Newly-opened Miavana is an exciting example of how tourism helps to improve the local economy and preserve the natural habitat. It’s just what Madagascar needs, reports Gillian McLaren
ugging the shore of Nosy Ankao, an island off the coast of northwest Madagascar, is the new Time + Tide Miavana island sanctuary. The first lodge to be built on the island, it may well be the most luxurious and opulent in the whole of Madagascar.
Excellence is the keyword here; with the emphasis firmly on providing guests the best of everything. All materials have been carefully sourced from the very best producers.
The formidable duo of architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens designed the spacious, appealing and ultra-modern villas and public spaces. A new R66 Turbine Marine helicopter flies guests in from Nosy Be or Diego Suarez. The lodges are stocked with Smeg appliances, Bose speakers and a glorious swimming pool. The dining experience is gourmet and wine is served in special Riedel glassware. Even the scuba diving equipment, fishing rods and motorboats are spanking new designer items.
Time + Tide Miavana took four years to build, using 500 local workers on the construction team. Everything from the stones fashioning the walls through to tractors and graders had to be shipped in on wooden 10-tonne boats or flown in by helicopter.
But, significantly, the team at Time + Tide is determined to please more than the most discerning of five-star tourists, by committing to the development of the island, the local people and to the conservation of the whole archipelago.
Construction of Miavana has already brought positive changes to Nosy Ankao. Much of the labour was drawn from two small villages on the island, the town of Diego Suarez and further afield. Villagers’ homes are being upgraded, and they are being provided with fresh water, flush toilets, showers, a shop, a stocked clinic (run by a resident Malagasy nurse) and a school. In future, solar panels will be supplied.
Malagasy men and women have been trained in various skills including stone work, electrical laying or as a skipper for the motorboats. Others are being mentored as guides for walks in the forest, scuba diving or spa treatments. This opportunity for personal development has resulted in a highly motivated team.
My Malagasy guide, Simon Andrianiaina, told me he has been delighted to learn more about the ecology of the region. He helps pioneer the paths for Miavana’s guests to explore the island’s fascinating flora and fauna, and is passionate about the conservation that Miavana has initiated. Impressively well informed, Simon found me a fish-scaled night gecko sleeping in some dry palm fronds, an Oustalet’s chameleon and several birds, including Malagasy coucal and the Malagasy paradise flycatcher. He taught me about some of the interesting plants and their functions in local life. Formerly a mechanic, Simon still enjoys reading about cars, but his first love is ecology. He is fiercely loyal to the Miavana vision and humbly grateful for the opportunities it has given him personally.
Conservation is central to the Time + Tide Miavana mission. Since 2013, Greg Wepener, a horticulturalist and the island manager for Miavana, has been supervising the removal of more than 10,000 casuarina trees. Originally planted by colonialists as wind breaks, these trees use vast quantities of precious fresh water and take up space where indigenous or endemic trees could grow. In their place, 70,000 endemic trees have been planted. Over the next three years, 4000 Baobab Adensonia trees will be planted in the area.
With lemurs threatened by black market traders and mining operations in their natural mountainous territory on the mainland, Daraina, Miavana plans to relocate four highly-endangered Crowned lemurs on Nosy Ankao, where they will be monitored. The male will be fitted with a radio collar and blood samples will be taken to get more information on their genetics. In the long term, lemurs born on the island will be returned to the mainland as part of a reforestation project where local people are being educated on the situation.
The area is also badly over-fished, with climate change exacerbating the damaged coral. Time + Tide is working with the Malagasy NGO Fanamby and the Madagascar government to establish a core no-fishing zone around the island. Fisherman will then need permits, facilitating the regulation of the water and coral. The seafood served at Miavana is bought from licensed fishermen at a higher price to encourage responsible fishing practices. Guests can expect fresh linefish like red snapper, dorado and tuna.
Four species of turtle are found in these waters – Hawksbill, Green, Olive Ridley and Loggerhead – and the soft white sand is ideal for the females to lay their eggs and for hatchlings to survive the dash into the ocean. In partnership with Fanamby, Miavana is running a turtle-monitoring project funded by a percentage of the profits made from tour fees and excursions.
More information: timeandtideafrica.com/miavana
Editor’s note: Most tourism facilities across Africa play an essential role in supporting the local community and protecting the environment. But here at Time + Tide Miavana, in this remote corner of Madagascar, the impact is all-the-more pronounced… With just 14 villas, and at $2500 per person per night, (including conservation levy), Miavana will cater to a particular audience looking for a very exclusive, quality experience. And they’ll get it in spades. But this also reflects the huge investment made in infrastructure, labour and conservation effort that is necessary for the legacy that such an enterprise can deliver.
Getting there: Airlink flies daily from OR Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg) to Antananarivo and on Sundays to Nosy Be (with additional seasonal flights on Wednesdays in peak periods). Check out their excellent business class service! www.flyairlink.com
Getting around: Malagasy destination management company ASISTEN Travel can organise all local travel arrangements, to Miavana and across the country, including charter flights, road transfers and lodge bookings. www.asisten-travel.com