Jambo, Jambo is the cheerful cry from children and adults alike as you come out of the airport, hot and sticky from a flight into Zanzibar. Then the hustle from taxi drivers vying for your business to wherever you want to go.
Learning very quickly that bartering was the norm we negotiated a decent price to our first destination, Sea Cliff Golf and Spa Resort.
Despite the lack of uniform, and in many case the lack of apparent cleanliness, the people impressed us from the very beginning. Their command of the English language was as good as any other non-English speaking country and their friendless surpasses other countries.
Zanzibar as we know it isn’t actually where we were going, despite booking flights and being told this is where we were going, Zanzibar is in fact made up of multiple islands with two main ones of Pemba, the lesser known, less populated and apparently less touristy than Unguja which is the larger, more populated. We were visiting Unguja, Zanzibar on the west side of the Island and about a 40 minute transfer from the airport.
Having lived and worked in Papua New Guinea, I was delighted to see the similarities bringing back some fantastic memories as we bumped along the water ravaged road leaving potholes that made some of the four by fours look small as they disappeared nose first, only to emerge the other side relatively unscathed yet somewhat dustier.
No garland of flowers, parade or overpowering welcome committee came to say hello as we arrived at Sea Cliff, unassumingly setting the pace for the rest to the break at Sea Cliff, and not in a bad way. The members of staff knew to give you some space after a long flight, they let you go about your way discovering the resort, but always present if we had any questions, which were usually met with smiles and helpful suggestions. No show at this tropical resort, it didn’t need it, the resort simply shone through without the paraphernalia.
An all inclusive resort, and when I say all inclusive , I don’t just mean the food! In fact packages for food were all inclusive, half board and full board, but this was resort was all inclusive, plus some.. with not only great food, but pretty much anything you’d want from your holiday, to satisfy even the fussiest of family members.
Small but tidy rooms had everything you’d want for your stay, with thoughtful additions such as a daily stocked fridge for water and fruit juice, fly wire on the doors and a romantic over bed mosquito curtains draped from the ceiling to cover the whole bed, adding a sense of drama to the room. But the reality is, you weren’t in your room too long, even with the pull of the balcony offering sea or garden views and with the ever present bluest of blue Indian Ocean to feast your eyes upon.
Keen to get out on to the onsite golf course, the next morning after a buffet breakfast; a smorgasbord of treats to set you up for the day, with the fresh fruit being a must. In 30 degrees of heat we walked to the golf course, in less than five minutes, slowing coming down the hill to overlook the private resort beach with golf course beyond, dhows at sail on the clear blue ocean adding drama to the view as we arrived at the golf course.
There are just nine holes on offer, with nine unique greens and two tee positions to play as 18 if you wanted to. The reality is, golf is one of many things on offer at Sea Cliff. A true holiday experience meant they had golf clubs for us to use, all branded, and were certainly good enough to satisfy the holiday golfer in this tropical paradise.
Getting used to the heat was a good reason to play only nine holes, but standing on tee one with sweat, sorry gentle perspiration!! dripping down soon gave way to lush tropics as we ventured further into the golf course. The day before we arrived, there had been rain, rain is such a polite way to say it bucketed it down, leaving in its wake washed out roads, tracks and the golf course to have standing water in play, especially on hole one where a gently stream had turned into a torrent of water ready to capture the unsuspecting golfers golf ball to go trundling downstream never to be seen again. Applying sensible golf, we simply tee’d up the golf ball to save any mud splashes and damaging the course and further. The blades of grass were each thick and crept along the ground to matted together to form a green covering, easy enough to play from whilst on the fairway, but the rough was a challenge of its own, in fact if the ball went into the deep rough, even if you saw its exact entry point, finding it was another story. Tropical golf does throw up alternative challenges of their own; greens are often baked and difficult to hit without it running for miles, so having that rain made them much more receptive. Relatively flat greens, with the odd one being tiered or sloping welcomed us. The golf course had picture postcard qualities, of par 3’s, 4’s and 5’s with water in play, bougainvillea dotted its splash of colour amongst the varying shades of green. A clear blue sky with puff balls of cloud breaking made the postcard complete.
A Peter Matkovich design, the course was marked in metres, and having the pleasure of playing with the on site PGA golf professional, Stanley, who gave us greater insight to the course layout. His favourite hole is no.8, a long par 4 at 407 metres, playing a decent tee shot was paramount for a shot to the elevated green. On the day we played, we had the added challenge of a warm wind channeling itself down the fairway towards the tee box. For me a challenging hole was hole 2, not for its length, more for the ability to manage yourself down the split fairway. Split by a small island of long grass going for either side only gave a narrow target off the tee. Day one I took a driver, missed the island but hit it too far right and ended up on the ‘up hill’ again in thick grass bordering the fairway. We did find the ball on the uphill bank on the right, pst before the fairway funnelled to the green, left with an awkward stance I hit a lob over the bank and on to the green sloping back to front. Subsequent games I played a 3 wood or hybrid which required an accurate shot to go either left or right of the island, but took out the chance of hitting it too far, lesson learned from day one! Hole 9/18 is Sea Cliff signature hole. A par three of 130 to 145 meters from the back, with rubbish at the front – tropical rubbish admittedly! and multiple bunkers guarding the green. One has to be able to fly over all of this and land it softly on the green which sloped back to front. Day one I totally overshot the ball, landing nearly on the beach beyond but certainly playing off very uneven well trodden sand scrub to a pin position on the back of the green ie the high side fo the green and not and easy approach as I came back onto it, watching with aghast as the ball rolled all the way down and out of sight!
We managed to play three rounds of nine holes during our time at Sea Cliff, which meant we could play in various conditions, and different tee positions. Each time was hotter than the previous but we conquered this by playing at 4pm and watching the sunset over the signature hole 9th/18th with the ocean as the backdrop in the comfortable beach fronted clubhouse enjoying a beer or two.
There were two type of local beer on offer with Kilimanjaro being the favourite for this trip. Despite it being a resort, a captive audience and with no supermarkets, as we know them on the island, the prices were not silly, with the most expensive night being a wine bottle of around $30.
Freshly squeezed or pulped juice was always available too, and why not capitalise on the fresh mangoes, papaya (paw paw) watermelon and finger bananas in abundance.
Evening meals were all buffets, with each night being themed, we dined Italian, Continental, Swahili and bar-be-que. A good selection of meat, fish, vegetables were available after a tasty salad bar of more than lettuce!! The food was mostly locally sourced and cooked to perfection, with fresh food cooked to order at the buffet as well as an a la carte menu. During Swahili night we got to try Zanzibar Pizza, best described as a calzone but not so heavy.
Each night dining by the poolside being waited on by a lady server who seems to have taken us under her wing, this might have been attributed to the tip she was given each night but Id prefer to say she liked us and gave us a great table by the pool; a table position. Celebrations were done in style with birthdays being a real treat to watch the unsuspecting birthday girl or boy being serenaded by the waiting staff not giving one or two renditions of happy birthday but multiple in various languages. We did panic one day when we were placed on a ribbon table but got away with it as all four pool fronted tables had the ‘celebration’ ribbons decorating them!
Sea Cliff has all sorts to offer the family or the active guest, even with a private beach and pools to relax by, some just can’t resist the pull of the tennis courts or games rooms. For the super energetic there was the air conditioned gym and a squash court too, and for the less energetic person the on-site spa offered every treatment too. Horse riding capped off this great resort in lush paradise. Some extra facilities at Sea Cliff did carry an additional charge, some were included. With a booking desk at the resort, excursions were available to get booked up if you wanted to see more of Zanzibar too.
We took a few excursions from Sea Cliff to beak up our golf, beach and poolside enjoyment. Historically known as a spice island visiting a spice farm was a must for me. Cloves are a commodity that Zanzibar still has high trading sales in, with the local’s being encouraged to grow cloves themselves to sell back to the local government who bought batches to on-sell outside outside the country. The Spice trial took us around an area of forest identifying the various spices that grew happily without chemicals in the tropical climate.
For me, whilst the spice tour was interesting, especially trying to identify the various spices by the crush of a leaf or the dig up of a root, the commercial side of the experience became apparent with a funnelling through areas to buy the local products made from the spices; soap, chanel number zero, so called as it was the flowers as in the main ingredient of chanel no.5! creams and lotions and potions. An experience itself to witness the cottage industry to support the locals.
Prison Island, a white fronted beach island rising out of the bright blue Indian ocean with tropical trees, typical and as you’d imagine a picture postcard. A short boat trip by water taxi to the Island with a guide in tow, we headed to Prison Island. Never a place used for prisoners, the British assigned this tropical paradise as a prison, but maybe had second thoughts as it may be seen as a treat to be banished to such a beautiful place!. The main inhabitants are the large tortoise. A gift from the Governor of the Seychelles these tortoise are kept in a sanctuary as a protected animal with a constant keeper on site, they looked healthy enough and certainly took large mouthful of the offered cabbage leaves. Babies were separated until they were old enough to being stood on by the much larger adult tortoise. Walking amongst the tortoise, stroking them as they amble along with surprising dexterity, with the oldest being near 200 year old and showing no signs of slowing down, no pun intended! The scheme is obviously working and wow they certainly have the best place in the world to live!
Keen to learn more about what there is to see in Zanzibar, our trip to Jozani Forest was a must to see the red and blue monkeys which reside in that one 50km square location on the island. The red monkey cannily be found in this one place in the world. Where monkey and human live side by side, with the locals job now being the guides for tourists. A walk around the forest didn’t reveal monkey until we came out the other side to see them scampering across the road which dissected this designated park area. The Red monkey is easily identified as the four fingered monkey and the blue monkey similar in size and not too dissimilar in colour has four fingers and a thumb and therefore climbing the trees with greater agility. Back off the road and we looped around back into the ‘depths of the forest’ never too far from the roadside.
One final excursion took us on a sunset dhow cruise. Taking one of the smaller less commercial boats we were just two with two crew as we set sail out of the harbour into the wide expanse of the Indian Ocean waiting for the sun to set. Given a bottle of water and some crips to munch on whilst waiting the quiet was deafening, as the camera was poised. It has to be said the boat rolling was as relaxing as anything else you might experience in the late evening heat. The sunset wasn’t as punchy as we would have liked but the overall experience was a lovely end to a perfect day.
Back at the resort we had one final treat the night before we left. Chef Alex from Sea Cliff gave us a beach cookery demonstration, this not only gave me chance to eat yet more delicious food but of course the opportunity to see how it was made not to mention an opportunity to hone my interview skills as the willing volunteer for anything going. Zanzibar, as the spice Island conjures up images of spice on everything, but the surprising things about Zanzibar cooking is the spice is a compliment to the taste of the meat. The red chicken adorned with spice, similar too, but not entirely the same, to Indian spices wasn’t over powering but a simple unaltered taste of fresh meat plus something extra special. Given the opportunity to see how Zanzibar pizza as made was also a treat. The elasticity of the dough was more than I expected as it sprang back with each stretch to eventually give in a little and take the form of a rough circle to be loaded with minced cooked chicken, cheese, peppers and pretty much anything you might have left over, before being lightly ‘fried’ on a flat plate and a little oil. These tasty pizza aren’t as heavy as a calzone, but in some respect resemble their shape and concept.
Eating food on the beach you have just seen being cooked with fresh ingredients was quite special as the sun set over the sea, before we enjoyed the comfort of the Sea Cliff for one final night.
As we said good bye to Sea Cliff we departed for Stone Town, the historic capital of Zanzibar to check into Jafferji House and Spa located right in the centre of the bustling town. Jafferji reminded me of a traditional moorish hotel with its vibrant colours, incredibly comfortable bed and thought provoking rooms of different silts and sizes. Our room overlook the main street, and thinking it might be noisy or busy at night, we were in for a pleasant surprise, it wasn’t at all. Breakfast at Jafferji was from the menu and was plentiful and tasty, but the restaurant location, right at the top of the building surpassed everything else as the vista view overlooked the town towards the Indian Ocean. Jafferji proved to be the perfect location to get out and explore Stone Town
Taking a sight seeing tour of Stone Town, yielded surprising results. We visited the House of Wonder, a huge imposing building on the sea front who through time has had every addition the period style dictated, of the time now looking slightly disheveled in the glistening sunshine. The area where the slaves were kept was an eye opener as we were squeezed into tiny over bearing hot rooms under the buildings where many slaves were packed in awaiting their fate, and now weirdly upon which a church now stands. Many stalls sold multi coloured clothing of light weight material and we got lost too, so being forever resourceful asked a policeman and it turned out we weren’t far from where we wanted to be anyway, but just demonstrates the helpfulness of the local people. We never felt threatened or uncomfortable but you do need to be able to haggle and to walk away if you were not happy with the price. This was quite apparent at the night market. Nothing but food was on sale at the night market, with stalls set around a big square you just ambled along and picked what you wanted before retiring to a seat to enjoy. Our Zanzibar pizza wasn’t as good as the one at Sea Cliff, but watching him load the thin stretchy dough was a challenge as he wanted to give us so much. We drank freshly squeezed sugar cane and had a go at pretty much everything, without a thought that we we on a long haul flight the next day!
The truth is, the food is so fresh, we had no problems what so ever.
The final day we were able to wander around at our own pace before being treated for one final thing before jumping on our flight back home. Organised through Jafferji House and Spa we went along to Cinnamon Spa and had a back and head massage. Playing golf, carrying luggage, camera equipment and all the totally unnecessary things I carry in my bag does take its toll after a while, so it was fantastic to get the knots beaten out in readiness for our return home. The ladies did a great job on my back and even attempted to tame the hair, without success, I might add! Jafferji staff were amazing and so helpful with organising the spa treatment
Back to Jafferji for a quick shower before departing for the airport and back home relaxed yet weirdly exhausted.
What I thought:
With the hectic world we live in, with limited time to take multiple holidays Sea Cliff could have the answer for the whole family. The golfers in the family could go to play 9 holes before breakfast or early evening before dinner as we did, without missing out on the family fun. Or take a few extra nights and spend some time in Stone Town for the cultural experience to give the holiday extra depth. Ether way, I would recommend Zanzibar as a golf plus destination.
Check out my You Tube channel – ‘travelling lady golfer’ to re live the sights and sounds of Zanzibar, this beautiful tropical paradise just off the East coast of Tanzania.
Note – this trip was taken in November 2019, prior to Covid -19 and lockdown