The Seychelles is the ultimate island destination in the Indian Ocean – and it’s crowning glory are the remote and pristine Outer Islands. When we were invited by Machaba safaris to visit the remote island of Alphonse to capture and experience their Blue Safari, my underwater camera, land camera, video camera and drone packed themselves. Mahe, which is the capital of Seychelles, lies 4 hours from Johannesburg and 90 minutes from Nairobi. It was another 400 kilometres to the Atoll which includes the impossibly blue and white-fringed islands of Alphonse, St Francois and Bijotoue (below).
People have been living in and around these islands for 300 years and much of the indigenous vegetation was stripped and replaced by coconut plantations to make way for guano harvesters. There is a team of ecologists based on the island, which has identified some of the indigenous trees and are working to rehabilitate them. Also on the team are marine biologists who are specializing in keeping track of turtle numbers and also the movement of manta rays in and out of these waters. Despite its location the Seychelles does not escape environmental impact and there are frequent clean ups of plastics that drift in from distant shores.
Fishermen the world over come to Alphonse to catch bone fish, milkfish, giant Trevally, triggerfish and other species. Some of the best guides in the world area on hand to help them get it right and the only rule here is that it has to be caught on fly and released. Fishing is mostly done on the sandbars of St Francois island and a maximum of six rods are permitted per day. I was very fortunate to be able to go onto St Francois on my final day. What a strong and thrilling fish to catch. My son, Liam, caught bigger fry including a majestic sail fish. I am glad to say that both fish, big and small, were released and swam away no worse for wear. Sustainability of these fishing waters is fiercely protected by the lodge management team.
For me a highlight was scuba diving off the southwest point of the island where the reefs drop off sharply to 50 metres and beyond. We had 15 metre visibility which is pretty poor by Seychelles standards but even so we saw were delighted by the coral gardens and steep drop offs which were forested with large Gorgonian fans. Snappers, soldierfish, goldies and large schools of trevally and tuna were our constant companions.
A sign goes up daily offering walks, talks, boat trips and kids activities. Of course the spa is also a popular spot to relax. Parked outside each of the villas were bikes – the kind that you would expect on a shopping trip – with high handlebars, back pedal breaks and baskets on the front. The island is perfectly flat and it was the best way to get around. We were able to pedal our way to and from the dining area, dive centre and through coconut groves to remote beaches, usually by-passing the giant Aldabra tortoises peacefully eating on the paths. Peddling out to the beach bar for sundowner cocktails was a real highlight, and weaving back to dinner in the dark a fun adventure. Often meals started with just-caught-that-day fresh sashimi dipped in soy sauce and ginger and followed always with fresh salads from their vegetable garden, grilled fish and seafood and their sublime homemade mango ice-cream.
We visited in the first week in December and had cloudless weather and flat seas but it was humid and it no effort to work up a sweat. We stayed in a very comfortable A-frame house, which had a luxury bathroom and deliciously cold air-conditioning. I had to remind myself not to keep my camera gear in my room or it would fog up immediately when I went into the humid tropical air. The small luxury beach villas brand new four bedroom private villas on the island all have private pools.
A highlight of our stay and of the Alphonse agenda was a Flats Lunch. It was timed for low tide when a shallow sandbar poked above the brilliantly blue seas and the staff put up a barbeque and tables beneath blue umbrellas. Sitting with our feet in the sand and eating freshly cooked fish and chicken in this amazing setting was a pinch yourself experience.
On my final day on the island we pedaled to Sunset Point. Hundreds of frigate birds wheeled this way and that coming noisily to roost in the forest. A turtle made its way slowly up the beach to lay its eggs in the cover of vegetation above the high water mark. Slowly the blue sky softened to orange and the blue, then stars pricked at the blanket We felt so far removed from the rest of the world in this tiny piece of paradise out in the middle of the Indian Ocean.