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Our 5 Favourite Luxury Dive Lodges

It’s just after dawn, a time rarely seen on traditional beach holidays. Yet a group of guests has already gathered in front of the Rocktail Beach Dive Centre. I wander up - weight belt in one hand, cup of coffee in the other - and listen to the excited chatter about what lies ahead (or rather below): “There have been fantastic whale shark sightings recently!”; “Massive mantas circled us yesterday!”; “I hear the coral is incredible!”

Clearly the newcomer in this group of advanced divers, instructors and underwater photographers, I silently take in the snippets of conversation, smiling into my coffee cup at the thrilling words: “whale shark”. Before I know it, I'm aboard a rubber duck and flying across the surf towards one of Rocktail’s many dive sites. The mixture of speed, spray and sea air add to the knot of anticipation growing in my stomach, but the butterflies vanish the moment I descend into the calm, deep blue – and all I feel is wonder!

Africa’s Indian Ocean coastline is home to several of the world’s top dive sites: divers can look forward to kaleidoscopes of pristine coral; clear views of morays, turtles and mantas; clouds of colourful fish in aquarium-like settings and giant pelagic fish patrolling steep-sided drop-offs.

And it's all very accessible. Below are five lodges close to the best sites, private retreats that offer you the chance to explore below the waves while staying in barefoot luxury. 

Vamizi Island Lodge - Quirimbas Archipelago
Vamizi Island's villas have direct beach access and unforgettable ocean views.
Vamizi Island Lodge - whale watching
Visit Vamizi in summer for sightings of humpback whales.
Vamizi Island Lodge - purple coral
Dive healthy reefs with vivid, unbleached corals.

Vamizi Island Lodge, Quirimbas Archipelago

Vamizi Island sits in the Quirimbas Archipelago, a scattering of islands off Mozambique’s north coast. Few of the reefs around Vamizi have been properly mapped yet, but those that have will amaze even the most experienced of divers. One site in particular, Neptune’s Arm, has a 1000-metre drop off so packed with coral and fish that it has been named as one of the top ten scuba sites on the planet!

Sitting on this classic ‘castaway’ island is Vamizi Island Lodge, its 13 thatched villas strung loosely along a footprint-free beach. A stay here is a chance to experience the rare pleasures of exclusive island life: sit down to elegant lunches with your toes in the sand, paddle with turtles in turquoise lagoons or wander along miles of sugar-white beaches.

Best For: Advanced drop-off dives, a remote private island escape.

Find Out More: Vamizi Island Lodge

Azura @ Benguerra - Bazaruto Archipelago
Been a while since you wet your gills? Azura offers a full range of dive courses and refreshers.
Azura @ Benguerra - turtles can be spotted
Green turtles are often seen on the Bazaruto coral reefs.
Azura @ Benguerra - set on a private beach
Azura has 2- and 3-bedroom villas for families or friends travelling together.

Azura @ Benguerra, Bazaruto Archipelago

Lying off Mozambique’s southern coast, the protected waters around the Bazaruto Archipelago are an excellent choice for less advanced divers. Shallow reefs of hard and soft coral, packed with starfish and anemones, form a dazzling backdrop for exotic reef fish while green turtles and manta rays glide through the gin-clear water. Between October and March, advanced divers should head for Cabo San Sebastio, a site famous for its manta raysand whale sharks.

The most luxurious of Benguerra Island’s three lodges, Azura is an eco-boutique retreat with 16 stylish villas that come with personal butlers and private infinity pools. There’s also plenty to do at Azura between dives: visit the local village, sail away on a dhow and enjoy a desert island picnic, or simply settle in at the Star Bar with a bottle of bubbly from the owner’s French vineyard.

Best For: Shallow reefs teeming with life, a post Kruger-safari beach break.

Find Out More: Azura @ Benguerra

Mnemba Island Lodge - Mnemba Island, Zanzibar
Calm sea and coral reefs await - perfect dive conditions at Mnemba Island Lodge.
Mnemba Island Lodge - a romantic, rustic retreat
Mnemba offers barefoot luxury at its best!
Mnemba Island Lodge - explore above the waves too
Explore above the waves on a dhow cruise.

Mnemba Island Lodge, Zanzibar Archipelago

Lying just off the northern tip of Zanzibar, tiny Mnemba Island is surrounded by vibrant coral reefs bursting with life. Conditions here are ideal: warm water, excellent visibility, and sites ranging from shallow coral gardens to advanced drift dives. You also have a good chance of swimming with pods of playful dolphins, their squeals and clicks filling your deep blue surrounds.

A tropical island paradise in every sense of the word, Mnemba Island has just 10 palm-frond bandas tucked away in a forest fringed by white powdery sand - it's the kind of place where you take your shoes off on arrival and don’t put them on again until you leave. Your butler sets up private dinners in surprise locations; green turtles nest on the beaches you stroll on, and you’re never expected to share your perfect stretch of sand with anyone else.

Best For: Dives for every level of experience, an exclusive and romantic getaway.

Find Out More: Mnemba Island Lodge

Rocktail Beach Lodge - swim and dive with the dolphins
Diving at Rocktail there's a good chance you might also get to swim with dolphins!
Rocktail Beach Lodge - KwaZulu Natal
Diving off Rocktail is strictly controlled and the reefs are in magnificent condition.

Rocktail Beach Camp, South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Coast

The protected waters of Rocktail Beach Camp offer South Africa’s most exclusive diving experience. Expect thriving reefs with busy cleaning stations; richly coloured corals; green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles; and a staggeringly diverse display of fish (over 1 200 species). As for the bigger creatures, there’s a very good chance of seeing manta rays and whale sharks year round, and there are frequent shark sightings from November to March.

Rocktail Beach Camp sits on the wild Elephant Coast in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, its tented rooms hidden away in thick coastal forest. Wander down the sandy track leading from the lodge and you’ll pop up on a dune overlooking a long and empty stretch of soft, toe-wiggling sand – the kind of beach that conjures up the child-like thrill of your first seaside holiday.

Best For: Swimming with whale sharks, a safari and beach self-drive adventure.

Find Out More: Rocktail Beach Camp

Coral Lodge 15.41 - Mozambique's Coast
Dive ancient wrecks at Coral Lodge 15.41.
Coral Lodge 15.41 - a sunset dhow cruise
Sail away on a sunset dhow cruise.

Coral Lodge 15.41, Mozambique Coast

Once an important but treacherous trading route, this part of Mozambique’s northern coastline is littered with numerous shipwrecks dating back centuries. Their hulking remains have created the foundations for teeming reefs and you may see broken Chinese porcelain, trading beads or even old Portuguese coins lying on the ocean floor.

Coral Lodge 15.41 has an incredible location, set as it is on a tip of land between two sand-rimmed bays. From the lodge’s infinity pool you can gaze across at Ilha de Mozambique, the capital of colonial Portuguese East Africa and now a World Heritage Site. And there’s plenty to do between dives: snorkel in the warm lagoon, canoe through mangrove forests, visit a local village or catch the dhow across to Ilha - its crumbling buildings and twisting alleyways make for fantastic photography.

Best For: Wreck dives, a classic beach holiday with a historical and cultural twist.

Find Out More: Coral Lodge 15.41

Written by Sandra Mallinson. Connect with her on Google+.

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