Treasure Island

A private paradise boasting first-class conservation credentials, Thanda Island is the most exclusive marine reserve in the Indian Ocean. VICTOR’s intrepid reporter-at-large Timmy Coles-Liddle explores.

In an age of travel in which even the most far-flung of destinations have become easily accessible, luxuryseekers occasionally require a helping hand to find something unique. Thanda Island, located in the Shungimbili Marine Reserve 80 miles southwest of Zanzibar, is that place.

First spotted from above 10 years ago by Swedish entrepreneurs Christin and Dan Olofsson, Thanda is far enough away from reality yet still superaccessible (the island sports its own helipad). It officially opened at the end of last year as an exclusive-use retreat, an arrangement that allows a fortunate few to enjoy jet-skiing and swimming with sharks by day, and fabulously fresh haute cuisine and Swahili decadence by night.

The resort’s main quarters, a sleek, sophisticated colonial-style villa, nestles comfortably in amongst eight hectares of towering banana and coconut trees, mangroves and lush vegetation. A pair of lovebirds have declared it their home and flutter dreamily about; a parrot occasionally squawks – in fact, all the inhabitants of Thanda exude a relaxed bonhomie. Beautifully upholstered wooden sun loungers surround an insanely tasteful, glass-walled swimming pool, which sits magnificently half above and half below ground.

Five individual suites, located adjacent to the main villa, are stylishly furnished with chunky wooden fourposter beds, creamy pastel shades, and come complete with both air con and ceiling fans. An external shower offers a welcome accoutrement – the thermometer hovered over the 30°C mark for the duration of our visit. The island’s generous hosts, Oscar and Antigone, are hands-on: they get in touch ahead of each group’s visit to discuss culinary preferences, and to tailor your stay so that everything is thoughtfully taken care of and delightfully easy. During dinner on our first evening, we chomped away on meaty sea bass fillets and velvety tuna sashimi, caught that day of course, whilst sipping perfectly chilled South African chardonnay.

Resident surf-boy Tim, who is also an ecology buff, is available at a moment’s notice to take you paddle-boarding, scuba-diving and even jet-skiing – but it’s conservation and sustainability that Thanda is all about. A project to safeguard the future of the coral reef is already in full swing, in part to mitigate the effects on the sea-creature colonies that have been diminishing for years. Dugongs, sea turtles and whale sharks are all listed as either critically endangered or vulnerable to extinction here. But thanks to Thanda’s smart thinking, together with the guidance of the Tanzanian Marine Parks and Sea Sense, an NGO set up in 2001 to research and preserve threatened species, green and hawksbill marine turtles have recently returned to nest. A desalination plant has been carefully tucked away in a coconut grove, and various initiatives are being put in place to support education and health on the neighbouring Mafia Island.

In short, it’s ecological tourism with a heart – 100 percent luxury with minimal human impact. Just have your snorkel ready when Tim tells you to dive in beside those whale sharks.

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