Lizzie Porter, TRAVEL WRITER 29 June 2016 • 11:00am ( condensed for the purpose of the audience of this Newsletter)
There aren’t many places on Earth where hawksbill turtles feel so unthreatened that they come ashore in broad daylight to lay their eggs. The Seychelles is one place where they do. There she was: a turtle scooping a hole in the sand, then entering the trance that accompanies the egg-laying process. Her carapace swayed as lychee-like ova plopped into the hollow. Many of the turtle’s progeny will not survive; only around one in every 1,000 sea turtles makes it to adulthood. In most parts of the world turtles use the cover of darkness for protection as they lay and hatch their eggs – an attempt to address those odds. But in the Seychelles, quiet, protected beaches surrounded by indigenous forest allow them a degree of safety, even in daylight. With some exceptions, development and conservation sit together well in this archipelago of 115 islands.
These granitic and coral islands, around 1,100 miles from the Tanzanian coast, are wilder and less glossily perfect than the Maldives, to the north and east. But they are certainly alluring, with the attractions of surreal rock formations, lush forests and Creole heritage, as well as some of the world’s best beaches and cerulean seas.
On the myriad trekking trails that cross Mahé, the scent of cinnamon still hangs in the air, vying with the whiff of ylang-ylang and lemon grass. Terence, my guide, said that there were efforts to remove the rampant spice plants, but it was an ongoing battle.
There is a careful path to tread over on Praslin, too, a squiggle of an island which is home to forests of coco de mer palm, unique to the Seychelles. Its beaches are also important turtle breeding sites. On the long, languid stretch of sand at Grand Anse Kerlan – bashed by rather less languid waves – guests from the neighbouring Constance Lemuria resort are taught how to recognise a nesting turtle, and are invited to witness – but not interfere with – the hatchlings as they beetle their way to shore.
It was on the teardrop-shaped La Digue that small-island living became smaller-island repose. Home to just 2,700 people, it was first recorded by French explorer Marion Dufresne in 1768 and remains mostly undeveloped. There are no large hotels; people get around by bike or golf buggy. I wandered along one of the few roads that curve around the island, flanked by Creole houses with verandas and orange roofs piquant against lush walls of greenery.
Cicadas hummed in the warm darkness as I ambled north, to Anse Severe beach. As five o’clock drifted to six, the silken white sands turned the softest of blues as the sun faded, and water trickled over the reef.
[learn_more caption=”Six amazing things to do in the Seychelles” state=”closed”]
- Walk in the Vallée de Mai on Praslin This Unesco World Heritage Site is often described as a “primeval” forest, thanks to the clusters of 4,000 coco de mer palms that are endemic to the Seychelles. The shimmering sound of raindrops in the leaves may be broken by the call of the Seychellois bulbul and, if you are in luck, the rare black parrot.
- Visit a tiny town Victoria on Mahé is one of the world’s smallest capitals, with a cluster of roads around Creole-style houses. See the clock tower, a silver-painted replica of that on London’s Vauxhall Bridge Road, which arrived on Mahé in 1903. Don’t miss the wonky green vegetables, spices and fish piled high in the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market, or the tiny Hindu temple.
- Visit La Digue’s coconut plantation (full day trip from Praslin) Visitors to L’Union estate, one part of the Seychelles where coconut production is sustainable and managed, will see an ox-powered oil extraction machine, the cemetery of the original settlers, and one of the world’s most beautiful beaches at Anse Source D’Argent.
- Boat trip to Curieuse, Cousin Island and St Pierre Cousin Island is a conservation success story: NGOs Nature Seychelles and BirdLife International have collaborated to see it is kept as a place for terns, reptiles and endangered magpie robins to thrive. Visitors are only allowed to explore with a guide so as not to disturb the wildlife. Do not forget insect repellent. On Curieuse Island, visit the baby giant tortoise pens, take a boardwalk through preserved mango forest and read about projects to protect lemon sharks. Excellent snorkelling is to be had off St Pierre islet, although you are unlikely to have it to yourself.
- Hikes on Mahé – Copolia Trail and Morne Blanc The Copolia Trail deceives with its initial descent through cinnamon and rubber tree forest, but it soon climbs higher; eventually walkers emerge on to exposed “glacis” rock, which forms the base of the inner granitic Seychelles islands. On the exposed outcrop grow plants including the vacoa (Pandanus multispicatus) and pitcher plant (Nepenthes pervillei). Allow 90 minutes each way; walking shoes or good trainers are essential.
- The Morne Blanc walking trail starts above the tea plantation that covers part of north-central Mahé (itself worth a 10-minute diversion for a look at the traditional tea-drying, processing and packaging methods, if it is open. As the path climbs, tea bushes cede to ferns and mosses in which hides Sooglossus gardineri, one of the world’s smallest frogs. Climb higher for views over the Port Launay Marine Park. Allow 90 minutes each way; sturdy shoes are required.
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