The twin-towns of Diani and Ukunda are an hour's drive on crossing the Likoni Ferry from the port city of Mombasa. Ukunda, the gateway to the supremely pristine Diani beaches is a dormant restful town finally coming of age.
Located on the shores of the southern coast of Kenya, one can opt for the less strenuous one-hour flight from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport.
A five-minute drive from Ukunda Airstrip, the Bahari Dhow Beach Villas, next to the Lantana Galu Beach is one of the sought-after retreats in Ukunda. The word Bahari originates from Bah’ar, meaning ‘the sea’ in Arabic.
A short, steep road leads to an unconventional open-air reception of the resort. The garden-courtyard grandly unfolds a panoramic view of an expansive, palm-fringed complex with cobbled pathways leading to the bewitching turquoise-green Indian Ocean in the background.
On either side of the two well-maintained swimming pools are 20 identical spacious three-room villas each with a pool-facing airy living room. A reasonably well-equipped kitchenette with all necessary amenities and a large black-painted dining table with huge drift-wood chairs exude an air of homeliness.
The snow-white limestone painted thick walls and high ceilings allow the sea breeze to swirl as it blows in through the large glass-pane windows giving a cooling effect.
A well-polished staircase leads to the upper floor where two bedrooms with an enjoyable balcony give an exhilarating view of the Indian Ocean.
Mr Wilfred Schulte-Bernd, an open-faced, middle-age man is more a warm host than the general manager of the resort. Wearing an easy smile on his chiseled face and characteristic colourful half-sleeve shirt, the newly appointed manager mingles with the guests during meals with effortless ease.
Seeing him seated across the table relish an appetising fruit-platter, it prompts one to enjoy the local produce of the succulent sukari (sweet) watermelons from the neighbouring Makongeni town and the melt-in-your-mouth pineapples and papaya brought from nearby villages.
The in-house African Oasis Beach Restaurant serves continental fare and time-honoured Swahili cuisine and sea-food including the wali wa nazi (coconut rice) prepared to perfection in rich coconut milk.
The breakfast spread is varied with local and continental specialties. The eatery provides patrons with a picturesque 180 degree view of the yellow-hued sunrise gradually suffuse the almost-still ocean.
Ukunda and other nearby islands are protected by off-shore coral reefs. The Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park and Reserve lies 11 kilometers off the Kenyan coast, and is an ideal location for snorkelling, scuba diving, and dolphin-spotting. Private dhow-operators in Ukunda and Diani arrange day-trips to the first gazetted marine park in Kenya and Wasini Island.
Carrying bottled water is strongly recommended. Kwale County is underlain by porous coral limestone of Pleistocene age. Recently, the high demand for fresh groundwater has resulted in the intrusion of seawater, which gives the drinking water in Ukunda a saline taste.
The cheerfully alert security personnel manning the imposing wood-like gates of the Bahari Dhow Beach Villa flag-down a colourful speeding tuk-tuk.
The spluttering three-wheeler, though noisy, is reasonably comfortable and certainly the most convenient mode of transport to get one’s bearing of the idyllic town and become familiar with the characteristic charms of Ukunda.
The tin-roofed stall on the stony sidewalk opposite the only Post Office in the town along the Ukunda-Ramisi Road is just one of them. Mzee Juma’s fried or roasted cassava served piping hot with a generous squeeze of piquant flavoured juice of green lemon promptly dipped in a red chili-powder-rock salt mix is worth a try for the more adventurous ones. The crispy delicacy is handed over on a piece of crumpled newspaper, with a toothy smile from Mzee.
Unlike Diani, Ukunda is known to produce coconuts in abundance. Variants of palm trees – Fish Tail Palm, Bottle Palms and Travellers Palm all sway in plenty from where the internationally recognized Colobus Conservation, established in 1997, is a mere 20-minute ride away.
One can adopt a colobus monkey at the sanctuary. The Green Gate Farm in Magutu village and Fina Wausi’s farm in Gombato village, both in Ukunda, breed ornamental birds that include Australorp, Wyandotte, Appenzell, Rowen and guinea fowl to name some.
An entrance fee is levied to watch an exceptional variety of exotic colourful domestic birds that are sold to customers coming from as far as western and central parts of Kenya.
With life-stories galore, Ukunda seems to be a fairy-tale destination of sorts. Leaning on walking sticks made of hardwood from deciduous trees, a group of weary-eyed old men share nostalgic memories at a roadside joint while leisurely sipping freshly brewed kahawa chungu, the customary aromatic ginger powder-cinnamon Swahili black coffee.
Delicately holding the miniature ceramic coffee cup imprinted with red and green floral elements, Mzee Rashidi emphatically points towards the African curio shops across the Diani Beach Road with his walking stick that is carved with intricate geometrical designs.
He speaks in a husky, cracked voice, “Once, that entire area was [but a] bush and grazing ground for our goats. We used to laze under the shade of palm trees that many stand even today”. “Wazungu (European) farmers initially came here and encouraged farming in Ukunda during the 1930s”, added Mzee Ahmad.
One can spend a week at Ukunda and never be bored. It inconspicuously brings out the bohemian spirit of its visitors.
Qureish Raghib-Ebrahimjiis a senior partner at Equinox Communication