The idyllic Turtle Bay, in Kenya’s Watamu, is aptly named after a large, offshore rock that resembles a giant turtle. It’s a welcome sight to us returnee holidaymakers, who have visited Hemingways Resort three times in eight years.
The colonial charm of the place (a low-rise, whitewashed hotel on the bay) is never felt so keenly as at the lavish breakfast table, where the Lea and Perrins, HP Sauce and Marmite jostle for pride of place on the damask. It’s a homely touch that we as a family have come to adore. Our particular package this time around included breakfast on the terrace (the fresh fishcakes are a must), afternoon tea by the pool (pancakes or waffles, cucumber sandwiches and scones) and a sit-down dinner. It meant we relaxed, making the most of the sublime food on offer. Hemingways also lays on kids’ dinners early, making life easier for those with tots in tow.
This trip, we had a mix of ages and tastes in our party; kids aged 11 and 14, elderly grandparents and us, tired in-betweeners. Combining relaxation with lots of good food and plenty of activities for the youngsters was paramount.
Thankfully, like the old faithful we’ve found it to be, Hemingways rose beautifully to the occasion. And while most people associate tropical resort breaks with honeymooning lovebugs and geriatric millionaires, this resort caters perfectly to families.
The facilities are geared towards energetic tweens and teens, who can happily burn off their boisterousness in the resort’s two pools, or let off steam on the sandy beach just a few steps away. We travelled during the spring break and found ourselves surrounded by families taking advantage of the school holidays. Revision books, no doubt packed with good intentions, were left discarded on the sun loungers as their young owners got on with having fun. Our two got right into the social thick of it, and were soon swapping Facebook profiles, names and addresses.
The other thing I should mention is that TV doesn’t exist in Hemingways – another reason we keep returning. Instead of vegging in front of the movie channel, our two made the most of the sea-facing deluxe rooms and enjoyed easy access to fresh air, sun and sand.
Well known for its deep sea fishing excursions, Hemingways guests are often greeted by returning fishing boats, where they can see what’s been caught (and get a sneak preview of the evening’s dinner menu). Naturally, our kids were fascinated by the blood and gore involved in the cleaning and gutting of the fish on the gantry.
We made the most of it and booked an excursion. However, even the half-day (there is a full-day option too) doesn’t come cheap – and many guests share the trip to cut costs. Typical catches for lucky amateur anglers include golden dorado, wahoo and fresh tuna – all of which can be made into sashimi by the hotel chefs and eaten later on that evening.
Romantically, Hemingways has its own traditional Arabian dhow, which provides the perfect place for peaceful sundowners as well as fabulous tours up the Mida Creek. We discovered (much to our delight) that an unlimited amount of delicious seafood and beverages can be consumed during the journey, making it seriously good value for families (Dhs200 per adult). The two-and-a-half-hour trip was fascinating and took us through the lush mangroves for fish spotting in the creek.
But most of all, the kids enjoyed the early morning snorkelling sessions. For a mere Dhs50 (marine fees) the boats are equipped with snorkels, flippers of all sizes and a box of stale bread to attract the fish. The main coral gardens are marked by buoys and take 15 minutes to reach. After 45 minutes of snorkelling, I climbed gratefully back on to the boat, but the others persevered, and by the end, we all agreed that breakfast (toast with Marmite and, of course, Kenyan honey) was the order of the day.
Need to know
Fly Emirates or Kenya Airways to Nairobi from Dubai (four-and-a-half hours) and then Kenya Airways or one of the many smaller carriers to Malindi where the hotel arrange a pick-up.
Where to stay
Half board in a superior double room at Hemingways will cost US$210 (Dhs772) per night until end July, US$320 (Dhs1,175) from August to December 20. You’ll pay another 15 per cent for children aged six to 12 years who share your room, kids aged five and under stay for free. (+254 (42) 32624; www.hemingways.co.ke).
Summer in Watanu typically sees balmy temperatures of around 27-29°C, with the chance of a little rain.
Visas on arrival for most passport holders. Adult visas cost US$25 (Dhs92), no visa necessary for children under 16.
Things to do
Take advantage of the free hotel trip to Malindi town, via the woodworking cooperative and handicraft shop, buy some traditional Kenyan kikois and stop for lunch at the charming Old Man and the Sea restaurant in Malindi itself.