AMAZING TOUR OF IDYLLIC ISLAND ON THE SOUTH COAST
Story by BRYAN HARRIS
Publication Date: 1/10/2007
One of the treasures of Kenya’s south coast is Kisite Marine Park, an underwater wonderland and sanctuary for an astonishing variety of reef fish and corals. It is in the top bracket of diving sites in the world, as visibility can be up to 20 metres.
Later developments included a diving school, dhow cruises, fun diving, snorkelling and — for those simply looking for a day out, with lunch thrown in — dining at its finest besides the sea.
Kisite was gazetted as a national marine park in 1977. Shortly after this, Wasini Island Restaurant opened its doors.
A draw for visitors
Diving facilities aboard dedicated dhows began in 1995. It is these trips that have made investments such as Charlie Claws hotel such a draw for visitors to the coast.
Wasini Island diving is particularly attractive to residents and tourists because of the modest all-in-one cost. This includes a pick-up and drop-off by mini-bus from hotels along the coast, a traditional Swahili breakfast of mandazi and fruit on arrival at Shimoni and a dhow trip under sail to Kisite Marine Park.
Other attractions include a morning of diving with an aqualung under tuition or, in the case of novice divers, swimming and free diving with a snorkel over the reef.
For those who like to stay above water, the alternative is to be dropped on a sandy beach with a cool box of refreshing fruit drinks and soda to hand.
Other visitors choose to watch the action from the shade of an awning, aboard the dhow.
Move in any direction
Such is the introduction available to anyone of an underwater world of endless varieties of multi-coloured reef fish, exquisite coral formations and unique experience of weightlessness and ability to move in any direction at will.
All this during what the Charlie Claws brochure describes as a fun-dive, which could be translated to mean “no previous experience necessary”.
Some people are fortunate to swim with a pod of friendly dolphins. On several occasions, these wonderful creatures share time with their human counterparts. It is quite usual to come upon a green turtle resting on the sandy bottom.
We did, and it allowed us to approach to within a metre or so without showing the least sign of alarm.
During certain seasons of the year, humpback whales and whale sharks — the world’s largest fish that, for all their size, are totally harmless — have been known to pass by Kisite during their long migrations north and south. These can also be viewed from the dhows.
All this and the day had only half begun. When the divers, snorkellers or the simply idle who have done nothing but sip fruit juice on the deck of the dhow with the idea of enhancing their sun tan, decide it’s time for lunch, it’s up anchor for the short cruise back to Wasini Island.
Waiting for us at the exclusive open air restaurant was a menu that has made the island famous around the world.
First course: as many succulent broiled crab claws as it’s possible to eat.
Second course: a whole grilled red snapper.
Third course: a choice of deserts, followed by coffee in the Arab style.
Several options now await. They include a visit to an ethnic village on the island and a tour of a mangrove forest. The trees have fascinating root structures that can be viewed from a board-walk high above the high tide mark.
Ancient slave caves
This is a community project run by women from the village. There is, also, an opportunity to explore ancient slave caves on the mainland.
Some time after 4.00pm, we were taken back across the lagoon to the jetty at Shimoni for the drive back to our hotels.
So, the day’s diary had gone like this: collected from north coast hotels at around 6.30am and from south coast resorts at 7.30am. Arrive at Shimoni at around 9.00am to board a dhow, complete with traditional lateen sail, bound for the Kisite National Park for diving, snorkelling or pure relaxation.
Then a leisurely lunch and, maybe, some exploration. Arrive back at hotels by 6.30pm as dusk is falling.
It is doubtful whether there is a day out to be had anywhere that would surpass all this. And it’s right on our doorstep.