buildings were adorned with yellow, green and blue draping and there was a definite buzz in the air.

The decorations were marking the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964, which led to the downfall of the Sultan of Zanzibar and his mainly Arab government by local African revolutionaries, ending 200 years of the Sultan’s rule.

The Swahili trading site of Stone Town, Zanzibar’s old district and a Unesco World Heritage site, is characteristic of historic and indigenous Africa: some call it Zanzibar’s answer to Marrakech.

With its Arabic and Indian carved doorways, crumbling coral stone buildings and bazaar-style shops, it’s like stepping back in time and is well worth exploring the maze of narrow and atmospheric streets.

Zanzibar is also known for its pristine beaches, and having made new ship mates on board Quest, we headed out on a private excursion on a traditional dhow sailing boat.

Sailing in the marine protected Menai Bay conservation area, we stopped to snorkel amongst the coral and swim in a mangrove lagoon.

Then, with feet sinking into sugar soft sand, we enjoyed a beach BBQ lunch, followed by a tasting of island fruits including the distinctively scented jackfruit, dates, mango and passion fruit.

There’s an equally turbulent history in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Now a growing economy, it is still only on a handful of cruise lines’ radars but with a melting pot of African and Mediterranean influence to discover in this diverse city, thanks to Portuguese settlers arriving in the 1700s.

There are more stunning beaches and undiscovered coastline in the region, however as we were only docked for a few hours we stuck to the city highlights.

The Central railway station, named one of the most beautiful in the world thanks to its Beaux-Arts style with marble columns and copper domes, has been keeping the city moving since 1910.

We escaped the heat to sample a fresh-from-the-oven pasteis de nata washed down by local beer, in the original tiled platform cafe.

And too soon, it was time to disembark in Durban, South Africa’s third largest city with its small yet vibrant Jewish community. Often overlooked in favour of Cape Town, the city has been on the up since it worked on overhauling its image in preparation for the 2010 World Cup.

With golden beaches — once almost exclusively for white South Africans but now for all — Indian influences and culture in abundance, it’s also a holiday hotspot for South Africans, and has a fun, laidback vibe that epitomises the famous Swahili saying, hakuna matata or ‘no worries’.

As I sat surveying the white-crested waves at a beachfront cafe on Golden Mile beach, I promised myself I’d take a little of that carefree attitude back home in celebration of a unique and unforgettable voyage.


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