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
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
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