Until I found myself promising to love, honour, obey (my husband of almost 30 years) and - by necessary extension - spend my beach holidays at Tiwi (where?), I was a dedicated North Beach Babe. My conversion was not an altogether easy passage. After all I liked the north. I liked goggling at Watamu, skiing in Mida Creek, dancing at the Driftwood and eating Italian in ‘I Love Pizza’. I liked the fact I knew every curve of a wide, white beach you could walk on for miles and miles. But I’d made a promise and that was that. My husband was a South coast boy and so for almost three decades I've been turning left at the junction, not right. A reluctant convert, I have morphed as a devotee.
Sand Island has belonged to my husband’s family since the forties, it began as a clutch of scruffy cottages with outside loos and showers, upon which the family would descend for coast holidays from the farm in Kaptagat. My children’s great grandmother discovered it from the water, myth holds that she swam miles in a bid to beat the pain of cancer and spotted the pretty bay, flanked at either end by rocky outcrops and coral pools and caves. She was seduced by the sand island that rose as the tide fell, 150m from the beach. There’s acres of untouched bush inland, turtles scramble ashore during laying season and tuck their eggs in sand above the highwater line; they know they're safe there, solitary where a committed staff stand sentinel. There are no high rise hotels and no beach boys. Just the sea, the beach, the main house (chock full of memories and eccentricity) , six cottages grew, under my brief tenure, to nine, the stoic remains of an Arab settlement and scrambling bush, palm trees lean into the wind and whisper secrets to one another.
For me and for my children, though, who, like their dad, all grew up on this beach and have an affection to the south coast that mimics my long gone affection for the north, it’s the beach that’s the real prize. My huffy teenage-imposed loyalty to the North has been eroded by an unexpected love affair with the same places my husband knew so well as a boy. The quaintly named Swallow Pool (where there’s always enough water to swim, beneath the cliffs, accompanied by the wheeling birds that spill out of their homes above), and Crocodile Rock, a navigational point for anybody out goggling. North Bay. South Bay. Names that have dropped off the pages of a Famous Five adventure story. At low tide the beach is one enormous playground, the ultimate in child-friendly. There are shallow pools of clear warm water to paddle in; coral outcrops to explore; caves to duck into and vast rocky outcrops, thrown up like protective arms, under which to hide from the sun and dig in the sand. Whole, happy mornings can be spent like this, were spent like this, safely shaded, with just the sky, the water and the odd passing fisherman for company, the cries of busy swallows and the pounding of a distant surf for music. Like their grandmother, like their dad, my children grew up with an abiding affinity for this place, it left its mark in sunburn and freckles, was dredged for months after leaving at the bottom of suitcases and drawers in sand that still smelt of the ocean. Sometimes we donned tackies and strode for miles along the reef, further south, to Fairy Pools, so named by their great grandmother, where they could dive into inky water, cold for its depth and the dense shadow cast by the cliff. My daughter flew a kite from the beach on late afternoons when the rising breeze let it fly high and chase a thousand white horses across the sea's choppy surface and the resident labradors barked like things possessed imagining the bright dipping shape above them was some exotic bird. My son, has, over the years - almost a quarter of a century - bowled more cricket balls on a low tide sand island than I could ever count.
This is the enduring beauty of this pretty, special place: its familial pull, its generational appeal; my children - all grown up now - have been fortunate to call this place home from home but they are not alone: many families return, generation after generation. I imagine that one day I will watch my husband take his grandchildren out over the reef, guiding them carefully, pointing out to the them an enormous underwater world, just as his mother introduced the same to him and his siblings. just as later she showed her grandchildren.
When you're not recapturing your childhood or flying a kite or exploring the reef or watching the sea and sky embrace tenderly on a far, far away horizon or wriggling your toes in the sand, you can head to Diani to shop, eat in any number of restaurants (Aniello's has been a family favourite since forever).
Or, if you're brave, with more energy than sense, and are not intimidated by queues at the Likoni ferry, you could head north.
But why on earth would anybody want to do that?
posted by Anthea Rowan