I am looking into ET’s eyes and tickling him under his long, wrinkly, elephant skin neck. He makes a throaty, purring sound and moves a little closer, his eyes deep pools of wisdom that I lose myself in. And wise he is, because this Aldabra giant tortoise on Curieuse Island could live for 200 years.
Even after our first day, spent exploring some of the tourist hotspots on the island of Mahé and the day beds by the pool at the hotel at Eden Marina, the prospect of living 200 years in this Jurassic-like playground was tempting. With 115 islands created out of granite, artistic boulders dropped on white-sand beaches as if placed by a Disney imagineer, water the colour that you see on postcards – that alluring turquoise blue – and locals that are so laid back they make Australians look stressed, there is a hell of a lot to love.
With island hopping on our agenda, we organise a yacht charter through Sunsail and my yachtie husband plays with his navigation charts for weeks in advance and plans a rough itinerary concentrating on the Inner Islands group. We gather a crew of boatie friends who are as intrigued about the Seychelles as we are, and before we know it, we are boarding a beautiful Sunsail 444 Robinson and Caine catamaran, packing away provisions, putting copious quantities of wine and beer in the fridges, and sailing out of Eden Marina, looking up at the thick jungle-covered spine of Mahé with its loaded mango trees, palms, cinnamon and a veritable riot of green.
We anchor off Beau Vallon, the longest and most popular beach in Mahé and the first of the conga line of gob-smackingly beautiful beaches we stop at, swim in and ogle. We befriend our first bat fish, who become regulars around the yacht over the week, swim joyfully in the warm water and basically smile ourselves silly. Later, we head to Baie Ternay, a deserted bay where we watch the sunset with a local Seybrew or Eku beer on the back deck, pinching ourselves that we are actually here, in this place, on this yacht, on this day. And it wasn’t the beer talking.
After our first and longest island hop, we find ourselves anchored off what surely is Nirvana – Anse Lazio, in Baie Chevalier on the island of Praslin. This beach is a regular in ‘best beaches of the world’ lists, and deservedly so. The canopy of trees overhangs the squeaky white sand, boulders at each end, and that aquamarine water is too good to be true. We swim and snorkel with the energy of 12-year-olds, fingers turning into prunes.
We screech with delight when we see turtles coming to check us out, and put-put into the beach in the trusty inflatable dinghy or on the double kayak. We find a restaurant hidden behind the trees, owned by an Australian woman who serves up delicious creole fish and other seafood. She doubles as a bank, letting us change some Aussie dollars into Seychellois rupees at a rate of 10 to 1 – better than the banks. We spent some of that money at the Honesty Bar, only discovered when we spotted other people disappearing down an overgrown track off the beach. The bar is like something out of Robinson Crusoe, and we pry some beers from the fridge and leave the money as per the price list on the hand carved wooden bar. The views out through the trees and over the postcard-pretty beach are priceless.
Praslin’s delights don’t end there, and we find ourselves off Anse Gouvernement, with our dedicated bat fish fans welcoming us into the water as we frolicked and splashed and generally enjoyed ourselves. The hotel on the beach, the L’Archipel, has a bar that looks quite tempting, and indeed it was as we toasted our good fortune with a Pina Colada or two before tucking into a delicious barbecue lunch served by the lovely, friendly staff. The concierge even books us a cab to the UNESCO World Heritage Vallée de Mai, which we visit the next morning after another star-spangled night on the yacht.
This pocket of green is like something time forgot, and it is where you will find one of only two places in the world where Coco de Mer grow – the other being Curieuse Island. These tall skinny palms grow the biggest nuts in the world – they can weigh up to 30 kilograms – and their unusual shape can be seen depicted in just about everything – even the passport stamp when you enter the country. The Coco de Mer are just one of six palms that you will not find anywhere else in the world. We take the longest of the three signposted walks around the reserve and cannot believe the size of the palm fronds – they are absolutely massive.
From Praslin it is a short hop to our first stop, Curieuse, where we splash ashore and I fall in love with ET and his 159 tortoise friends that are monitored and looked after by rangers on this uninhabited former leper colony. The conservation program is vital, especially as 25 of 28 babies were stolen from the island in July 2016. More have been born since, and hopefully the species will be nursed back to a safe number.
An idyllic afternoon anchored off Félicité Island follows, the private domain of the brand new Six Senses Zil Pasyon. We devour a wonderful lunch at the Ocean Kitchen – a no meat restaurant, swim in the pool, laze by the pool, hang in the hammocks at the bar and sit on the trampoline seats overlooking the beach. We absolutely love the ambience of this five-star resort that will undoubtedly clean up in the various hotel awards this year. The staff are so welcoming to yachts – not all the hotels are, and with its fantastic snorkelling and incredibly beautiful location, it should be put on any yacht charter itinerary in permanent marker.
A rising swell cuts short our dream afternoon and we motor across to La Digue, yet another spectacularly beautiful island. We spend two nights here – one in the small harbour and another outside it, hiring bikes for the easy ride down the palm shaded roads to another poster-child beach. Source D’Argent is accessed through L’Union Estate – an old copra plantation which is now a cultural centre – and we ride until the road turns into a track and then to sand. It feels like we are on an adventure, walking down a secret path past tiny little beaches, under ancient canopies and past boulders that look like sculptures. We keep walking, silent in our reverie, until we find a perfect spot under shady branches and with a rustic fruit bar not far away.
The water. Oh the water. So azure. So clear. So warm. I float endlessly, eyes taking in the breathtakingly beautiful scenery but not really believing it. Back on shore, the happiest guy in the world, wearing Rasta clothes and a smile as big as it is bright, insists on giving me fresh local fruit to try. Paw paw, mango, bananas – one of 11 types that grow here apparently – and other divine fruits I haven’t heard of come my way.
I order one of his ‘special’ fruit juices, and sit on a rickety wooden bench under an even more rickety thatched lean-to and sip my drink reverently, peering out through the natural window of green to the white of the sand and the blue of the water. It is ridiculous how pretty it is.
Taking our floating home, the good ship Seaing Double, back to the Sunsail base, we are melancholy. We have jumped off it, swum around it, snorkelled near it and watched the stars through the hatches in bed at night. We enjoyed local beer and South African wines on the back deck, in the salon and on the front deck, eaten like kings and just sat in our various happy places on board, taking in the views as we sailed between and along the Inner Islands with our heads snapping to attention like meerkats.
And we think to ourselves that we have only visited six islands – there are 109 to go. We will definitely need those 200 turtle years. •
Photography by Helen Hayes and Sunsail Yacht Charters.
Sunsail Yacht Charters
Sunsail is based at Eden Marina in Mahé and has an excellent set up with a large fleet of catamarans and yachts. If you don’t have an experienced and properly certified skipper in your group, organise a skippered charter so you and your friends can just relax and enjoy what is surely one of the best cruising grounds in the world. You can provision your yacht online and top up at the supermarket at the Marina. sunsail.com.au
When to go
The best time to sail is between April and October when the winds are consistent. The temperature doesn’t go below 24 or above 30 all year round but you can expect rain showers and high humidity if you go between December – February.
Take plenty of local cash with you as on some islands you will need to pay to anchor overnight, as they are marine reserves.
Go a day or two early and explore Mahé. Stay at Eden Bleu which is located at Eden Island a couple of hundred metres from the Sunsail office and the yacht marina. edenbleu.com