Kitesurfing in Madagascar, Ifaty, Sapphire Coast, Sakalava and the Emerald Sea some of the best locations in the world to kite-surf.
This was my second trip kitesurfing in Madagascar, or the Big Island as the Malagasy call it.
Last year we focused on the North and did spend ten or so days on the NE at Sakalava, where again we returned for the latter part of this visit.
This trip we wanted to explore what the South West, which is far more remote had to offer. In fact it was only when researching did I become more aware of the kitesurfing potential of the South West, and that unlike the true South of the Island the winds are more cross onshore as they come round in the afternoon.
For sure kitesurfing in Madagascar, especially in the South hit the headlines as it were with the glorious F-One video, Antanadroy People from the Thorns, however 98% of kiters are not able to arrange and be part of a trip like that, and to a certain extent have the necessary back-up which is what is required in the more remote parts of Madagascar, plus the winds are scarily cross off down in that part of the world and if anything untoward were to happen rescue services are non existent!
Another part of the jigsaw as it were for deciding on the South West was that there was also the potential of seeing humpback whales at play, as well as snorkelling and diving.
The South / South West is also a hardcore Surfers paradise, with massive reef breaks in very shallow water, and I would thoroughly recommend watching this video which is one of three chapters which encapsulates travelling in Madagascar so well, right from the initial arrival in the capital Antinanvario, which is always a bit of a shock.
I should mention that we are fortunate to have friends in Madagascar who help us arrange our itinerary. Most travellers you meet in Madagascar are part of organised tour groups who have a guide with them, and they are often on road trips visiting many of the stunning National Parks in the interior. For us travelling independently it helps tremendously to have some back-up as it were, such as internal flights and hotels booked, as well as the all important transfers!
The trip did not get off to a good start with a 15hr delay from Paris to Antananarivo (Tana), then we had to find a hotel as our internal flight to Tulear was not for another 15hrs.
We eventually arrived at the our first of many hotels, Hôtel de la Plage, on the outskirts of Ifaty some 90mins drive from the airport, on one of the best roads in Madagascar.
The hotel is between two coastal fishing villages, home to the Vezo fishermen, a people who live day to day from their fishing using their pirogues, as they have for centuries, which are dugout boats with out-riggers that skim across the water, both shallow and deep in the slightest of breezes.
They paddle out early in the morning if there is no wind and then as the wind builds they raise the craziest of patchwork sails (probably repaired many times over the years), and sail back.
The first day was 10.5 weather but I was happy to relax after nigh on three days of travelling, then we had a day of uber calm weather and we took advantage of that and went out on a pirogue to the reef and snorkelled. What was memorable was going out to sea with all the fishermen and observing the various fishing methods going on, nets, lines, spear fishing, guys diving for clams etc
After our dive the sail was put up and we glided swiftly back into shore.
I think it was the next day that I kited and was a very pleasant 10.5 session, launching low to mid tide.
Yannick who runs the Hotel has a great setup and can offer a water based sport for just about every type of weather.
The bay is ideal for learning and over the course of the three or so days he was teaching one on one with beginners.
The next day the wind filled in more, and it was 8m weather. I kited up wind a fair distance and had a good downwinder.
The beach and lagoon at low tide.
A few days later we left Yannick, who I had rented a board from, as I'd only brought my kites (10.5 - 8m & 6m bar & harness) and headed on another leg of our journey up the Sapphire Coast (due to the stunning colours of the sea), where we quickly left the tarmac and hit the 4 x 4 trail, and at times we came close, so I thought to getting stuck in deep sand, but the drivers know their stuff.
This time it was just under 4hrs at an average speed of 24kph and we arrived at the Salary Bay Hotel, a most unique boutique hotel in a fabulous position with a stunning 270 degree panorama...nd we brought the wind with us it seemed.
At this location it was obvious that I would be the only kiter and they were not geared up for it, so I spoke to the dive school and had a kid keep an eye out and would help if needed though Elaine helped launch and land in the end, but initially I was a tad aware of being on my own, so if anything happened he could raise the alarm.
I launched the 10.5 and by the end of the session I was well stacked and as I came in quite crowd of kids were around and I was a little worried that they would get in the way of the lines, but again Elaine to the rescue and the kids moved away.
Most kids had never seen a kite.
And I even ended up with my own security guide complete with AK47
After lunch the wind had picked up some more, so this time I sourced a length of rope from the dive shop and made an anchor around a rock, and self launched and landed with a bit of help from Elaine and twas well maxed on the 8m.
The next day we continued our expedition along the Sapphire Coast keen to make the most of the wind.
We were taken by motor boat to our next destination, Mikea Lodge though not before travelling back up the coast to pick another couple up, which was a bumpy ride into the wind. The return leg was super fast riding the wind blown swell.
Then it was a quick lunch where I thought I'd might go 10.5 but changed my mind afterwards as again the wind had really kicked in, so it was the 8m again, and I'd found myself another good secure point for launching.
This time there were a few other people that were going to kite, but they wisely chose to wait another 45mins or so whilst I had a 500m across the lagoon in 10cms of water, which in hindsight I could have kited out, but it was not my board.
I was joined by two guys from the Hotel who did find the winds quite strong at times, though one a big guys was on a 9.
That evening the forecast was not so good so we considered our options, as I mentioned earlier the chance to see hump back whales dancing in the air was one of the main reasons to choose the South, however both Yannick and the team at Salary Bay had given up on the whales for this season as there had been no sightings and the general consensus was that the krill had moved away from the shores of Madagascar and closer to Mozambique hence no whales on their normal trajectory.
When I mentioned this theory to the resident skipper at Mike Lodge he laughed and showed me photographs from the day before of hump back whales getting air time 20km out to sea, so game on and plans made for the following day!
So we didn't get to see any whales, that said we did have a pod of around ten dolphins bow riding and as the water is so clear you could see them coming from every direction.
After we returned to shore we then had an experience that I think was probably better than seeing the whales!
As where we were staying on the coast there is a massive forest (not rain) close to us, the Mikea Forest. And the Mikea people that inhabit the forest must be an anthropologists dream, for as far as we can determine they are more scarce than an Indian Amazonian tribe!
It was amazing meeting these people from a nomadic tribe in that they still have not adopted any element of modern civilisation, David Attenborough would wet himself, a side of me was a tad cynical but the reaction from the kids when I showed them the photo on my phone I had just taken of them sort of confirmed that maybe they had not seen a phone, either that or they were damn good actors and had us fooled.
For sure these were aware we were to meet them, but it did seem very authentic, and unlike many TV documentary "Lost Tribes" they were not wearing watches etc
It is estimated, but that is another discussion, that there could be up a to a thousand, but they do not even have any contact with the local Vezo fishermen, who live a hard day to day life.
After that driving back to the Lodge I saw about thirty children playing rugby. Rugby is very popular here with the schools teaching the village kids, so much so that there is a very active series of games and tournaments.
Twelve Malagasy kids are going to Japan for the World Cup, God only knows what they'll think of the highly technical Japanese toilets!
Then we returned back to Salary Bay by SUV Polaris buggy along the beach as well as some interesting trails inland to say the least.
Next couple of days I donned a tank and went scuba diving, first time in around forty years, and twas a bit like passing a rugby ball and riding a bike, as it was something I used to do a fair amount of!
Only the jackets had changed tremendously!
In Madagascar every day sends the senses into overdrive as it seem's that there's a always a photo opportunity to be had, be it a Vezo's fishing perogue skimming across the water or a group of Malagassy doing their thing with a stunning sapphire sea as the backdrop.
Yesterday was pretty damn amazing!
A dream of many a child growing up, diving on a sunken wreck full of cannon and treasure on the sea bed. In this case it was the Portuguese ship Nossa Senhora which sunk off the reef here Salary Bay in 1774 carrying cannon bound for Goa and a cargo of red Mediterranean pearls used for trade, which were in fact coral flowers, when the Med had coral.
As for today wind is up here too after three days of calm, could be 8m laters.
After Salary Bay we returned down the same 4hrs of track to the capital of the South Toliara (Tulear) for an overnight stop for an early flight back to the Capital, which in fact stopped off at Fort Dauphin on the SE corner of the Big Isle, before finally flying into Tana.
Rather than go all the way into the capital which can be a real arduous slog we stayed at a hotel on the outskirts of the airport (Scaritel) which is close to a good bar and place to eat that we know, Savannah, then it was another early flight up to the North and Diego Suarez
We arrived in Diego and were taken by 4x4 to the Royal Sakalava which would be our home for the next ten or so days, and as ever the wind was blowing.
Last three day's it's been great playing out on the Reef (2 days 8 one 10.5), and today it's really big tides so waiting for the tide to come in some more, then it's TwinTip and flat water blasting in around 10cm of translucent sapphire water in the Lagoon.
Sunday we actually had a day off visiting the highlands to a National Park including a quick shake down by the Police for not having passports with us (guide bunged him £5.00 and we were on our way), which is all a corrupt scam, but "TIA", This is Africa!
Top South African Kiter Joshua Emanuel along with Stig Hoefnagel is here and they were doing some awesome riding in the uber flat water on the mangroves with just their kites visible above the trees. He said that they were being filmed with a drone, so I hope to get a couple of shots as they will be quite unique.
Couple of days ago we went to the Emerald Sea, and it's a truly stunning location to kite, though for 45mins it was more like the Emerald Isle as a big squall hit.
Kite surfing in Sakalava Bay North Madagascar the wind simply does not stop.
It was another 6m session, with a big body drag through the waves of the reef after I lost my board and then a massive wave took it from me!
Reef again was very big and on a surfboard it's almost a case of playing chicken with the waves trying to second guess a path through and or be ready for a quick turn, or already be riding toeside.
After Sakalava we took a flight for the start of the long route back to the UK, stopping off in the capital Antananarivo meeting up with the Team we work here with on the Air Madagasacar Inflight Magazine, October issue here.
The journey is long, and Madagascar is deepest Africa, 5th poorest country in the world etc, so don't expect things to always go to schedule as it were, apart from the wind in Sakalava it would seem!