Miavana lodge, Madagascar
Madagascar is one of those places that is a mystery to most. However, we know some of it through legend and a rather interesting Hollywood animated feature film with names like Alex, King Julian, Marty and Mellman. Luckily the film brought out a lot of the “character” that is Madagascar. It described its beauty, diversity and in a weird and wonderful way, its strangeness. It is an incredibly unique island that split from Africa millions of years ago, allowing it to create and evolve into its own true self. This has paved the way for some interesting and rather different creatures. It is also home to an array of habitats, all diverse and wonderful. Unfortunately, the nation lives mostly in poverty so due to massive deforestation to clear land for agriculture, the wild tracts of land have been reduced to a few protected areas. However, ecotourism has paved the way for the protection of some of these areas and its unique inhabitants. It would be a tremendous global loss and a real negative reflection on humanity as a whole if we let this happen and lost what is arguably the most ecological diverse island on the planet.
This is where Time and Tide have stepped in with a visionary conservation model. They have purchased the island of Nosy Ankao and now manage the island itself as a broad ecotourism model. It is part of approximately 15,000 hectares of protected marine space, which along with the adjacent mainland, makes up the Loky Manambato Protected Area. This has allowed for a protection of a number of endemic lemur species and other wildlife, along with nesting grounds for 4 turtle species and a protected area for the huge array of other marine life. It also encompasses a small neighboring island which has breeding colonies of number of bird species (Click here for a full species study). The luxury lodge that has been created is known as “Miavana”. In the local Malagasy language, this means “to bring together”, which they most certainly have done in terms of bringing together all the elements to create an island paradise which can offer all the best aspects of what Madagascar can offer. The Safari Architects team thought it would be a fantastic place to visit and to see for themselves what this new exciting location had to offer.
From our international airport of entry at Diego Suarez, we met our friendly chopper pilot and began our exciting journey to Nosy Ankao and Miavana. This scenic ride blew us away. We lost count of the number of turtles we saw from the air. Literally hundreds of different species feeding on the shallow coral reefs and sand flats. A first for both Brad and I! There were also a number of manta rays and even large fish species that could be seen. A real testament to the conservation in this section of Madagascar and how the projects put in place are keeping these species safe.
On landing at our private villa’s doorstep, we were met by all the staff and escorted to our home for the next few days. Strung out along the island, every Villa has direct access to the white sandy beaches, turquoise water and coral reefs. The colors of the sand, wood and water have been brought inside the Villas and appear in hand dyed curtains, hand crafted chairs, and light fittings resembling old glass buoys. Every 1, 2 and 3 bedroomed Villa has their own kitchenette, lounge, private deck and pool overlooking the Indian Ocean and Madagascan mainland in the distance. Each Villa also has an ensuited study which can be turned into a child’s bedroom for up to 2 children under 18. A butler service that the queen would be proud of is at hand, and we even had our own electric buggy to traverse the island and transport us to the village piazza, aquatic center and beach lounge. There are a number of activities that can be done at Miavana which will be highlighted below. However, these villas and the beaches that look out open are immaculate and if you are one for just relaxing and taking in the island lifestyle, they are most certainly ideal for it.
That afternoon, we did a scenic quad bike tour of the island. Driving through the local village, we waved to the people who live and work closely with the Miavana team. There was even a local chapel that we visited where a couple had decided to share their wedding vows. A real intimate and local affair! We were on our way to the islands old lighthouse, the highest point of the island, and the best place for a sunset. This really gave us a perspective of Nosy Ankao and the 360 degree view showed us the size of the island and the remoteness of what it encompasses. A lot larger than expected, with large sections of unspoiled coastal forest to explore. A Sundowner drink was had with a few laughs, and then we were off home for dinner.
With Chris being an avid fisherman, we went out with the boats and the experienced crew. Wayne Haselau of Alphonse island fishing fame was luckily on hand to guide us. Wayne has fished all over the world and in fishing circles is one of the most respected chaps in the industry. This is fantastic to know as the marine reserve will need someone of Wayne’s experience to help preserve it and guide local people and the staff on how to manage the future of this incredible marine habitat. We had a small window to catch game fish feeding on a Bonita (small tuna species) shoal, so we followed his expert guidance and tried our luck. We managed a few Bonita on fly rods and lures (light tackle) and ended off with a bit of trawling. This technique really is luck of the draw with anglers alternating each strike, but I was the fortunate one to bag a large Giant Trevally (Kingfish), the sports fishing pinnacle of the ocean. These incredible hunters fight intensely hard, but luckily, we got him on board quickly and released him safely back to swim another day.
Simon, the local Malagasy guide and head of all things wildlife related on the island was on hand to offer us nature walks day and night. We took up his offer and headed into the coastal forest of Nosy Ankao. As mentioned Madagascar is home to large array of endemic species all round and Simon was enthusiastic to show me what he could. A Malagasy paradise flycatcher, Soimanaga sunbirds, a Mahafaly sand snake and number of species were seen. It is always so much fun exploring new and interesting places. We were like kids on an adventure trying to find new treasures! I also took up his offer on a night time expedition. A few interesting species were found, the highlights being a native gecko species, some interesting insects, a Madagascar nightjar and a night walk on the turtle beach in hope of finding a nesting turtle. No luck with the turtle, but a few ghost crabs kept us entertained.
We were also surprised by a private lunch setup in a remote part of the island. With our own swimming bay, a stocked cooler box and some sumptuous snacks, we enjoyed the view – what a great way to have a relaxing afternoon.
One of the highlights on offer at Miavana in terms of biodiversity, is a helicopter trip to the mainland in search of golden crowned Sifakas, an endangered lemur species. With Simon as our guide and Wayne as a backup, we headed off in search of these unique species. After an hour or so of searching, Simon pulled the proverbial cat out of the bag. Bouncing soundlessly through the canopies, he had found the family group. Big orange eyes stared down at us and we watched these unique creatures for as long as they allowed. A first-time experience, we felt quite lucky and privileged to be a part of this conservation project. There is a future plan to reintroduce golden crowned sifakas onto Nosy Ankao itself, which would be a fantastic addition to the island. They did historically occur there so it would an even bigger win for the conservation of the species.
Manamphao island is South East of Nosy Ankao. What makes this place extremely unique is that it is huge nesting colony for a number of tern species. It is internationally known in conservation and birding communities, and the fact that it is now protected is a huge win for the species breeding there. A morning or afternoon trip with a packed lunch here is well worth it! The boat trip there is an adventure and once there, you can experience what it feels like to have thousands of birds flying all around you completely relaxed with your presence. We had a fabulous time exploring and photographing the spectacle. I real intense experience for the senses, completely immersed in the sounds, smells and sights of what this interesting island can offer.
We finished off the day with a last bit of fishing, and then watched the sunset with a glass of wine and few laughs, with a genuine feeling of content. Miavana is a great conservation story in the making and we will watch and follow with interest. It is also a phenomenally luxurious island destination that is magnificent to just relax and enjoy what the lodge can offer with all its amenities and what the staff can provide. An all-round great island holiday destination.
Farewell Miavana, we will be back.
The Safari Architects team.
Written and photographed by Chris Renshaw.