Charter airline Coastal Aviation has connections to Mafia and Songo Songo from Dar es Salaam. More: coastal.co.tz. Four nights at Chole Mjini followed by four nights at Fanjove Private Island Lodge costs from about $3899 a person twin-share. • cholemjini.com • africaodyssey.com whale sharks on half-day encounters between October and March.
It’s sad, however, to see some of the coral lying ghostwhite and dead. We hear explosions one evening, evidence that dynamiting is a tragic problem here.
The islands are full of remnants of old civilisations. We wander among Juani Island’s ancient town of Kua, through the remains of 13th-century mosques and a palace. “The story goes that because the palace was so beautiful the queen cut off the master builder’s hands to prevent him from replicating it,” guide Abdullah tells us.
Further south is our next destination, the archipelago of Songo Songo, where we stay on Fanjove, an idyllic little private island, after flying onto the neighbouring island of Songo Songo and boating across. As we approach Fanjove, we’re awed by a 19th century German lighthouse-holding fort over a curve of perfect white sand.
Fanjove’s owner is Nicola, an Italian who has lived in Tanzania since independence in 1961 and owns five other lodges. Conservation is key to his ventures and, like Chole Mijini, he gives a percentage of Fanjove’s income to the local community.
The six guest bandas (Swahili for barn) are big, high roofed and open to the sea. Their wooden frames enjoy a delicious bellyful of breeze. Our days are spent reading in hammocks, building sandcastles and collecting shells such as huge spider conches and tiger cowries.
One morning we head by boat to a sandbar for breakfast with 10 spinner dolphins surfing the waves as our escorts. Most meals, however, are taken on the beach under a palm canopy. Candlelit dinners are served at the foot of the lighthouse, the view near perfect except, sadly, for the lights of the Chinese-owned Songo Songo gas rig flickering out to sea.
Early evenings we paddle out in the island’s kayaks, under overhanging coral cliffs. Flocks of birds swoop like fighter planes as the island’s colours change. Back on land we explore by day, constantly finding new beaches. Inland, beach bean plants clamber over the sand and palm trees are pulled by the wind like puppet strings.
Hakim, the lodge manager, takes us to meet Saadi Mohamed, the island’s only fulltime inhabitant. “He keeps the island’s spirits happy,” Hakim says, “and maintains the island’s paths because the spirits use them.”
Saadi leads us to a canopy of sticks. Red and white cloths hang above the entrance, and, inside, sweet incense is burning. The spirits must be happy on this island. I certainly know after a few days my mind is completely clear as I return barefooted to our banda.