Having paid a small fortune for a holiday on Chale Island, we crossed by boat from the mainland of Kenya, near Diani, to the exclusive island which is mostly a natural reserve. At low tide a big-wheeled tractor is the mode of transport; at high tide we crossed the 600m by open launch. Imagine my surprise when, after checking in at a deluxe reception area, we were led down the path¦.to an army tent! Untying the flaps the ˜bellman' led us inside. It was quite an amazing set up. A huge four-poster bed draped with mosquito nets was surrounded by beautiful carved wooden furnishings. Behind a screen was an open air shower, modestly screened by greenery, and a separate, fully plumbed toilet. I was amazed, surprised, shocked and worried all in the same moment. After all, I don't do camping!
Stepping outside onto our private terrace there was a swinging hammock and a full day bed under the extended straw roof which neatly disguised the tent. We were yards away from the white sandy beach and could see the reef just offshore. To complete the picture a cheeky Colobus monkey sat on the roof, watching us. Having got over the shock, we quickly settled in and over the coming week enjoyed the retreat-like atmosphere of this unique resort. Meals were served in the open-sided dining room beneath a high thatch roof; the pool and spa were delightful, and we joined the local guide for rambles around the island, spotting tiny antelope, turtles and hermit crabs with huge shells on their backs. We visited the altar at which the local Digo people still leave their sacrifices and requests, and submersed ourselves in the sulphurous slimy grey mud for a DIY mud bath treatment.
Days out began with a stroll to the jetty and a boat or tractor ride to the mainland. The wildlife safaris were quite superb as we were within striking distance of Tsavo East National Park. After seeing herds of elephants, zebra, wildebeest, countless antelope and monkeys, the day ended as a cheetah strolled across the path in front of our jeep followed by four scampering kittens.
I don't do camping, but I can recommend Chale Island. Call it bungalow accommodation, as the guide book does, then settle down to a relaxed existence of sleeping, swimming, reading, walking and eating. And of course safari-ing.
By Gillian Birch