Ma­rooned

After miss­ing her flight back to Joburg, Kate Turk­ing­ton is stranded in the Sey­chelles. Which is, of course, not an al­to­gether aw­ful state of af­fairs

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After four days of trop­i­cal is­land lux­ury, three jour­nal­ist col­leagues and I ar­rived at the small do­mes­tic air­port to be told we’d missed the con­nect­ing flight home to Joburg. Be strong, we agreed. Be­cause the next flight only left two days later and we were ma­rooned. But hey, if we were go­ing to be stranded, we couldn’t have picked a bet­ter spot – one of the world’s most cov­eted and beau­ti­ful des­ti­na­tions, the Sey­chelles. Some­times it’s tough be­ing a travel writer.

I’d vis­ited most of the In­dian Ocean is­lands be­fore. Mau­ri­tius is ev­ery­body’s idea of a trop­i­cal is­land hol­i­day, es­pe­cially if you’ve got kids. The breath­tak­ing ma­rine life of the Mal­dives is un­beat­able. But with­out doubt, the Sey­chelles are the most beau­ti­ful.

First off, think Juras­sic Park. Thick, primeval-look­ing forests cover the moun­tains, which, in turn, cover most of the two big­gest is­lands, Mahé, the cap­i­tal, and Praslin.

You feel like a di­nosaur could poke its scaly head out of the un­der­growth and give you the beady eye at any mo­ment. Tall, lush ferns, an­cient trees, pro­fusely flow­er­ing bushes and co­conut palms com­pete to stretch up from the rocky moun­tain­sides and nar­row deep val­leys to the blue bowl of the sky. Small red birds flit about, blue-faced doves call con­tin­u­ously, huge am­ber-coloured snails glide along for­est paths, and gi­ant fruit bats, look­ing for all the world like mini ptero­dactyls, glide into the palms at dusk, where they chirrup nois­ily un­til dark­ness de­scends.

The unique Port Lau­nay Coastal Wet­lands are home to seven dif­fer­ent species of man­grove trees, whose leggy roots give the il­lu­sion that they are walk­ing in the wa­ter. Here live dif­fer­ent species of fish, crabs, shrimp and in­sects, and both mi­gra­tory and res­i­dent birds nest among the roots and branches.

But hu­mans have been putting their stamp on this wilder­ness for more than 300 years, since the is­lands were dis­cov­ered and set­tled by the French, and per­haps for much longer than that by peo­ple who came upon it even ear­lier.

On top of one moun­tain in Praslin, there are steps hewn out of rock lead­ing down to the sea. Ge­ol­o­gists claim they are the work of wind and wa­ter ero­sion; his­to­ri­ans be­lieve that Phoeni­cian sailors carved them some 3 000 years ago.

Hosted by the Con­stance group, which also owns re­sorts in the Mal­dives and Mau­ri­tius, my first hum­ble abode was Con­stance Ephélia on Mahé.

Of course, I’m be­ing ironic – the hum­ble abode turns out to be a beach villa with its own pool. If you have a fist­ful of dol­lars or are a Saudi prince, then this is the per­fect pri­vate spot for you. But there is ac­com­mo­da­tion to suit all pock­ets, from rooms over­look­ing the trop­i­cal gar­dens to ju­nior and se­nior beach suites, hill­side vil­las and a pres­i­den­tial suite (re­cently hotly con­tested, as a gamechang­ing gen­eral elec­tion was tak­ing place in the Sey­chelles while I was there).

Sur­rounded by moun­tains, boul­der-strewn hill­sides and thick for­est, Ephélia is sit­u­ated on two of the most beau­ti­ful beaches on the is­land of Mahé, over­look­ing the eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble Port Lau­nay Marine Na­tional Park, a place of out­stand­ing beauty.

Pad­dle, swim, snorkel, dive in the calm turquoise wa­ters and eye­ball gor­geous coral reefs and tech­ni­coloured fish of all shapes and sizes. Or have a go at wind­surf­ing, sail­ing and kayak­ing – or just mo­sey along in a pedal boat.

If you want to keep your feet on the ground, walk, jog or cy­cle the fit­ness trail, which runs along the coast through for­est and man­grove wet­lands, as well as through the su­perbly kept gar­dens of the re­sort it­self. If you’re an adrenalin junkie, then whizz through the for­est canopy on a 1. Learn to dive or snorkel 2. Try dif­fer­ent cuisines of the world, in­clud­ing the lo­cal fare 3. Visit the Mahé mar­ket 4. Buy lo­cally pro­duced In­dian Is­land sarongs, shirts and dresses 5. Treat your­self to a spa mas­sage 6. Watch a sun­set from the beach zi­pline, go rock climb­ing on Ephélia’s 21m gran­ite rock wall, or go ab­seil­ing down a cliff face with an ex­pe­ri­enced guide.

But maybe you’re here just to re­lax, which is very easy to do. Stretch out on a com­fort­able beach chair un­der a co­conut palm and or­der a piña co­lada or freshly squeezed juice. For the ul­ti­mate treat, visit the Shi­seido Spa Vil­lage, where pam­per­ing reigns supreme.

Mahé’s Beau Val­lon, a pub­lic beach, is breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful. We vis­ited in the mid­dle of the day, and apart from a cou­ple of small fam­i­lies, the nearly 1km-long stretch of pow­der-white sand was de­serted. Set back from the sea, shaded by care­fully planted veg­e­ta­tion, a huge Rus­sian ho­tel loomed, straight from the block­house school of Soviet ar­chi­tec­ture.

Hol­i­day­mak­ers of all na­tion­al­i­ties come to the Sey­chelles. Long a Euro­pean favourite, es­pe­cially of the French (af­ter all, they were the first set­tlers in the 1700s), now Rus­sians, Brits, In­di­ans, Chi­nese and vis­i­tors from the Gulf states and African coun­tries also seek it out as a prized hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion.

From Ephélia, we travel by ferry (on a very rough sea) to Praslin and Con­stance Lé­muria, a mem­ber of the elite Lead­ing Ho­tels of the World group. It claims to have one of the most beau­ti­ful beaches in the world, Anse Ge­or­gette, where we en­joyed a beach pic­nic (sushi and bub­bly) and made friends with a hon­ey­moon cou­ple from Mum­bai.

Lé­muria also has the only 18-hole golf course (a cham­pi­onship one) on the is­lands – and its 15th tee is prob­a­bly one of the most beau­ti­ful in the world. On Praslin, you can find the unique coco de mer, the only dou­ble-sided co­conut in the world. Bug­gies scoot around both re­sorts to ferry you from room to re­cep­tion, spa to sea, or to a va­ri­ety of restau­rants that serve five-star food, from spaghetti to sushi, fine din­ing to fresh seafood, burg­ers to bli­nis, pa­neer to pizza.

We emerged from our co­coons of lux­ury to visit the lo­cal Mahé mar­ket, which is vi­brant with life and bright colours.

Fish dom­i­nate the en­trance to the mar­ket: hand­fuls of mack­erel tied to­gether with sea­weed; a cou­ple of for­lorn­look­ing small ham­mer­head sharks, lean bar­racuda and some fat red snap­pers. Next the veg­etable, flower and fruit sec­tion, where gi­ant pineap­ples rub shoul­ders with huge waxy blos­soms that look like they are made out of plas­tic, but are not, plus stalls sell­ing co­conut oil, spices, saf­fron and salt.

Up­stairs, cot­ton sarongs, flow­ered shirts, painted place mats, shell jew­ellery and hand­crafted cu­rios are on dis­play with the ubiq­ui­tous tur­tle mo­tif. Why tur­tles? The Sey­chelles is the nest­ing place of both the green tur­tle and the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered hawks­bill tur­tle. Lé­muria even has its own tur­tle of­fi­cer, a friendly South African I met one morn­ing when walk­ing on the beach at dawn. He gave me a Tur­tle Watch­ers’ Code of Con­duct leaflet and showed me a tur­tle nest.

The staff at the Con­stance re­sorts com­prise peo­ple from the Sey­chelles, Mau­ri­tius, France, Bali, Sin­ga­pore, the Philip­pines, Ger­many, Nepal, the UK and Rus­sia. The good night mes­sage that was put on my king-size bed ev­ery night, along with freshly picked trop­i­cal blos­soms and tow­els folded into amaz­ing shapes, was in six lan­guages.

And our Zulu som­me­lier/wine mas­ter was from the Western Cape. Turk­ing­ton was hosted by the charm­ing and ef­fi­cient Air

Sey­chelles and the five-star Con­stance Group. Visit airs­ey­chelles.com and con­stance­ho­tels.com for more

in­for­ma­tion

PHOTO: TARA TURK­ING­TON

TRUE BLUE

Anse Ge­or­gette beach is one of the most beau­ti­ful in the world MAHÉ MAR­KET Th­ese gi­ant pineap­ples in the mar­ket don’t even look like they can be real, but they are de­li­cious TUR­TLE EGGS The Sey­chelles is the nest­ing place of both the green tur­tle and the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered hawks­bill tur­tle

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