It’s around 8pm — dinner time at Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa. Patrons sit around neatly laid tables, white napkins folded, cutlery shining in the ambient light.
The diners are dressed in smart casual attire because beachwear is not allowed here. There is a hum of voices as people rise to serve food at the buffet table. Today, a mix of Swahili and Indian cuisine is on the menu: beans in coconut sauce, chapati, rice, chicken, beef and other curries and naans.
It’s the Monday after my wedding and I’m here with my wife on honeymoon.
As we sit to dig into our servings, voices singing, “Jambo, jambo bwana, habari gani, mzuri sana!” float from the kitchen, at first in a low tone then louder.
A group of chefs and kitchen staff comes through the entrance leading to the restaurant. They are joined by the waiters and the waitresses.
The mood gets jubilant and a few diners, amused, join in. A woman in front of the group is carrying a cake.
Whose birthday could it be? I wonder.
The chefs, waiters, waitresses circle the sitting area, singing and dancing as they move. Some guests take out their mobile phones to record videos.
They move next to a table where a couple is having their dessert. “Congratulations!” they say in unison as they place the cake on the table.
“Kata keki kata!” the lead singer starts off again. They leave after the couple cut the cake and feed each other.
“Those two are here for honeymoon,” the waiter serving us whispers.
A few moments later, the voices emerge from behind the kitchen area again. Another cake, another set of honeymooners.
Just as we are about to leave our table, the team comes out a third time. They come straight to our table. “Congratulations on your wedding!” they say and place the cake on the table.
The South Coast has become a popular destination for honeymooners. On that night alone at the hotel, there were three couples. Some had just left, the hotel manager told me, and others were on the way.
Diani has been voted Africa’s leading beach destination six times in a row since 2014 by the World Travel Awards.
The Kenya Tourism Board markets Diani as a vibrant paradise that offers unlimited possibilities of exciting and tranquil experiences.
Its unique features make it a favourite of many. These include its endless stretch of white sands, the magical sunrises and sunsets, fresh breeze from the Indian Ocean and fine dining in magical settings of unmatched ambience.
Visitors can also enjoy numerous adrenaline-rich activities, such as deep-sea diving, stand-up paddle surfing, snorkelling and many more.
Like many others attracted by these experiences, we had planned to spend a couple of nights at the South Coast before heading further south to Zanzibar.
On the second day of our stay, there was yet another set of two couples who were congratulated and given cakes for tying the knot.
Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa seems to have struck the right note when it comes to hosting honeymooners.
The cake was just a small part of the honeymoon experience there. When we arrived at the hotel, we received a note from the manager congratulating us on our wedding.
Our suite had a king-sized bed, and red petals led us into the room. In a fridge in the room, there were assorted wines, though you had to pay for any drink. It faced the ocean, giving you a relaxing, enchanting view.
On the third day after breakfast, I approach a couple who are also here on honeymoon. After exchanging pleasantries, I pose the question, “Why Diani Reef?” or “Why South Coast?”
Shan Wavinya and her husband Charles Khisa are startled by my question.
“We have been planning to have our honeymoon here at the South Coast. We had googled several locations and Diani Reef offered us some nice package,” Khisa says.
Wavinya says she could not think of any other place apart from Diani.
“We had our wedding in Emali, Makueni. After our wedding, we took the SGR train to Mombasa on Monday before coming to South Coast,” she says.
Wavinya says this is their first time and they shall be coming back. We talk about our wedding experiences and become friends.
Afterwards, we take a stroll by the pristine white sandy beaches of Diani.
At the shores, we meet Bernard Gakuya,a long-time friend. He is with his wife. It has been a week since they got married.
“We have been here for almost a week. We booked an apartment just nearby and have been really enjoying our stay here at the South Coast,” he says.
He said they had been to Wasini and Kisite Mpunguti a day earlier and they were now winding up their stay.
This is the same story for Evelyn Wambui and her husband. They wedded in the last week of November and chose to spend some time at the South Coast.
“I love speed boats, and Diani offers the best. We have really had fun at the South Coast,” she says.
Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa general manager Jotham Mwacharo says December is a high season for lovebirds.
“Since the start of December, we have had about 11 couples staying with us. We are optimistic of receiving more,” he says.
Mwacharo says apart from the Kenyans, they also hosted six couples from Ethiopia.
“Diani Reef is a nice place. It provides a good environment to relax. Our rooms, the swimming pools, the dining areas and the spa give you a good holiday experience,” he says.
Bobby Kamani, the managing director of the Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa, says they signed a pact with the Ethiopian Airlines to cater for the rising number of Ethiopian nationals trooping there.
In this pact, the Ethiopians will be saving up to 25 per cent of the usual rates. The agreement, which came a few days before the Christmas season, saw an increase in regional tourists flocking to the South Coast.
The East African market provides 15 per cent of the total regional tourists that visit Diani. Kamani said the Ethiopian market is expected to bring in an additional 5 per cent because it is one of the largest markets in Africa.
“We are very excited about this partnership with one of the leading airlines in Africa. We believe it will be beneficial to Ethiopian tourists, honeymooners and conference delegates since they are saving up to 25 per cent from the usual rates,” Kamani says.
Ethiopian Airlines sales and marketing manager Ibrahim Temam says they are pleased to work with Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa.
“Together, we have launched a discounted fly and stay package for Ethiopians. This is a very special package, which will enable Ethiopians to take advantage of visiting the award-winning Diani Beach, which is well and truly Africa’s leading beach destination,” he said.
In 2018, Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa was recognised as Africa’s Leading Beach Resort by World Travel Awards. Recently, the facility was awarded the five-star status by Kenya’s Tourism Regulatory Authority.
The resort is in the process of constructing 114 new rooms, which will be situated in an all-new wing of the 40-acre property. These rooms are to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2020.
The addition of these 114 rooms will bring the total at Diani Reef to 257, making it the largest five-star hotel by room inventory at the South Coast.
As we left the South Coast, we carried with us memories and experiences well worth a lifetime. Like the many people we spoke to, we will be back.
By Charles Mghenyi