By Lyndsey Fair
After a difficult year and before the onslaught of Christmas, my father and I were looking for a quiet interlude with some much-needed downtime and a little warm sunshine, away from the grey days of the UK. We found our perfect haven at Matemwe Beach House.
Ideally set up for families, the Beach House comes with spacious air-conditioned bedrooms and en suite bathrooms, as well as a seating area and swimming pool away from other guests at the lodge – the best of both worlds! There really was nothing better than walking down the stone stairs, stepping over the hermit crabs and through the palms on to a white powdered sand beach and an endless horizon of blue sea on the way to breakfast, sundowners or my father’s favourite, the BBQ beach dinner.
While on this topic, the food was sublime. It was perfectly pitched for a beach holiday, as each meal was light enough to lull you into thinking you could order all three courses and remain bikini-ready, while each dish was so flavoursome and delicious it ensured all three plates were returned licked clean. My favourite was the lunchtime tuna sashimi with wasabi and soy dressing accompanied by a spring onion and cucumber salad, while my dad loved the barbecued rock lobster and octopus with lemon butter and rice.
Hours were spent staring, mesmerised, from our chosen spots next to the pool at the clashing blues of the infinity pool and turquoise sea towards the island of Mnemba. It was hypnotic as the white-sailed dhows billowed by and the ladies in colourful kangas waded through the shallows looking for octopus. I applied sun cream, I read, I listened to podcasts, I took photos, I applied more sun cream, I snoozed, I swam, I chatted to my dad about everything and nothing, and it was splendid. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a ‘Things to Do’ list constantly whirring in my head and could simply check out. On the same theme, I did have two incredible massages during my stay – my dad didn’t partake, but he missed out! I had 60 minutes to work out all the aches, knots, and pains, and sink into a restful coma lulled by the whiff of lemon verbena.
During our stay, my father and I met a lovely Canadian couple called Herb and Brenda, who had been on safari for more than a month, including stays at Namiri Plains and Roho ya Selous. Matemwe was their last stop before returning home and it was great that we met them as, not only were they great company but also we lived vicariously through their active days. They returned from reef walks, rounds of golf, kayaking, Stone Town tours, and village walks telling us of their escapades. We did join them for a morning of snorkelling, which turned out to be the best adventure of all!
After being fitted with masks and fins and given waterproof bags for our belongings, we embarked on our boat trip across the shallow, crystal-clear water toward the reef, looking back on the verdant, green island, vastly untouched, and wholly tropical. On passing the reef, Omari, our boat captain, leaned over to me and asked if we would be interested in swimming with dolphins. Mmm … what? YES! He told us that they were often in these waters and, if we saw them, we should don our kit and get ready to jump in – but only when he told us. From then on, we were on the lookout for fins on the horizon as we marvelled at the clarity of the water. It was crazy – 50 m deep and you could still see the bottom. We reached the snorkelling site, which was somewhat busy, but Omari kept us together and we swam as a group along a coral wall. Omari pointed out unusual creatures such as the venomous stonefish and scorpionfish, as well as octopus, starfish, moray eel, and an array of rainbow lovelies. The current was strong and my father has a sore shoulder, but this was easily remedied with a lifejacket. So, don’t be put off – all things can be solved.
Back in the boat, we swapped stories as we were given sweet watermelon as an antidote to the salty water we had all imbibed. As we began our trip home… There… What was that? Five or six fins slid in and out of the water. Omari confirmed these were dolphins. The boys were exhausted from their snorkelling efforts, so Brenda and I sprang into action and, at a word from Omari, dropped into the water. Now, the video doesn’t do our swimming justice as those dolphins were motoring. And, wow, what a sight!
I counted more than 30 gorgeous dolphins, including tiny babies the size of my forearm and some females looking like they were going to have their own calves very soon. I was close enough to touch (but of course didn’t), however, for that instant, I was a part of the pod, engulfed in their squeals and whistles and captivated by their movement and togetherness. It was utterly joyful and the best part was that the gents left in the boat didn’t miss out, as the water was so clear they could see everything. It is a moment that will stay with me forever. Nothing artificial or fake – just the purity and wholesomeness of nature.
And I would be lying if I said any other activity on the island beat that. But, Dad and I did sign up for a spice farm tour en route to our night in Stone Town, and it was super! We stopped at the farm with our guide, who explained he would be making us smell and eat things on the way along the myriad little pathways that ran through what seemed like an unassuming forest but turned out to be a treasure trove full of spices. We were followed by a farmworker who cut bark, picked pods, shimmied up trees, and even sang to us; all the while creating weird and wonderous items out of palm fronds, which you can see myself and Dad (renamed King Julian) wearing at the end of our walk. It was a fascinating tour, truly unique to Zanzibar. I learnt so much and I would say it’s a must-do when visiting the island.
It was a wonderful six days, setting us up beautifully for a busy festive season. I can imagine that, after a packed safari, a busy wedding, or a long school term, Matemwe is the perfect place to unwind and find that elusive calm missing from modern life. Do as little or as much as you like, get spoilt rotten, and never want to go home.