The speedboat skims across the surface of the cobalt-blue water of the Indian Ocean, zipping away from the lengthy pier of Mafia Island off the coast of Tanzania. On the horizon, two traditional dhows are silhouetted by the afternoon sun, their sails taut in the breeze, while either side of the boat, tiny fish leap joyously in the spray. There’s no denying that this is a beautiful part of the country, but the best is yet to come.
The journey ends at Thanda Island, a private island owned by a family who know a thing or two about luxury. Dan Olofsson, owner and founder of the Sigma Group, may have made his fortune in the technology consulting industry, but his heart seems to lie in Africa. This is not the Swedish entrepreneur’s only foray into luxury destinations. Thanda Safari in South Africa is part of the Danir AB portfolio, which is the holding company for the Olofsson family investments. In testament to the experience on offer, the multi-award winning private game reserve in KwaZulu Natal was honoured twice more at the 23rd annual World Travel Awards earlier this year.
Thanda means ‘love’ in isiZulu, and Dan and Christin Olofsson are sharing the love, through both their philanthropic ventures and the opening of Thanda Island. Their own discreet, sumptuous retreat and private playground has recently been made available for exclusive bookings.
Solar-powered and off-grid, the eight-hectare island is encircled by a coral reef, and it happens to be in the middle of a migratory route used by whale sharks from October to February. There are even occasional visits from endangered dugongs and of the five species of marine turtles that swim in Tanzania, two – green and hawksbill – nest on the island itself.
Besides being an enclave for marine life, the island has also been planted with indigenous vegetation and bushes in an effort to replenish local flora. But before it starts sounding too much like a bush retreat, consider the magnificent beach residence, composed of five air-conditioned bedroom suites that lead directly onto the beach, with its silken white sand. For larger groups, there are an additional two charming bandas, small chalets built in traditional Tanzanian-style, with a master king-sized bedroom on the first floor and another on the ground floor, with the possibility of adding two extra single beds.
Strolling through the airy beach property, decorated in coastal whites, greens and soft blues complemented by hand-picked pieces of furniture and artwork, the Olofssons’ panache is evident. This is barefoot luxury in the best possible sense. The expansive living area includes an indoor aquarium, a Steinway grand piano and a selection of guitars, a cigar humidor and an impressive wine collection. For the cerebral, there is also an extensive Ernest Hemingway book collection, with an informal reading lounge upstairs.
The al fresco wrap-around dining area, with its 180-degree view of the ocean, leads to the glass rim-flow swimming pool, framed by sun loungers. For the more active, there is an extensive array of watersports paraphernalia available, including snorkelling equipment, sailing boats, a deep sea fishing boat, jet skis, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, wakeboards, tubes, water skis and more. The staff are always on hand to prepare and guide your activities, whether your preference is for a cultural trip to Mafia Island; breakfast on a sand spit, the approaching tide washing over your toes while you dine; or an evening soak in a copper tub on the beach at sunset.
The food is superb, too. Despite the secluded nature of the island, the live-in Executive Chef manages to whip up a variety of dishes worthy of a Michelin star. There’s an outdoor pizza oven too and if it’s seafood you crave, the bounty of the ocean is at your feet. The oysters are a particular delight, plucked from a rocky breakwater right on the beach. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.
It’s taken ten years to discover and create this remarkably uncommon destination and the Olofsson family are still regular visitors. It must be love; it must be Thanda.
Thanda Island is located between the mainland of Tanzania and Mafia Island, 16 nautical miles or 30kms east of the mainland. It is accessible by boat from Mafia Island or helicopter directly from Dar es Salaam International Airport. Scheduled flights from Dar es Salaam to Mafia Island take approximately 30 minutes. Boat transfers are between 15-45 minutes depending on the point of departure on Mafia Island and wind conditions. Helicopter flights from Dar es Salaam to Thanda Island take approximately 45 minutes. Exclusive use of Thanda Island is offered at US$10,000 per night, with a minimum stay of 3-7 nights, depending on the season. The all-inclusive rate includes the team of dedicated staff, boat transfers from Mafia Island and all activities offered on the Island, along with all meals and drinks, including a hand-picked selection of wines and champagnes. Spa treatments, diving and exclusive wines and champagnes are charged separately. Click here for information.