Tales & images from life as me…

Pemba Island


Thanks to two of our good friends, Nina and Pete, here in Mwanza, we spent last weekend enjoying Pemba Island, off the coast of Tanzania (part of the Zanzibar archipelago, as I discovered). They gave the trip to us as an engagement present and it’s taken this long for us to actually get plans together to go! So this week, I thought it only fair to share a few of the details in a typically smug-Facebook-status kind of way!

We were only there for around 48 hours, but it’s amazing the adventures you can have when everything is made available to you.

Our tiny little plane made the hop from Dar es Salaam pretty efficiently, in spite of the pilot claiming he’d never been to Pemba before (it took us a moment to realise he was joking!) and the views were spectacular as we passed tiny spice islands and dive sites.

A short drive revealed the Island to be completely unspoiled and the deepest shades of green you can imagine. Cloves grow all over the place and the whole islands zings with the scent of them. It feels similar to Zanzibar’s main island (which, incidentally, it turns out is not actually called Zanzibar but Unguja, Zanzibar is the name for the whole group of islands – who knew?!) but it’s far less crowded. In fact there are only two main hotels in the entire place!

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It’s a little boat ride to get to our final destination and we hop on happily, enjoying the breeze. The hotel itself, is nestled back into the landscape and can barely be seen, except for the enormously long jetty that marks the spot. Pemba-6Pemba-1-2We are greeted by shoals of flying fish and all seems perfect… until Damien’s iPhone thinks it can fly too and plummets to the bottom of the sea.

Oops. Our skipper barely hesitates before diving between the boat and jetty to rescue the wayward phone, but sadly there is no resuscitating it. There’s only one thing for it – cocktails!

We settle in quickly to our stunning sea view tented room and head out to explore the pool area and plan our activities for the next couple of days.

Dinner is beside the pool and we are accompanied by monkeys and the sounds of bush babies in the rafters.

The following morning we’re up for a boat ride to Mesali Island where there is an incredible snorkeling reef with a strong current. They drop us at one end and we simply float down to a sunbathing spot some way down the beach! The coral and fish are abundant and dramatic ledges and drops make it pretty spectacular. Only one problem… Damien’s been wearing a GoPro camera on his head to record the view, but didn’t manage to attach the right housing for it – the waterproof housing would have been ideal. Day two and electrical item number two is sacrificed!

The afternoon is spent back at the hotel pool and discussing the history of the place with the manager. It seems the hotel is owned by British fashion designer Ellis Flyte who initially wanted to simply build herself a house. She was taken in a boat from Zanzibar to see Pemba, which she had heard talked about as being far less developed, and on the way there was a storm, they were forced to beach the boat for the night… they woke up on the spot where Fundu Lagoon is now built! She had to get approval from the local village first, and when they invited her to visit she quickly realised that she needed to do more than simply build a house. By building a hotel she was able to provide income and training for a large number of the villagers and the award-winning hotel now exists in close harmony with the people of the island.

Watching the sunset at the little bar along the jetty provided us with lively chat with the honeymooners (three sets!) who were all staying at the hotel, all of whom were there for a week and very happy with their travel agents!

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The following morning we woke to a little voice saying “Mr Damien, conditions are perfect!” and we slipped out of bed under a slightly dull sky to get straight onto the hotel boat. We were going in search of the 200-strong pod of dolphins said to frequent the area.

It was about an hour into our trip before we saw them, but suddenly there they were, leaping along in front of the boat. Three or four at first and then fifty or sixty. Babies spun and leapt in the air (they aren’t called Spinners for nothing!) and I snapped ineptly away, far too excited to focus on taking pictures.

Back at the hotel there was time for a big breakfast, some sunbathing and a facial (tough life) before packing our bags and getting back on the boat. It was around this stage that Damien realised his camera had decided Pemba would be it’s final resting place and had joined the iPhone and the GoPro!

But we headed back to a bustling Dar (excitedly preparing for Barrack Obama to visit) with broad smiles and extremely happy memories.

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For those of you who are East African residents I’d highly recommend this place – the residents rates are fantastic and it’s so easily accessible with several companies flying or ferrying guests in. Message me if you’d like the details.

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2 responses

  1. Cathy

    Pemba Island is one of my more favorite places in Tanz and Fundu Lagoon and the Jetty Bar bring back some good memories.
    Sounds like you did not get a chance to experience any diving whilst there – it is pretty special with some phenomenal drift dives that let you simply float past drop offs and over walls whilst observing the vast array of marine life on display – until 30 minutes later you emerge some 2km from where you started – simply awesome – although not for the inexperienced.
    When you go back I would suggest that you take the dive staff a suitable supply of chocolate and magazines from the mainland (as least there is U-turn in Mwz) – as its always a good way to make friends and start a conversation which in turn often open’s up an opportunity to be invited to explore some of those further away places around the island that may take just a bit of extra effort to get to….

    July 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm

  2. Nina Hjortlund

    I am very happy you enjoyed your trip – sounds like a pretty amazing place!
    (Although poor Damien managed to brake 3! gadgets in 48 hours)

    July 4, 2013 at 8:12 pm

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