The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

Char­ter air­line Coastal Avi­a­tion has con­nec­tions to Mafia and Songo Songo from Dar es Salaam. More: Four nights at Chole Mjini fol­lowed by four nights at Fan­jove Pri­vate Is­land Lodge costs from about $3899 a per­son twin-share. • • 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.

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