Zanzibar: Adventure on the high seas

Zanzibar's idyllic beaches are undeniably seductive, but the real appeal is offshore

To my mind Zanzibar is an improbably sibilant, onomatopoeic place – it is as it sounds; exotic, hot, lazily sweet. Mile after mile of white sandy beaches are girdled by innumerable nodding palms and implausibly blue, bath-water-warm Indian Ocean. What better location for the intimate cooing of honeymooners or idle flip-floppery of beach bums? But this archipelago – comprising Unguja, her smaller sister Pemba and numerous other skerries – certainly isn't the sole preserve of lotus-eaters. I arrived looking for adventure.

On the northernmost tip of Unguja, the island known as Zanzibar, is Nungwi village, a long-time favourite among backpackers and now offering some smarter accommodation. Ras Nungwi Beach hotel has the best location; its comfortable makuti-thatched villas are adjacent to wild bush and a long white swathe of sand.

The hotel's dive shop is run by Zanzibar Watersports. If, like me, you don't dive, a day's snorkelling on nearby Mnemba island is the next best thing. The sea snakes and stonefish, multi-coloured shoals and outlandish corals were mesmerising – and for good measure, a pod of dolphins buzzed the boat on our way back to shore.

The firm also arranges parasailing and jet-ski safaris – and deep sea fishing.

I've always connected deep sea game fishing with Hemingway – and bravura levels of testosterone. Yet it was the expectation that snagged me. What would we catch?

Skipper Abi welcomed me aboard Timimi, a stocky white fishing boat bristling with rods. Our destination was Leven Banks, an area of ocean halfway between Unguja and Pemba. I spent hours before I got a bite. Under Abi's expert supervision I reeled in a splashing 14kg wahoo, iridescent black-blue and stripy – an exhilarating induction.

But adventure in Zanzibar isn't exclusively aquatic. Getting lost in the capital, Stone Town, a World Heritage site, is a heady experience. The labyrinthine alleys are riddled with smells, tastes, shadows and whispers.

The sense of disorientation takes some getting used to, but the rewards – a wonderful fish and spice market, secret squares, Zanzibari carved-doors and some exquisite Omani architecture – are well worth seeking out.

I sought respite at Emerson Skeens' eponymous new hotel, Emerson Spice. The proprietor helped put Zanzibar on the tourist map by introducing the boutique hotel concept to the island. His latest incarnation is effortlessly stylish, with suites bedecked with Zanzibari beds, scumbled azure walls, and vast serpentine baths. It's an intoxicating mixture of Omani merchant house, grand opera and Babylonian garden.

From Emerson's rooftop restaurant, it's just about possible to make out Chumbe Island. This small dot in the ocean was for years an out-of-bounds military base – the upshot being a virtually pristine marine environment that was officially gazetted by the Zanzibari government as a conservation area in 1994. Accommodation is simple; not much more than glorified bandas or thatched huts. But it's gorgeous.

Most of the island is covered in dense tropical thicket and dominated by a Victorian lighthouse. I climbed it for a spectacular sundowner; after 131 steps the welcome breeze momentarily blew the intense fug of heat away.

By the time I'd got back to the shore, the sun had vanished, encouraging some of the island's rarer inhabitants to emerge, including endangered coconut crabs. A ranger pointed out a tiddler: the size of a blue armour-plated football, wielding claws to crack open coconuts. I was mindful of my toes.

However, I was keen to get back on the water. And it was to be no ordinary yacht for me; I'd got my eye on an ngalawa. This traditional fishing boat is the granddaddy of the hydrofoil and shouldn't be judged on looks alone. Head ranger Omari took me out for a spin, expertly putting the boat through her paces. The smallest draught sent us scudding at an exhilarating rate, creaking and lunging over swells.

I joined Omari again for an afternoon sea safari. Here I encountered a hawksbill turtle in the neon and chrome corals; he eyed me disdainfully before flapping languidly off.

Misali Island, sitting off the south west coast of Pemba, is another marine reserve, but has a strict day-trips-only regulation. It's an idyllic base for diving and snorkelling.

Luxurious accommodation can be found at Fundu Lagoon hotel immediately opposite on mainland Pemba. The creation of fashion designer Ellis Flyte, Fundu ticks all the sybaritic boxes. Thatched safari-style tents are dotted throughout the vast hotel grounds.

I'd anticipated an afternoon of snorkelling off Misali, but Filbert, Fundu's resident dive master, had other ideas. It took much cajoling, and for Filbert to talk me through every detail, but he eventually persuaded me to try a "discover scuba" course. My anxieties disolved when I saw kaleidoscopic marine life from a new perspective.

Later, Rusty, Fundu's man with the rods, asked me to join him on a fishing trip. His blinding white boat was the business. No sooner had we put out lines than a fish came arcing out of the water. A dazzling streak of gold, silver and Wedgewood-blue pounced: a dorado. The ceviche back at the hotel that evening couldn't get any fresher.

I decided to spend my last evening cruising on a traditional dhow. Mama Casa is majestic. When her single sail is hoisted and catches the breeze, she comes to life. Her simple, crude construction creaked and shifted in the roll of gentle waves and I drifted off... it seemed that, finally, my Indian Ocean adventure had got the better of me.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

The writer travelled with Rainbow Tours (020-7666 1250; rainbowtours.co.uk), which offers a similar 10-night tour of Zanzibar from £3,195 per person. It includes return flights from London, road and air transfers, one night's B&B in Stone Town, two nights' full-board on Chumbe Island, three nights' B&B at Ras Nungwi and four nights' full-board at Fundu Lagoon with activities.

Zanzibar has no direct flights from the UK. The usual approaches are from Heathrow on BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) or Kenya Airways (020-8283 1800; kenya-airways.com) to Nairobi, or on BA to Dar Es Salaam; both connect with Precision Air to fly to the island. Ethiopian flies from Heathrow via Addis Ababa and Oman Air via Muscat. Qatar Airways launches flights via Doha later this year.

More information

zanzibartourism.net

British passport-holders require a visa, which can be obtained on arrival ($50/£33) or from the Tanzania High Commission (tanzaniahigh commission.co.uk).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Arts and Entertainment
Ella Henderson's first studio album has gone straight to the top of the charts
music
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

Life and Style
fashion
News
Paul Nuttall, left, is seen as one of Ukip's key weapons in selling the party to the North of England
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand labelled 'left-wing commie scum' by Fox News
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
football
Arts and Entertainment
artKaren Wright tours the fair and wishes she had £11m to spare
News
i100
Life and Style
Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh been invited to take part in Women Fashion Power, a new exhibition that celebrates the way women's fashion has changed in relation to their growing power and equality over the past 150 years
fashionKirsty and Camila swap secrets about how to dress for success
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past