When one thinks of azure blue waters, soft sandy beaches and a tropical paradise, Africa is not what one imagines. But, suspended off the coast of Tanzania in the blue Indian Ocean is the private, uninhabited island retreat of Fanjove, rumoured to be Africa’s best kept secret and the island escape for lovers of sand and surf.
Contributed by – Tanur Shah
An invitation to spend time on this heavenly island has me beyond excited and we fly in from the city of Dar Es Salaam, the most important city in Tanzania.
Dar Es Salaam, meaning ‘haven of peace’ in Kiswahili, is a city rich in culture and history. The Sultans of Zanzibar established this city in 1865 as a harbour city and north of it lies the infamous port of slaves, Bagamoyo, sleepy town and home to a renowned art school.
The Swahili coast is the stuff of adventure fairy tales. Spices, sailors and sea. Sharks, sandbars and sunsets. This is not Bali or Seychelles; it is far from manicured and perfect. Here, in the open waters and narrow streets lies history, full of tales of ivory and apes and bounties of great hunters and infamous explorers.
We eagerly wait in the little lounge of the Dar es Salaam airport. When it’s time to board, we face the morning sun and walk on to the tarmac where our plane is parked. Yes, you read that right. The pilot reads out our names and ensures that no one is missing. Off we rise above Dar es Salaam and within minutes we have left the coast behind us. Our first landing is on Mafia Island where some other passengers disembark.
The plane is soon in the air again, this time heading to the airstrip of the Songo Songo Archipelago. Here we meet the manager of the Fanjove Private Island Lodge who is waiting to greet us and take us to the boat that will transfer us to this paradise.
A traditional rickshaw ride and we have arrived at the jetty. We impatiently board our craft, which floats away over the gentle surf of the ocean. We are offered refreshments but my attention is on the water. I am peering in trying to look for the dolphins and turtles I have heard of.
We then see the white sandy beaches of Fanjove. But what stands out the most is the tall white structure that seems to have witnessed the winds of change. It is Fanjove’s lighthouse. An old German lighthouse built in the 1890’s, still standing on the rocky cliff of the island.
The boat smoothly slides onto the sandy beach and friendly staff welcome us with fresh coconuts plucked that very morning right off the trees.
Our luggage is already dealt with and placed in our room or, as they say here, the banda and we are in time for lunch. The fare is an interesting mix of fresh catch from the sea, Italian pasta and dishes that make clever use of local spices. Bare in mind, everything besides the fish is brought in from the mainland. This is after all, an uninhabited island in the ocean!
Pleasantly comatose from the delicious lunch but definitely enticed by the crystal clear water, we make our way to our banda first, and with only six bandas on the island you can be sure there will never be a crowd.
The bandas are made from local materials and with great attention to details. Wood flooring, four- poster bed with mosquito nets, large breezy windows and an open to sky shower! But the most exciting part of the room is the loft. A climb up to the loft and I am officially confused. I don’t know if I want to spend my afternoon reading on the plush purple pillows while staring at the ocean or if I want to change into my island gear and dash off for a splash in the ocean which is five skips from my door.
In the end, we decide to go for a stroll on the island shore. As we walk, we find signs of turtle nests, bird nests and bits of coral and sea urchins washed up on the shore, bleached by the African sun. I step into the water and it is like walking into liquid glass. I can see everything. The water is invitingly cool and calm and I begin to snorkel and spot schools of silver fish called ‘daga’. We stay in the water till dusk when the local fisher folk come in with their catch and fresh water from the mainland.
A quick shower under the open sky and the setting sun and we make our way to the only bar on the island. The bar man whips up an interesting cocktail for me and we sit down to watch the sun go down over the edge of the continent. The managers arrive and sit with us for a chat. In our conversa-
tion we are told how eco-conscious the operations are. Everything from the lodge buildings to the food is considerate towards the environment.
As night approaches, we see the daga fish moving in schools a few meters from shore. Their silver bodies almost mirror the bright moon and they cast a spell on us with their synchronized and sudden movements that make them appear like one giant body rather than many tiny fish.
The next morning we jump out of bed at 8 am, our excitement driving us to not waste a minute in the beautiful place. Breakfast brings us fresh fruit and muesli with the slight possibility of rain but the Gods smile on us, and the day looks beautiful again.
We spend the afternoon exploring the island and walk around and into the lighthouse. This structure has been standing on the shore of this island for over 120 years and we imagine a brave German, manning this remote lighthouse in an era without easy communication and before the advent of modern medicine. The walls still stand, inviting great intrigue and tell tales of a very brave and mysterious past.
The evening brings us a candle lit dinner on the sandy shores prepared bya locally recruited chef. The resort believes in the empowerment of the community and will invest in training local talent. As we sleep under the mosquito nets, we keep one of our doors open to watch the ocean and before we know it, we are lulled to sleep by the cool wind and the rustling leaves of the coconut palms.
Our days are spent making the most of this idealistic paradise. We take lessons in kite surfing, snorkel and explore the island. We take to the ocean in kayaks and look through the clear water at the fascinating sea life. We were even treated to a private lunch on a sandbank. Talk about being marooned!
The island staff are all passionate about conservation and the shores of Fanjove have become a nesting ground for turtles. Dolphins are seen just off the shore and the gentle giants of the ocean, the Humpback whales are seen breach-ing 100 meters away. Sharks, rays and denizens of the deep sea are all in the waters that surround Fanjove Private Island. The staff has also begun documenting the presence of the endangered coconut crab which has found its haven on this island.
Fanjove is the perfect balance between exclusive yet unpretentious with the core being the beauty of the island and guests feeling like privileged passers-by. There are no fancy restaurants but the food is sumptuous and wholesome, no shopping but the shells and sea jewels on the sandy shores. The managers and staff are friends who help you plan your time on the island and then join you at sunset for a drink. It feels like a private, homely retreat. An island holiday with an African touch.
FACT FILE: TANZANIA
• Getting there: Various airlines fly to Tanzania on a regular basis including Emirates and Qatar Airways. From there, Fanjove Private Island is a short flight away. A wide range of connections is possible from other destinations in Tanzania.
• Fanjove Private Island: Located in Tanzanian waters, Easily connected to most National Parks and Dar es Salaam via Coastal Aviation. Can be combined with an exclusive Southern Circuit Safari to Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve, some of the best-known areas of wilderness and wildlife in the world. For more info, email: firstname.lastname@example.org