In the deep blue of the western Indian Ocean, 115 unique and exquisite islands lie randomly scattered like emeralds and sapphires from a jeweller’s purse. The Seychelles are famous for their palm-fringed silvery sands, secluded coves bounded by granite boulders, misty mountain peaks cloaked in forest and coral reefs extending into the warm ocean. Coupled with idyllic days in the tropical sun, velvet nights under starry southern skies, delightful people and charming Creole culture, they beckon discerning travellers to their shores.
The main, populated islands of the Seychelles lie a few degrees south of the Equator and rise from shallow banks as huge granite rocks, reflecting their ancient continental origin. Other remote, coralline islands, inhabited by millions of seabirds, arc out towards the shores of Africa and Madagascar. One of these is Aldabra – a wilderness atoll where time flows with the tides and nature rules supreme.
With idyllic days in the tropical sun, velvet nights under starry southern skies, delightful people and charming Creole culture, the Seychelles beckon discerning travellers to their shores.
Aldabra was the first Seychelles island I set foot on, but before going ashore a quick dive into the clear water assaulted my senses with an array of corals teeming with colourful reef fishes. When I took a break from the underwater scenery, I found that I was being scrutinised by a couple of inquisitive fairy terns while other seabirds – frigates, boobies and noddies – circled overhead. Traversing the mangrove-fringed lagoon, I watched turtles and rays lazing in the clear turquoise water. I was able to explore a small part of the rugged, limestone interior where giant tortoises slept in the shade of salt-resistant bushes shaped by the persistent trade winds. I was completely captivated by the wild, remote and near-pristine atoll. My love affair with the Seychelles began right there and then. After visiting the Seychelles on numerous subsequent occasions and getting to know many of the other islands, I had the good fortune actually to stay on Aldabra as the assistant to the warden.
The Seychelles has a short, but fascinating, history of explorers, pirates and settlers. The Creole people, a harmonious mélange of African, European and Asian descent, have a happy-go-lucky lifestyle and, although global travel has come to them, they maintain their traditions of language, music, dance and food.
The Seychelles has an ambience of remoteness. It is a modern country with accommodation ranging from exclusive lodges to family-run guesthouses. Island-hopping can be accomplished with ease using fast ferries, aeroplanes and helicopters, and what better way to explore than in your very own (or chartered) yacht? However, there is more to the Seychelles than basking in the sun. The Seychelles has many secrets, discovered as you explore the islands – coco de mer palm forests, the busy little capital of Victoria, picturesque La Digue, island bird sanctuaries, weather-beaten glacis, the local market, Creole cuisine… After a day’s exploring, savour the evening. Sip a Seybrew on a beach coloured by a fiery sunset, wait for the southern constellations to grace the enveloping night, and plan another perfect day in paradise.
The gangplank of a cruise ship may seem to be an unlikely catalyst for a book. However, that was where we met when, in 1995, as guest lecturers on the MV Rhapsody, we were boarding for a cruise to many islands in the western Indian Ocean. Our complementary interests in the terrestrial and marine environments made us well suited to guiding passengers at the many islands we visited. We had loads of fun and thought that it would be appropriate to put together a guidebook to this part of the planet – even getting as far as drafting a contents page while sipping sundowners on the upper deck! Fortunately, fate intervened after Lyn had spent three months on Aldabra Atoll and Hilary Bradt asked if she would be interested in writing a guide to the Seychelles. Recruiting assistance from Lynnath (fresh from navigating an entry in the round-the-world yacht race), working on the book became an inter-continental exercise in blending the needs of visitors, interests of authors and desires of editors. Several trips to the Seychelles to gather information about the diverse islands, inter-island transport, hotels, restaurants, etc, often tested by Creole laissez-faire, kept us suitably occupied and the book reached fruition. We still visit the Seychelles as often as our respective careers allow because these multifarious oceanic islands are indeed rather special.