Thursday 15 November 2012

a green travel fling : chumbe island

I recently had the absolute pleasure of staying in sustainability-with-style paradise on Chumbe Island, located 8km off the Zanzibar coast.

Despite the proximity to Zanzibar, Chumbe certainly achieves that "million miles from anywhere" vibe. Additionally, because there are only seven eco-bunglows on the island and day visitors are kept to a minimum, the island feels blissfully uninhabited. I spent three days on this island paradise and would go back tomorrow given the opportunity.

Aerial view of the eco-bungalows from the heritage lighthouse on the island.
I boldly claimed over our first lunch on Chumbe Island that this is my ideal
view - the colours and textures of this tidal beach are perfection to me.

Okay, so it's a beautiful, peaceful, tropical island resort - but what makes it sustainable? Only every detail you can imagine, from island-filtered water provided to guests in reusable glass bottles to forward-thinking conservation programs. I've written about some of my favourite aspects here.
  • Chumbe Island's eco-lodges are fabulous examples of green building at its most primal (and most comfortable) - and are recipients of multiple architectural awards. Each bungalow is powered by photovoltaic panels, has solar hot water heating and collects and filters its own rainwater thanks to the unique shell-shape of the building and the filtration systems built into each site. The water is then hand-pumped each day by staff into the solar hot water system and stored in hot and cold water containers for ease of use by guests. Thanks Chumbe team!
The steep roof enables efficient collection of rainwater.
The coral and shell filtration system at the edges of the bungalow - the water
is then stored in a cistern underneath the bungalow.
  • Used water from sinks and showers is filtered and guided into specially sealed plant beds so no water leaks into the reef sanctuary surrounding the island. The plants chosen are water- and nutrient-hungry, and easily absorb the treated water.
  • The bathrooms feature the nicest composting toilet I have ever seen. Somehow they made the fact that you needed to add scoops of dirt, twigs and leaves to the loo after each use quaint and charming instead of hard-core-greenie.
The black water hand pump can be seen on the left, and just behind the
toilet is the basket filled with leaves, dirt and twigs, to assist our compost.
This basket was magically filled so I never had to worry about it.
  • The buildings were made using local mangrove trunks - extremely hard and long-lasting. Local fabrics were also used for sheets, pillows and the hammock mattress cover (most comfortable hammock I've ever laid upon). Local Zanzibar spices were used as natural air-fresheners and locally made soaps and shampoo were also provided.
The ground level of the loft, open air and extremely comfortable. There was
even a yoga mat available for use in the lodge! Heaven!
  • There is an amazing levered wall upstairs in the bedroom, allowing guests to lower a woven wall of the bungalow open to the ocean view to allow the sea breeze to enter the bedroom - better than air-conditioning or a ceiling fan.
Upstairs in the bungalow, the floors were covered with locally-woven sisal
rugs and we kept that wall down our entire stay.
  •  LED lights are available in the bungalows, but dinner each night was by candlelight (and starlight! on the beach - I just don't know that it gets any better! 
  • Chumbe is an internationally renowned destination thanks to its reef sanctuary, which has been under the protection of Chumbe since 1994. Because of this protected status, and the care Chumbe provides, this is the healthiest and most pristine reef I have ever seen, and I've been around!
The large tides on Chumbe Island meant we could look at amazing
sea creatures up close without getting wet!
  • The Chumbe Island Reef Sanctuary is upstream of important fishing grounds, and provides a protected breeding ground for fish, corals and other species which can then recolonise nearby overfished and degraded reef systems.
One of many incredible snaps from snorkeling.
  • Guests are invited to participate in a number of educational activities each day including snorkeling, an intertidal walk and a forest walk with the park rangers they employ - I learned so much from each of these activities, and was suitably impressed with the conservation work and research being done on and around the island.
I learned a lot from my favourite park range, Juma #2, on this
intertidal walk around the island.
  • The most impressive sustainability aspect of the entire island, however, is Chumbe's commitment to community education. They offer programs for local students, teachers and fishermen/women so they can understand the importance of protecting reef systems. I urge you to read more about it on their website, as I simply can't do it justice.
Chumbe Island's efforts have not gone unnoticed, and it's been the recipient of a number of sustainability awards. It's also been GER certified by The Long Run program because of its commitment to the 4Cs of the program - Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce. It's also been recognised by the UN Secretary General as a noted example of 'Payment for Conservation.' The conservation and education programs are all funded through the visitor fees and accommodation prices.

On top of everything, the food was delicious and service impeccable; I truly had a dream holiday on Chumbe Island. This is eco-luxury, though, no doubt about it, but worth every cent. So start saving your money and plan your trip to this magical destination - you won't regret it!

'til next time . . .

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