A tour of Southern and South-Eastern Unguja including Kizimkazi, Makunduchi, Jambiani, Bwejuu and the East Coast beaches.
Buses : Number 7 Daranjani to Fumba Number 8 Daranjani to Unguja Ukuu Number 9 Daranjani to Paje Number 10 Daranjani to Makunduchi (via Tunguu, Pete & Munyuni) Number 11 Daranjani to Fuoni
Leaving Creek Road at the junction that leads out through the Michenzani housing estate, continue straight, through the shanty towns and past the town dump. Eventually, the houses begin to peter out, the trees to close in. Palm thatch huts hide in the greenery, surrounded by small fields of cassava, maize, banana and papaya.
After about 10km on the left-hand side of the road is a traditional copra farm, where all the processes involved in producing copra from the raw coconut can be seen. The men on the copra farm do a hard day’s work and aren’t always keen to have their photographs taken.
About 20km from town, take a right at the tee junction.
After about 5km, the road enters a magnificent avenue of tall mango trees, that cast a cool shadow for several kilometres to Bungi. About halfway along this avenue, a small sign marks a track to the right which leads down to the coast and the site of the Bi Khole Palace.
Bi Khole was a daughter of the great Sultan Seyyid bin Said and sister of Sultan Barghash, whom she helped to escape after his first failed coup in 1856. She built her Palace about this time on an existing clove plantation that she inherited from her father and which she continued to operate throughout her unmarried life. She was a woman famed for her love of beautiful things and for her life of luxury in the sumptuous surroundings of her country retreat.
The ruins that remain on the site today, despite having been habited until the 1920’s, now only hint at a splendour of Arabic architecture, of the Persian baths and the flowering gardens. The building appears to have been quite modest in size, having a half a dozen rooms arranged in a rectangular plan. The gardens are hard to make out, with the exception of the fine mango tree at the front. A small path leads down to a little bay, but there are no signs of its history. Even the small mosque which stood by the roadside until recently is now gone, but the mango avenue remains as a testament to the ambition of an unusual Princess.
Shortly after Bungi is a small right-hand turn to Unguja Ukuu and the ruins of Ras Kitoe. Unguja Ukuu means ‘Great Unguja’ and refers to a time when this place was the primary settlement on the island. Believed to have been founded by the Shirazi in the 8th century, the town was abandoned two centuries later. The site on Uzi Island can be reached across a tidal causeway, but there is little to see except a few crumbling walls. Archaeologists continue intermittently to work the site.
Most of the indigenous forest of Zanzibar has now been lost to agriculture and construction, but the Jozani Forest Reserve remains as a protected area. The Reserve Headquarters are located just to the left of the road, about 3km after Pete village.
Walks through the forest can be arranged with rangers, who are pleased to show off the troupe of Kirk’s Red Colobus Monkeys (see also page 46) which seems to be in permanent residence around the HQ. These monkeys love charcoal and may well come down out of the trees to take it from your hand. Please take care – they may bite.
Shortly after Jozani, the road leaves the lush cover of the trees and heads out across the low scrub of the coral rag landscape. Here the soil water retention is too low to sustain forest or agriculture and only the hardiest of shrubs and bushes survive.
At Kitogani the road divides and the remainder of the Southern route can be done in either direction. People heading straight to the beaches will turn East, but this route first describes the Southern section …
Just past the junction is ZALA (Zanzibar Land Animals) Park, a small zoo which is privately run by local man Mohammad Ayoub, who is known in the area as ‘Mwalimu Nyoka’ or ‘the teacher of snakes’. The zoo specializes in reptiles and endemic species and is well worth a visit.
17km further on, a triangular junction is reached and the right-hand fork heads down to the village of Kizimkazi.
This is, in fact, two villages, each consisting of a cluster of huts and a couple of simple Dukas, each backing on to its own small sandy bay. Since the villages are at the end of the road, they get no through traffic and village life takes place on the street. Children run laughing in front of the vehicle and sleepy heads roll around to check out the new arrivals. A man sits with a battered violin held half-mast to his biceps and an entrancing Arabic tune wafts through the village, as does an overpowering stench of drying fish, from the mats in front of the huts. Down at the shore, though a row of shady trees, Ngalawa rest hauled up on the burning sand or bob gently up and down in the turquoise sea.
There is little in this sleepy fishing village to betray the fact that this was once the foremost settlement on the East Coast of Africa. Remnants of ancient foundations tell of a walled town with some considerable stone buildings. Kizimkazi was the seat of the Mwinyi Mkuu, the tribal chief of Unguja from pre-Arab days and the site of early Shirazi (Persian) settlement on the island. Little of this history is now in evidence, although verbal tradition tells of the village being founded by a King called Kizi and his architect Kazi. Kizi was a devout Muslim who called upon Allah to save his town from invaders on several occasions. This was achieved on one occasion by sending swarms of bees and on another by temporarily sealing the entrance of a cave in which the townspeople were hiding.
Set in the Northern part of the town, Dimbani, is the ancient Kizimkazi Mosque. This mosque is thought to be the oldest on the Southern East Coast of Africa, having been originally constructed by the early Shirazi settlers in the year AD1107. The Kufic inscriptions (in the floriate style), which can still be clearly seen to the left of the mirhab, tell of Sheikh Said bin Abi Amran Mfaume al Hassan bin Muhammad, who ordered the mosque to be constructed in the month of Dhul Kaadi in the year of AH500. But only small parts of the mosque date back this far. To the right-hand side of the mirhab the inscription tells of major rebuilding in AD1770. More recently, the mosque has been modified in an unsympathetic fashion, with a new East wall and a corrugated iron roof. Ensure that you remove your shoes and cover your head before entering the mosque and ask permission before doing so. Place a donation in the charity box provided. Outside the mosque are several graves with inscriptions that bear witness to nobility buried within, most notably Sheikh Ali bin Omar, who had only one arm and one leg.
Also in the village is the small Kizimkazi Cavern, which contains a freshwater spring and a rough stone bust. This figure is said to be a local girl who was accidentally turned to stone when her companion called out her name – something which is forbidden in the cave to this day.
In the Southern part of the village (Kizimkazi Mkunguni) another sandy cove provides moorings for fishing vessels and fishermen wander amongst the palms in wide-brimmed straw hats, making cane-work fishing traps and pushing kapok into gaps to seal their hulls. Two great baobab trees dominate the front, one towering over the bar, the other over the schoolhouse. The latter is estimated to be over six centuries old. There is a guest house here, with a bar and (usually) cold drinks.
From this South beach, local people run an excursion to ‘swim with dolphins’. This trip can be great fun and the prospects of seeing dolphins from the boat are very good. Those with visions of clapping flippers and riding of dorsal fins will usually be disappointed. These creatures are intelligent enough to disappear when half a dozen flippered people jump simultaneously into the water. But there is a good chance of seeing these beautiful animals from a sensible distance and you may well be rewarded with sightings of turtles, stingrays and sharks. Make sure that your guides don’t try too hard to get near the dolphins. It’s a more relaxed and enjoyable experience (both for you and the dolphin) if you just take it as it comes and watches from a distance if they aren’t in the mood. Take plenty of water, it’s easy to get de-hydrated.
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Returning back to the triangular junction on the ‘main’ road, the quickest route to the East Coast beaches is probably to return to Kitogani and turn East to Paje. The right-hand turn leads to Makunduchi…
At the end of the road is Makunduchi New Town, which is little more than a small village, but with a post office, telephone facilities, police station and bank. The most memorable features of the village are some more of those East German flats. The village has a small sandy beach and a couple of places to stay. Its also possible to arrange trips out to ‘swim with dolphins’, similar to Kizimkazi.
Makunduchi is most famous for its fabulous Shirazi new year celebrations, the Mwaka Kogwa, which are the biggest and best on the islands.
Beyond the barren coral rag country of Central and Eastern Unguja lies a coastal strip of uninterrupted sandy beaches, fronted by a wide coral lagoon and backed by swathes of shady palm trees. Hidden amongst these trees lie a number of small villages that blend gently into their surroundings. Huts of palm thatch randomly scattered around a winding sandy track leading up the coast.
This is the area referred to in Zanzibar Town as the ‘East Coast’, as opposed to the North East Coast, which is often referred to as the ‘North Coast’ !
The day starts early here, with villagers rising before dawn to attend their work. The ‘rush hour’ consists of a few dozen commuter bicycles gliding along a sandy beach to go octopus fishing, net mending, seaweed picking and rope weaving. As the heat of the day rises, people retreat to the shade, leaving the deserted villages to the ducks, goats and chickens. By early evening, activity restarts, drawing water from the wells, pounding cassava for the evening meal and above all playing football on sandy clearings until the shadows creep across the pitch. This is an idyllic lifestyle.
If ever there was a place for enforced relaxation, then this is it. Once settled into a guest house, the short stroll to the beach may be the only exercise for the day. It is easy just to lie and watch the world go by. Fishermen in sailboats and children on push-bikes. Some women, in bright patchwork kangas, sit cross-legged on the beach, separating the coconut husk for making coir rope, whilst others are dotted along the horizon across the glinting lagoon, tending to the seaweed beds. The sun beats down on the soft sand and the palm fronds rustle overhead in the monsoon breeze. But for those so inclined, there are quite a few things to be done whilst staying at any of the villages along this coastline :
A walk out into the lagoon reveals all sorts of strange marine life in the shallow waters. A stout pair of shoes provide protection against sea urchins and advice from locals reveals the best routes around the softer ground. Once out from shore, the water is lukewarm. Here amongst the seaweed beds live crabs, starfish and sea cucumbers. Further out towards the reef are octopus and tropical fish of every description. The women who tend the seaweed beds can be a little unfriendly to strangers, especially those with cameras. In fact, they may get quite vocal to those trying to ‘steal’ a picture but will laugh and joke riotously with those visitors who make the effort.
The best snorkelling in the area is to be found at ‘the lagoon’, about two miles to the North of Bwejuu, just past the pier at Dongwe. Bicycles and snorkels can usually be hired from any of the children on the beach.
Back on the beach, a short diversion is to get one of the local kids to demonstrate their tree-climbing skills on one of the coconut palms along the strip. There always seems to be the necessary figure-of-eight climbing loop and cracking stick conveniently lying around in the bushes to enable him to provide you with a refreshing drink.
Another excellent diversion is to hire the children to pick up rubbish from the beach, which although on the whole is in very good condition, does need maintenance. It should not take them too long to fill a small bucket, but make sure they don’t put it all back for the next day!
Local fishermen will take visitors out on trips beyond the reef, to sail over the coral in crystal clear waters and to dive with snorkels or to fish in the traditional fashion.
Another worthwhile excursion is a visit to the mangrove swamp at Chwaka Bay, which can be reached by a small road leading inland from the back of Bwejuu Village. It is possible to find a guide locally, who can navigate his way through the maze of channels and rivers in the swamps. Being able to stroll through the shallow rivers looking at this uniquely adapted plant and its ecosystem, there is also a good chance of seeing a wide variety of crabs that live in the mud-banks amongst the tangle of roots.
Most of the villages along the coast have local shops offering a limited range of products and in Jambiani there is a small craft shop. Fresh fish and bread can be bought by local people.
As the sun starts to set, the villages come alive and kick-off time for the village football matches fast approaches. These games range from small kickabouts to highly competitive matches, but all are played on the same deeply sanded and undulating clearings amongst the palm trees. Visitors who are keen and able may be allowed to join in, but will for sure be put out on the wing in the deepest sand, where simply walking is an achievement.
During the quiet evenings, a cooling wind often blows and it is a good time to sit on the terrace and take on the locals at draughts or to try and learn the intricacies of bao.
The road is pretty rough for several kilometres up from Makunduchi, but eventually, the settlement of Jambiani comes into view. The name comes from an Arabic word for the dagger, ‘jambiya’. Legend has it that early settlers found a dagger here in the sand – evidence of previous visitors. Passing along the rocky ‘high street’ there is a string of small guest houses that stretch right up the coastline through Paje to Bwejuu to the North. Most, but not all of these offer cheap, basic facilities; electricity, mosquito cold drinks and food. Probably the best way to chose one of these guesthouses is to get latest from other visitors before leaving Zanzibar Town.
About two hours walk from Jambiani Village is a large natural cavern containing a freshwater spring. This cave is said to have once been lived in and may have been used during slave times. These days it is a traditional shrine and local people come here to pray and make offerings.
Paje is the next village up the coast and the one at the junction with the direct road from Zanzibar Town. It too has its share of guest houses and in Paje Village itself, there is an old mausoleum, a long, low rectangular building with castellations and with old plates and dishes set into the walls. This design, along with other reliefs and designs used in the villages are of typical Shirazi origin and indicate that this area was settled very early in Zanzibar’s history.
The guest houses in Bwejuu are popular mainly for their proximity to ‘the lagoon’ and the Chwaka Bay mangrove swamps. Further up the coast, are some new and up-market hotel developments which have the modern conveniences, but little of the local character. At the very Northern tip of this stretch of coastline, it is possible to be ferried across Chwaka Bay to Uroa and the Northern section of the East Coast (see Central Routes).
Most people return to Zanzibar Town via the main Paje to Kitogani road, retracing the outward route.