Up in the Sand Dunes of the Tana River Delta

As Kenya develops, and its population grows, it has become harder to find places that feel truly remote. It doesn’t take much to spoil the impression of isolation: a communication tower on the horizon, say, or the faint drone of distant traffic. So it’s a lot more special on those few occasions when I do come across a location that provides a genuine sense of solitude. One of those occasions was last weekend, and the location was the H12 Delta Dunes lodge.

This castaway-style lodge sits high amongst sand dunes and doum palms in the heart of the Tana River Delta, along the wide concave stretch of coast between Malindi and Lamu. Its seven thatched cottages offer spectacular views of the river on one side, the Indian Ocean on the other, or both. Whether you look out towards the beach, or inland across the mangrove forests of the delta, there’s very little sign of human habitation, save a few fishermen drifting in their canoes.

Semikaro interior (27)

It’s not the easiest of lodges to get to, but it’s certainly worth the journey. After our flight to Malindi, my fiancée and I were picked up by one of the lodge managers, Kelly, and were driven north about an hour up the coast. We then turned off the main road and followed a murram track towards Tarassa, before skirting the Tana River and navigating a sticky stretch of black cotton soil to the delta. Here we swapped our little taxi for a boat, and weaved our way downriver to the lodge.

Semikaro room from river view (1)

Delta Dunes forms part of the ‘H12 Art of Life’ global collection of ‘art and lifestyle hotels’. Other properties in the collection in Kenya are Elephant Gorge Camp in Amboseli and Kipalo Hills Tented Camp on the edge of Tsavo West. Each of their properties draws inspiration from 12 local and international artists, hence the rather unusual name.

At Delta Dunes, the décor is very simple, and the cottages blend into their environment. They have been cleverly fashioned from twisted driftwood and palm thatch, and are all open to the elements. Our cottage, called Anasa, is split across two floors, with a breezy lounge looking out to sea on the upper level, and a second bedroom with a view out over the canopy of doum palms towards the river on the lower level. A short walk away across the sand dunes is the swimming pool and the upper mess, where we had breakfast and lunch.

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Head Chef, Daniel, has been at Delta Dunes for 10 years, and he conjured up some delicious seafood dishes, including grilled prawns and Swahili-style red snapper. For lunch everyday, he baked a herbed loaf of focaccia bread, in the shape of a crocodile or a fish. On our last night he prepared dinner for us on the beach, by a bonfire under a clear night sky.

Because the lodge is situated at the convergence of two very different environments – the coast and river ecosystems – it offers a range of unique activities, from sand yachting on the beach to kayaking along the river. We opted for a boat ride with Kazungu, who also manages the lodge. Kazungu has been at Delta Dunes for over 30 years, so is very familiar with the community-owned Lower Tana Delta Conservancy. As we navigated the lower reaches of the delta, we disturbed a pod of hippos, spotted crocodile tracks on the riverbanks, and watched kingfishers hunt in the tangle of mangroves.

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I don’t have enough space to do the lodge justice, sadly, but you can experience it for yourself. H12 are offering a flying package for residents up to the 5th of December, on full board for two nights at Kshs 70,000 per person. Email bookings@h12africa.com, call 0737199870, or check out www.h12africa.com for more information.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation