Nungwi, Zanzibar – diving, beaching and biking

Setting up a new office for a company is a pretty stressful experience. Add to the mix a country that isn’t your own and you have the perfect excuse for a deserved week at a beach resort.  After ten months of getting Four Communications Oman legally established and operational, I was claiming my week.

Anyone that knows me understands well that I can’t lie on a beach for a whole week. Clare is the same. Nungwi is a fishing village at the most Northern tip of Zanzibar that has evolved into a mix of backpacker and mid-priced beach resorts.  We chose Nungwi as although Clare is not a diver, the area offers both the best scuba diving and snorkeling in Zanzibar, as well as other activities we both enjoyed, such as cycling/exploring and open water swimming.

The journey from Stone Town was just over an hour, passing school classes under trees, shanty roadside villages and mud huts, some drying fish. During the journey we passed no less than five police checkpoints, although we were only questioned at one.  All they wanted to know was where we were from, where we were staying and how long for. Our final approach to the resort was on a potholed dirt track though the village, and it saddened me that for all the dollars the resorts bring in, a road through the village couldn’t be built.

Accommodation

We selected the Doubletree Resort as it had a “fully equipped gym” (it was a small room full of broken equipment), a beach, and they had availability – we had left it a bit late to book. Most of the guests were either Italian, Swiss or German on package holidays – so the towels were on the prime location sun beds before dawn – I kid you not! In the end, we had to come to a “culturally appropriate arrangement” with the pool staff, as some of the other guests were like a Panzer movement – as soon as our back was turned, our stuff was turfed off on to the sand!

Another hard day relaxing and protecting our sunbeds.
Waterfront Sunbed Victory.  UK 2, Italy 0.

If I was coming back to Nungwi, I would go to some of the other smaller, more intimate resorts, such as Flame Tree cottages,  set in lovey mature gardens, all single storey and run by a charming retired British/Zanzibar couple.

Eating

We had the hotel’s full breakfast every morning then made sandwiches and snaffled nuts in dried fruit in our zip lock bags, essential holiday packing and top tip from my dive buddy Lynn Douglas.  You can take the girl our of Scotland….  There were plenty of reasonable and good beach restaurants along the beach – some better than others.  Flame Trees was especially good, with the Wave Inn Italian Restaurant a close second.  Most of the others were offering the same fare at the same price.  We seldom paid more than 50,000 Tanzanian shillings (about $30) for two course, two people.  Seafood was aplenty!

Mixed Seafood Grill – around $11
Almost every tropical fruit available at breakfast.  After this I had a waffle and bacon!

Activities

I spent a couple of days diving with  Zanzibar Watersports. I paid $200 for four dives which included  the $30 marine park fee for the first day, spent at Mnemba Atoll Marine Reserve.  Clare came along too for the snorkeling.  The visibility was astonishingly good – around 25m.  It was a bit rough on the surface for snorkeling, but Clare did still manage to see some of the underwater delights. The second day I dived at two local sites at Shanes Reef, directly off the Doubletree Resort.  I had heard mixed reports about the diving in Zanzibar, but I have to admit, I was really happy with my dives and what I saw.  Again, I am not an underwater photographer, but I saw some pretty amazing things:

Our dive boat for the local dives on Shanes Reef.

Another day we rented mountain bikes and a guide.  We had a good look around the two main villages in the area – Nungwi and Kendwa Rocks. Unfortunately our bikes were not in tip top condition – mine was missing a pedal, the brakes on Clare’s didn’t work properly and we each could only use one gear.  Mine was a high gear, so cycled around like Coco the Clown. We were unable to take photographs in the village as it was Ramadan, but here is some of what we saw:

Both villages were very poor yet sat directly next to all the beach resorts.  There couldn’t be a sharper contrast.  Outside the gated and manicured resorts, communities there were no proper roads, rustic brick built dwellings with either tin or straw roofs and a real sense of life just tootling away as it has done for centuries.  On our bike tour, we passed the village’s main watering hole – most dwellings don’t yet have running water. Every day women fetch the family water early morning.  Later in the day, the women then gather firewood – we passed many walking back to the village demonstrating perfect deportment with a precision wrapped and positioned pile of firewood on their heads.

Village Watering Hole.

We lost our guide at Kendwa Rocks as he suffered a major chain and gear failure. So our day exploring the area was cut short – which wasn’t such a bad thing given the state of the bikes.  The cost for renting two bikes and a guide for the day was $42.

The rest of the time we simply swam, sunbathed, wandered around the beach and admired the beautiful view. Every day, hawkers politely approached us to sell us local crafts and boat trips, local children played with tourists and life just seemed to co-exist.  One day on the beach I gave out candies and lollipops to local kids  and was promptly mobbed – a local took over the distribution duties, but the short incident provided some entertainment for a few minutes.  At around four everyday, the boats left to go fishing, providing a line of fishing boat fairly lights on the water.  At low water, the women and children scour the flats for small fish, which they then dry.

Be warned though – as it is in the tropics, it does rain sometimes….

The day however, always ends with a stunning African sunset.

It has been a long time since I have been on a beach holiday, so it was a nice change.  I would highly recommend Nungwi.  It is a sweet, genuine, welcoming yet very poor community sitting directly behind the gated beachfront tourist community, so do take some sweets and candies for the kids -and a minder when you distribute them!

OK off to pack for Part 3 – safari time tomorrow.

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