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Disappear in the Seychelles

by Nick Walton

[From Early Summer 2010] It’s early morning and at the tiny ports of the equally tiny town of Victoria, capital of the Seychelles, boats are being loaded with supplies. Cranes whine under the weight of containers, refrigerator units and pallets of provisions; in a nation of scattered islands like the Seychelles, everything comes in by either boat or plane and has to be transported, often by hand, out to the resorts that grace some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

I’m off to one such place, a tiny private island in the Indian Ocean located an hour’s cruise from the Seychelles' main island of Mahe. With a flock of swooping gull-billed terns in our wake, I board the tiny resort boat to North Island, quite simply one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Approaching the island, it doesn’t exactly drop jaws; the island is shaped like a dog bone, and the first glimpses are of wind-whipped granite that’s the core makeup of many of the islands in the Seychellois chain. But riding the gentle swell in, the water beneath becomes increasingly turquoise, with the wow-effect coming as we putter around into the main bay, where the water is the colour of mint mouthwash and the beach is blindingly white.

North Island, owned and operated by Wilderness Safaris, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. A relatively tiny resort, with just 11 villas – all of which boast the title 'presidential' with grace and elegance - it’s somewhere you disappear to, or perhaps go to discover yourself.

Our boat beaches itself with a sigh – there is no pier to conserve the island’s natural currents - and I vault overboard into calf-high, bathtub-warm water that’s so clear you can read the ridges on the occasional pebble underfoot. It’s a climb up to the beach proper; the seasons bring more change than just rain in the Seychelles and many of the beaches on islands like North go through regeneration. Here, the main beach outside reception (a rather formal word for a place that is blessedly informal), which during my visit is deep and long, is already being eroded by the currents. Soon the main body of sand will be found outside the beach bar on the other side of the island, only to return in turn, later in the year.

After a quick drink and a chat with the chef about our likes and dislikes – that’s about as structured as the menu gets; what you want is pretty much what you’ll get – and I’m off to my villa in one of the island’s numerous golf buggies, which is then left for my use for the rest of my stay.

Villa number 7 is sprawling. Under siege by natural vegetation – replanted as part of the island’s comprehensive 40-year conservation effort – the path leads to a house of slumber Robinson Crusoe himself would have been proud of. Made almost entirely from wooden logs and beams, a central, open-air living space branches off into two exquisite bedrooms; a master which boasts a massive bathroom with outdoor shower and deep soak-tub, and a slightly smaller but no less lavish second suite. At the centre of the villa is a swirling whirlpool the same colour as the lagoon, and shaded sala, with the whole villa looking out across a line of coconut trees and the pounding surf beyond.

It’s already late afternoon and my trusty buggy and I tackle the bush track through the island’s thick jungle core, in search of sundowners at the West Beach Bar. I have to slam on the breaks (as much as you can in a golf buggy) when the road is blocked by Disco Harry, one of the island’s 50 giant tortoises and one which especially likes to lie in the road (he’s so named for the reflective safety stripes painted on his side by concerned staff). After some pondering looks on both sides, I drive round nature’s speed hump and eventually find my way to a cool beach-side watering hole bathed in warm afternoon sunlight. The bartender seems pleased to see me; the island is deserted due to the Iceland volcano grounding all flights from Europe, and I sip a Mai Tai made with the local Takamaka Bay rum and watch a truly stunning sunset to the sounds of Bob Marley’s "Fussing & Fighting."

One of the best things about North Island is that it’s an all-inclusive retreat. This not only covers all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks not on the reserve list (and what a reserve list it is! The wine cellar is filled with drops that would make an oenologist sigh with content), but gourmet meals, enjoyed in the restaurant, villa or almost anywhere else you can think of, and activities like deep-sea fishing and scuba diving. With plenty of fish on offer and water visibility around the island up to 40 metres, I decide to try my hand at both.

After a quick briefing from Patrick and Craig, the resort’s two South African dive masters, we head out on the island’s North Wind, one of the island’s day trip vessels, bound for Coral Cove, a dive site located just off Honeymoon Beach on the island’s west coast. The water is clear and warm and wearing only a rash shirt under my dive gear, I take the plunge into deep azure waters to explore the coral reefs some 15 metres below. Tropical reef fish of all colours and shapes, including butterfly and parrot fish, jacks and lion fish, follow us curiously and after 40 minutes of exploring this coral city and its inhabitants, we drift to the surface and the sunshine.

While trolling for fish in the channel between North and its neighbouring island Silhouette, we lunch on fresh sandwiches, South African bilton jerky, green salads from the resort’s organic gardens and vegetarian samoas served with a fiery local chili sauce.

Well fed, I snorkel off the steep coast of Silhouette, below waves pounding against ancient, weathered boulders, and follow a trio of Napoleon wrasse as they edge along the drop-off, looking for a late afternoon snack. The team at North takes special attention not to catch reef fish, but on our way home my trolling reel kicks suddenly, whizzing into action. Our boat hand, Steven, grabs the rod and passes it to me and I fight for the next 20 minutes to land a 20kg sailfish, the first the boat’s crew have seen for nine months. The battle won, we slide the beautiful fish back into the sea unharmed, as is the North Island tradition. A sizable barracuda I’d caught earlier in the day will be sent to the chef to be seasoned, Creole style, and cooked in the large barbeque oven at West Beach Bar.

I watch the sun set on the aptly named Honeymoon Beach –it’s a truly beautiful place – and one that has regular nocturnal visitors. Coconuts with messages written on them stand like way markers and indicate the site of green and leatherback turtle nests. When the time comes, the hatchlings will have to make a risky plunge for the surf line. Those that return will also return to this island to continue this beautiful life cycle.

The sun dives into the sea, turning the water to a glossy jelly and bringing out a veil of stars that, after two years living in Hong Kong, I had almost forgotten existed. It’s with a great reluctance the next morning that I leave North Island, but a helicopter is waiting at North’s heli pad for the quick trip back to Mahe and a far harsher reality than the one I had retreated from in the first place.

If You Go -
Air Seychelles offers direct service to Mahe from London, Rome, Paris, Milan, Singapore, Johannesburg, and Cape Town. Select Seychelles is the islands’ top concierge service and can organise heli or boat transfers to North, as well as airport transfers and additional tours.

Photographs by Nick Walton

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