The Coats …

Our first stop on the mainland is Pangani, a sleepy town with an atmospheric waterfront lined with Omani-Era buildings and cut by Narrow Alley hiding carved wooden doors

In its 19th-century heyday Pangani was a terminus of the caravan route from Lake Tanganyika, which meant it was a major export point for slaves and ivory, and one of the largest ports between Bagamoyo and Mombasa.

Description: The Mainland Beaches

The Mainland Beaches

These days, life in town has a decidedly slower pace, and centres on the comings and goings of a small workhorse of a ferry that chugs back and forth across the meandering Pangani River with its cargo of people, produce and vehicles. Port workers loll by the dock, ladies sit in the shade of the early 19th-century German bona selling fresh bread and tranzdai, and Kofia-clad men peddle by on heavy, single-speed bicycles. Shop fronts along the main street, with their tidy stacks of brightly-coloured plastic wares and dusty shelves of tinned goods, stand in hopeful anticipation of customers.

Description: Pangani River

Pangani River

After spending a morning taking it all in, we embarked to explore the nearby coastline. To the north, a wonderful beach, dotted by a handful of low-key beach getaways, runs lazily for kilometres. Most of the lodgings are owned by long-time residents of the area who decided to stay after first stumbling upon the Pangani sea front's timeless beauty years ago.

Description: Pangani - a sleepy town with an atmospheric waterfront lined with Omani-Era buildings and cut by narrow alley hiding carved wooden doors

Pangani - a sleepy town with an atmospheric waterfront lined with Omani-Era buildings and cut by narrow alley hiding carved wooden doors

Tanga, a major port city, is just an hour's drive further up the coast, and convenient for supplies. Wireless internet has also made inroads to the area. Otherwise, it is easy to ensconce yourself at one of the beach hideaways for weeks, oblivious to the outside world, and with nothing more stressful to disturb your reverie than an occasional scuttling crab.

South of Pangani a rutted all-weather road leads from the far bank of the Pangani River through coastal forest for about 15km to the Ushongo area. Here a scruffy village gives way to a marvellous and largely overlooked palm-fringed beach. Apart from several modest beach haunts, a lovely boutique hotel and a smattering of private homes, there is no development. As with the beaches just north of Pangani. It would be easy to get stuck here for weeks, seduced by the sand, the sea and the whispering of the palms. On clear, moonless nights, the Southern Cross and other constellations fill the sky above, and the lights of northern Zanzibar Island, just across the channel, twinkle in the distance.

From Ushongo the road continues southwards until reaching Saadani National Park, an enchanting spot with a beachfront even wider and more deserted than that further north. Wildlife watching in Saadani cannot compare with that in Tanzania's main parks, but it must be said that animal populations have undergone a major revival over the past decade and a half, moving from a heavily poached and skittish handful to sizeable numbers of elephant, giraffe, buffalo, hartebeest and more. Hippos are almost guaranteed in the Wami River, which fringes the park to the south, and birding - both on the seafront and along the river - is invariably rewarding. The beach and the relaxed bush ambience are the main attractions here. For sleeping, there are two wonderful beachfront lodges and, inland, the highly-praised luxury eco-camp Saadani Safari Lodge (

Description: Saadani National Park

Saadani National Park

There is no bridge or ferry across the Wami River, and most transport southwards goes inland, via the main highway. However, it's more fun to arrange a boat transfer with one of the Saadani lodges to a waiting vehicle, and continue along the coast via the historical treasure trove of Bagamoyo to the modern-day metropolis of Dares Salaam.

In Bagamoyo, which served as the capital of German East Africa from 1887 to 1891, don't miss a stroll through Mji Mkongwe, the old town centre, with its crumbling German-era colonial buildings, lively fishing port and quiet streets with carved wooden doorways.

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