By Amanda Woods

aaWhen most people think about going on holiday in Africa, images of wide open plains and game drives usually spring to mind. But there is more to Africa than what lies on the mother continent; it is also home to some of the most extraordinary islands on the planet. Mauritius and Zanzibar are some of the more familiar names, but there are a number of lesser known gems waiting to be discovered.

The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar, is described as the ‘eighth continent’ by ecologists, largely because of its array of flora and fauna that can’t be found elsewhere on the planet.

To put it into perspective, around 90% of all wildlife and plant life is unique to the island – and scientists are constantly discovering new species. 

A long list of national parks work around the clock to protect wildlife, coral reefs and rainforests, and a range of accommodation can be found near some parks, from budget offerings to luxury lodges.

Nosy Be, an island off the island of Madagascar, is the most popular beach destination and is home to an array of hotels and resorts.

Travellers can find everything from family-run budget bungalows such as Hotel Le Grand Bleu for around A$40 a night, right up the spectrum to secluded luxury resorts.

It’s a 90 minute flight to the Relais & Chateaux property Anjajavy L’Hotel on one of the island’s remote peninsulas, but the 12 private beaches, tropical gardens and rare island creatures make this resort one to write home about. Take high tea among the lemurs, go snorkelling and windsurfing, explore forests filled with more than 1800 floral species, and visit nearby villages by boat.

Rates vary throughout the year but costs for a villa start at just ¤390 per night which includes a sea facing terrace, large corner bathroom, loft room that could be used as a guest room for two extra people, as well as dinner and breakfast.

Over in Zanzibar, visitors can explore the historic Stone Town’s winding alleys, bazaars, mosques and charming shops, or head to the beaches and soak up the sun on the endless coast line. If that doesn’t cut it, Zanzibar’s other claim to fame is big game fishing, with Fishing Zanzibar offering professional charters year round.

Travellers looking for an exclusive experience can head to the private &Beyond Mnemba Island which is found off the coast of Zanzibar. Seclusion is what brings visitors to this gem, with only 20 guests allowed on the island at any one time.

Best known for its romantic charm, guests are welcomed with personal butler service away from the crowds, with all guests made to feel like they are on a deserted island. Couples can share private dinners on the beach or in secluded forest clearings, and can even go kayaking or paddle boarding on the calm waters of the Indian Ocean. Scuba diving, snorkelling and fly fishing are also available to guests.

Mnemba Island is also home to some of the smallest and rarest antelope species in Africa, and the coconut crab which can grow up to one metre in length.

Bird lovers should make their way to Bird Island, which – as the name suggests – is a twitcher’s paradise with around a million terns nesting on the island every year.

Located on the edge of the Seychelles plateau, Bird Island is a top spot for big game fishing. Here, guests can take on marlin, tuna, sailfish and more just a few minutes from the resort.

Interestingly, the resort is free from light pollution and has no lights on the grounds at night, setting the perfect stage for stargazing. The island’s position also shows all of the major southern constellations as well as a few of their northern counterparts.

Travellers who are drawn to the water will feel at home on Moheli, the smallest island in the Comoros archipelago, which is underdeveloped with few modern amenities. The Moheli Marine Park is filled with colourful coral and fish, while sea turtles, dolphins and whales are all protected in the park. It is also possible to hike across the island in a matter of days, staying in community run bungalows along the way.

Meanwhile, those who want a taste of some of Africa’s more popular tourist islands may want to consider a cruise. Princess Cruises’ Ocean Princess has a 35-day cruise from Cape Town to Rome, which includes stops in Port Louis, Mauritius, Nosy Be, Madagascar, and Mahe in the Seychelles.

Along the way guests have the chance to explore beaches, visit markets, snorkel and see exotic flora and fauna.

With so many fascinating islands in Africa to choose from, travellers could easily spend an entire holiday simply getting to know a single island, or add an island stay onto their African safari adventure. Who says travellers can’t have it all on a trip to Africa?

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