Madagascar is home to a lot of dramatic, natural attractions and wildlife. A number of the attractions – white sand beaches, lush rainforests, stunning peaks, rare flora and fauna – in this erstwhile African appendage remain undiscovered and pristine. These are what make Madagascar a marvelous destination, if you love adventure and can appreciate natural wonders in a spellbinding way. Such is the charm of the 125 million year-old Organ Pipes.
Anisha Shah of BBC Travel will take you to the Organ Pipes, one of Madagascar’s Bizarre Natural Wonder.
A Jewel of the Indian Ocean
Hidden in the 20-island Nosy Mitsio archipelago, 70km off Madagascar’s northern coast, Organ Pipes is a bizarre natural wonder formed 125 million years ago when Madagascar segregated from mainland Africa.
With tubular basalt volcanic sediments that project spectacularly into the sky, the site bears an uncanny resemblance to Northern Ireland’s famous Giant’s Causeway. Both were caused by a sudden volcanic eruption and rapid lava sedimentation.
A Little Wonder Up and Out of the Sea
Dubbed as Organ Pipes, these towering hexagonal basalt columns reaching over 20 meters in height is an impressive natural feature rising from the sea. Nosy Mitsio is part of a group of largely uninhabited, small islands off the north-west coast of Madagascar. It was a product of a geological activity formed by the cooling down of volcanic lava that took place about 400 millions of years ago.
Though its “relative” the spectacular Giant Causeway in Northern Ireland is getting close to a million visitors a year, The Organ Pipe is just getting a few hundreds of visitors largely because it can only be accessed by boat. Despite the relative inaccessibility, the stunning volcanic landscape makes the journey all worth the effort.
A Defiant Ecosystem
The Organ Pipes may look like it is a desolate island, but in truth it is resilient and defiant ecosystem that epitomizes the strength of nature. Trees, weeds and other vegetation cling to the “charred volcanic browns and coppers… challenging gravity as it sprouts upwards, parallel to the pipes.” Despite the seeming harshness, the unpopulated 12km-by-3km islet is a paradise for avid bird watchers. It is a haven for the “King of the Sky,” critically endangered Madagascar fish-eagle as exotic seabirds, frigate birds, white-tailed tropicbirds and northern gannets.
Underwater, the marine life is teeming with marine biota and is a paradise for divers. The island is surrounded by unfettered fringing reefs and pristine waters with over 300 coral species. This is drawing a diverse kind of marine fauna, including tuna, barracuda, eel, Kingfish as well as shark species – Silvertip, scalloped hammerhead grey-reef, tawny nurse sharks white-tip, and zebra. Nosy Mitsio is also home to green turtles, dolphins and humpback whales visit in the months of July and August.
Things to Do in the Mitsio Archipelago
- Enjoy its natural allures: Aside from bird watching, visitors cannot afford not “plunge into the gently lapping cerulean sea to swim with green turtles and bottle-nosed dolphins.”
- An ancient treasure trove: An adventurer may also find enjoyment in exploring the basalt columns “… for 40 million-year-old fossils of extinct fish species, which have gradually been unearthed as sedimentary rocks push up out of the sea.”
- Hidden tombs of ancient kings: History enthusiasts and culture fanatics would love to explore these resting places. Having been once ruled by ancient empires and chiefdoms, there are tombs in the Mitsio archipelago such as the one in the unspoiled Toloho island, which is located about 40km northeast of Organ Pipes.
- Life on a line: Have an authentic experience of mingling with the locals in Grande Mitsio, which is approximately 20km to the southwest. They still live in modest homes made from palm fronds, travel across the waters on a traditional dugout canoe called pirogue, and catch fish by hand.
- The Four Brothers: Four more gigantic basalt monoliths grace this part of the Indian Ocean, the Four Brothers or Les Quatres Freres. These are steeped in folklores. Legend has it that the gods sent five brothers to the virgin Mitsio archipelago. The fifth brother, named Pain de Sucre (Sugarloaf) … can be found closer to the northern coast of Madagascar…”
- Spectacular sunsets: Without any air pollution to mar the sunset, enjoy the spectacular view of the sun calling it a day and as it “… sinks into the Mozambique Channel, turning the sky a molten gold and providing a spectacular backdrop to Organ Pipes’ striking silhouette.”
The island may be hard to reach, but that is exactly what makes it stay untouched through the years, despite modernization. If the importance of Northern Ireland’s Causeway, (ranked alongside Giant Redwoods of California and Mount Everest) has to be used as a parameter, imagine Causeway being 60 million years and the Organ Pipes being 125 million years to realize its importance to the world.
Don’t worry about the remoteness. Experience Madagascar. It will all be worth your effort and time. “Go trekking beneath lush tree canopies for a close-up look at Madagascar’s most famous creatures, walk through quaint towns filled with markets and European-influenced architecture, and enjoy relaxing holiday time on magnificent Indian Ocean beaches. Combining friendly locals, fascinating wildlife and idyllic island vistas, the Madagascar experience is a unique slice of paradise.”