The meaning of beach: Sally Kirby remembers Mahale 

It’s been nearly ten years since I stepped off the gently rocking dhow into the shallow shores of Lake Tanganyika; I can still feel the soft sand between my toes, and the water lapping at my ankles. It’d been a full day of travel to reach this remote beach at the foot of the Mahale Mountains in western Tanzania. 

Until this trip, beach holidays in my twenties had been mostly sun lounger and party-centric. From Bournemouth to Bondi, days on the sand blurred into a medley of suncream, fidgeting, chatting, swimming and people watching. And yet, I always feel happiest after a day at the beach, and, if I’ve been swimming, there’s a sea sparkle in my eyes. Nowadays, here in the UK, regular swims in the Solent, even now in mid-October, have undoubtedly boosted my immune system, and always inject a surge of positive energy. I read about the concept of ‘grounding’ or ‘earthing’ recently, and how beneficial it is to be in natural water, in rivers, lakes or the ocean, even standing barefoot on wet sand. It got me thinking about the benefits of a day at the beach, and perhaps explains why after three days at Greystoke Mahale, and other beach hut-style retreats where you sleep ‘outdoors’, I was buzzing. Everything is outdoors, or under thatch; eating, bathing, exercising and sleeping, surrounded by nature.  

Greystoke Mahale was the first conservation focused beach retreat I visited, and one that has made a lifelong impression.  Here I learned that conservation can be both fascinating and fun. Aside from beautiful beach, Greystoke also provides access to a habituated population of wild chimpanzees. Trekking into the forest behind the camp, you can sit and watch the chimps going about their daily lives; playing, foraging, fighting and grooming – not that dissimilar to a day of people watching on Bournemouth beach! So many of their physical gestures and relationship dynamics reflect ours, and people often refer to an undeniable connection that they feel on meeting the species. Evolution plays out in front of you. You start to understand the fragility of their environment, our environment. Life on the beach at Greystoke is off grid; barefoot and natural luxury. I left inspired to replicate some of this closer to home.  

As the dhow pushed off on our departure morning, the team stood waving from the beach, this memory still gives me goosebumps now, a mixture of sadness that I was leaving, and awe, that I’d been privileged to experience such a special place. Brushing the sand off my feet, I marvelled, beach holidays can be educational and relaxing, be it chimp trekking at Mahale, releasing turtles at Thonga, or studying giant tortoises at North Island. So, find your inspiring beach retreat, and when you do, bring the lessons home. 

Experienced Africa travel consultant and fan of all things well-being, Sally Kirby writes for a number of travel-orientated outlets, and blogs at The Teal Journal


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