Great friends and private islands in Seychelles
Sometimes you just are in the right place at the right time, and sometimes you have family members who introduce you to the right people….
For us, we were lucky enough to have both of these things happen, in the same country, that led to us being able to experience two of the Seychelles exotic, private and predator free islands.
Our first meeting was with the lovely Allie and Henry, who we were introduced to through the Captain’s handsome and worldly cousin, Joshi.
Allie and Henry ended up becoming fast friends and we spent many lunches and dinners together plus had some adventures with them and their daughters.
Allie’s family are Seychellois, from way back, and have a very successful and busy (until Covid) tourism business, and farm fresh food business along with owning a gorgeous private island, that yachts do not normally get to visit.
We had seen it on the satellite maps before we arrived, and not knowing it was private, had wanted to check it out. The fishing was meant to be incredible up that way, being right by the drop off of the great Seychelles bank into the big old blue!
The second meeting was by chance, a casual ‘hello’ on a marina dock to a mum, dad and their 2 girls who were walking past as I was coming into the dock in the dinghy, that turned out to be another fantastic friendship.
Hilton and Anna, and their 2 daughters, wild and passionate about their island home of Fregate Island. They have been managing the island’s wildlife, wilderness and the resort for the past year or so, and had family values that aligned immediately and easily with us.
The Seychelles are made up of 115 islands, spread over 1 million square km, which are divided into several distinct groups. Most are granitic islands, made up of steep mountainous terrain, covered in lush greenery and, you guessed it, granite cliffs and boulders, like Mahe, La Digue, Praline and Cousine. The inner Seychelles Islands.
The rest are coral atolls. So these are the ones you think of in places like Fiji or the rest of the Pacific. Sandy shores, low lying with coconut palms dotting them.
Many of the closer islands to the main island of Mahe are protected areas, or aiming to be, with predator free status on the increase for these tiny island delights.
Denis Island is the one coral atoll within the inner islands and so this makes it particularly special. The majority of the coral atolls are further out and harder to get to, or totally uninhabited.
We had been speaking with Anna and Hilton on timing to visit them and had a plan loosely in place, when Allie called and asked if we wanted to join their long weekend trip to Denis, their family island.
Yes please, was the enthusiastic response from us! So we rushed into high gear to sort the pest inspection needed to get to them both.
Both Fregate and Denis are predator free islands and so we needed a permit to visit and also a rat/predator inspection completed on the boat.
We knew that there were no rats on board, but coming from New Zealand where predator free islands are common, we know the destruction one rat could cause, so we happily completed the process.
This consisted of a visit from a pest control advisor, inspection in the engine rooms, behind walls and under floors for any sign of vermin, then laying of bait.
We then had to wait 3 days for the bait to be in the boat, which would give a chance for it to be nibbled or eaten if there was a pest present. Once the company came back to re inspect and were satisfied that nothing was on board, that none of the bait had been touched, we were given a very expensive piece of paper to say we were good to go!
Our trip up to Denis was eventful, in the best possible way. Sailing through schools of tuna, leaping from the water as they fed on the small fish that were in abundance at this time of year. Heading back and forward through the schools and hauling in fish after fish, which were loaded into the dinghy and brought with us as a gift for the resort.
No one turns their nose up at a dinghy full of tuna!
The Spanish fishing fleet that usually trawl and empty the waters of the archipelago were locked in Mahe with cases of Covid running rife through their staff after a dodgy crew change, so we are sure there were a lot more fish around with them not out working!
The fishing rights to the waters has been sold to this fleet, and they take an astonishingly large amount of fish from the ocean and, in a weird situation, the Seychelles actually have buy their tuna off these fleets, who process it in factories they own on the main island. But that is a whole different kettle of fish, so to speak…
Arriving in the afternoon, we navigated through the shallow reef to the sandy patches in by the beach and were totally surprised and overwhelmed by the treat that awaited us on shore.
The sand was a sparkling golden hue, the water was crystal clear and the waves were rolling into the steep beach, which gave for a hilarious time watching the Captain and Henry unloading the fish while the dinghy was swamped with the surf! Both ended up soaking wet!
Allie and her family had arranged for us to stay in one of the cottages, next to their family villa, which was a total surprise as we had been expecting to stay on the boat. All 5 children were delighted to be so close to each other and set off immediately to be given guided tours by their local island buddies.
Tortoises were fed and patted, birds were spotted and island paths were thundered down by 5 sets of bare footed beach babes.
We spent the next few days enjoying the beautiful island. We rode bikes to and from the family ‘boat-house’ for meals, where we were treated to excellent food with Allie and her family and I thoroughly enjoyed not having to cook! The children were also happy to not be doing dishes for a change!
We explored the beaches and the forest tracks. The kids played games and ran and splashed around on the gorgeous beach. They raced each other on their bikes from one activity to another.
As the resort stood nearly empty thanks to Covid, they were treated to spa sessions with manicures and pedicures, baking lessons with the pastry chef in the resort kitchens and hours of other fun activities!
They have a working farm on the island and while we were there it was baby animal season, bunnies, chickens, quail and ducklings were the cuddly toys of choice for all the children!
They could not get enough of the cuteness and delighted in being able to do things they would have done at home, things that are difficult and not the usual when you live on a boat.
They collected the farms eggs in the mornings – and there were a LOT of eggs! They fed baby goats and watched the piglets with their mothers, patted baby calves and generally immersed themselves into farm life!
Henry and the Captain took a day long fishing trip out by the drop off, spending a day of exciting game fishing, returning with their rewards of the sea for dinner.
Another day, the Captain, Henry, Noah and I headed out one afternoon for some fishing on Waterhorse, out the back of the reef area. Henry had told us that jobfish were rife there, and with them being one of our favourite fish, we were not going to turn this opportunity down!
Trawling 3 rods behind us we hauled in fish after fish. Jobfish after jobfish slapped down on the deck! The lines would go back out and within minutes we had hooked up again!
Under Henry’s patient instruction, Noah turned into an expert on bringing home the ocean bacon on the light gear he got to use! He was a happy fisherman, with the grand total of 13 fish that day, just to his name!
It was maybe our best day of fishing, ever! We couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces, even when faced with the realisation that one of our props had worked itself free somehow…
Super disappointing, as we don’t know how it happened. Maybe it had not been attached correctly after the recent haul out and bottom paint job when they had been removed for painting.
Luckily we had a spare on board so it wasn’t such a big issue – this time. Just an expensive metal ornament for a diver to find one day out the back of the reef, somewhere…
Allie and her wonderful mum had organised a most delightful box of her garden fresh goodies for us on the day we left, and would not accept a dime of payment from us (we paid turn, with the last bottle of NZ wine we had bought in Langkawi and a bottle of tequila, from one margarita lover to another!).
Their gardens are legendary on the island, providing all of the fresh food for the resort and staff, along with supplying their shop in the capital, which stocks the most amazing fresh foods and meat. It was a true pleasure to walk around them for me, missing my garden at home as I do!
The boat was stocked with fresh and tasty tomatoes, bananas, and a box of greens. All homegrown, spray free and they actually tasted like they are meant to, not like the $15USD a kg, tasteless tomatoes we had been occasionally buying in the shops in Victoria. It was such a treat!
Too soon our island paradise break was over. We had been totally spoilt! Allie and Henry and the girls got into their little plane and took off back to Victoria, while we headed back out to our floating home to prepare to sail South again.
Our next stop was going to take us down to Fregate Island. A decent slog back down to the other side of the inner Seychelles islands, with an overnight stop at Praslin to re attach the new prop.
It was breeding season for the beautiful sharks near Denis and we didn’t want to get in the way of their frolicking, as we were anchored near where the majority of the action was going on! It had been spectacular to watch such incredible creatures in their habitat, helping to create more life in this part of the Indian Ocean, which was already teaming with life. So wonderful to see.
Our sail down took longer than expected, with winds not playing the game and making for a tight sail, and some current running against us. It had us arriving after dark, which is something we would never normally do, but we had been into the bay before and knew the lay of the land. After dark arrivals are something we avoid at all costs, you just cant be too cautious when you live on a floating home, no street lamps to light your way, or show anything unexpected under the water.
We stayed for the day and played on the steep beach of Grand Anse, enjoying the rushing surf, kids boogie boarding on the crashing waves and the Captain replacing the prop.
Morning roused us with light airs and calm seas, a stark change from the day we sailed from Denis and we set off for Fregate.
Again, we came across schools of tuna and caught several, knowing the island would welcome them in the kitchens for the staff.
Fregate has a large number of permanent staff on it, as it is not only a resort, but a conservation island, important in the Seychelles for many things, including the management of their critically endangered Magpie Robin, which was on the brink of extinction, before a breeding programme was set up and birds relocated to other predator free islands. But more on that later.
Waterhorse was met by the Fregate speed boat, just off the entrance to the islands marina and Anna came aboard to check the boat and make sure we were still pest free and hadn’t taken the boat into any marinas where a rat could possibly have boarded, and also give us a wee briefing. We did declare the 3 pests of various ages in the form of our children, but she cleared them as being a-ok to visit!
Anna is the biologist who runs the conservation side of the island. Her and Hilton make up the dream team for islands such as these, resort and conservation going hand in hand, one managing the resort side and one the conservation side!
And what an island to be on!
Fregate is the eastern-most island of the Seychelles and part of the granitic islands inner islands. A striking burst of lush green rising out of the iridescent turquoise waters that surround her.
Fregate is a particularly important part of the Seychelles as it is a nesting ground for two types of sea turtles – the Green and the critically endangered Hawksbill.
It is a place where rare and endangered species like the Magpie Robin, Seychelles White Eye and the Seychelles Warbler can breed, untouched by the ravages of man and his wild and greedy spread.
It also has several critters that are only found here, including the aptly named Fregate Island Beetle and the Whip Spider, which the children were most excited to see, being huge Harry Potter fans (if you know, you know!!).
Giant Aldabra tortoise roam freely around the island, with numbers in the thousands, along with giant millipedes, dangerous scolopendra, friendly snakes and a plethora of sea birds, including countless Noddys and the delicate white Fairy Terns, sounding the dawn and dusk with their cries.
The ocean with its coral faming projects and masses of fish round out the trifecta of earth, sea and sky conservation.
Oh and did I mention that it has one of the “Worlds Best Beach” as voted by many world media outlets…!!
For me, as someone who wanted to be a biologist as a kid (what happened to that dream??) this was heaven on Earth. This island was my dream.
We had a hairy ride into the island’s private marina, with big swell pushing us through the tiny channel. Hilton and their girls standing on the rocks cheering us in! Again, another moment I was glad I am not the Captain with that kind of responsibility! He did, as ever, nail it and we motored alongside into the berth that they had opened for us for our week long stay!
For the second time, we were overwhelmed with the hospitality we were shown. One of the staff units was ready for us, giving us a welcome change to be off the boat and in the lush surroundings of the island.
The kids could run wild, with the whole place deserted aside from staff, Anna and Hilton and their girls, and now our wild Kiwi family.
Here, as at Denis, the kids and their 2 island buddies got to live their best lives!
There were insects to find, birds lining the paths to make ‘lift’ as we walked past (Libby’s most hilarious activity, getting flocks of them all to lift on her command!), tortoise to feed, geckos to hunt for and even more exciting for the kids and I, proper, real conservation work that we could help with!
Anna took us under her wing and put us to work. She had a tortoise census of the island going on the week we were there and we were more than delighted to be her willing workers. Traipsing through the steamy jungle, through native habitat they are replanting (after years of plantation era farming and clearing for copra plantations), spotting tortoise, measuring them, checking their gender and marking them with a paint dot to show they had been counted.
The work was sweaty and hot and the hills were sometimes steep, but to be in the trees, and to be able to participate in this activity was priceless and we ate up every minute we could.
We would emerge from the vegetation, tired and hungry, to meet at the staff dining area for lunch. Thirsty and sated with happiness from the tasks we had been completing.
We would help each morning in the baby tortoise enclosures. Cleaning, feeding and picking up after the messy little creatures. The kids delighting in being able to hold and interact with these tiny versions of the slow and methodical giants that roamed the island. Guests of past had adopted these babies and they had names, which we helped to re write on their carapace (shells). Some of them were only palm sized and incredibly cute!
One day included being a part of putting the identification leg rings on a baby Magpie Robin, the species that Fregate Island had brought back from the absolute brink of extinction.
The kids and I got to watch Anna and her team as they gently brought the bird from the nesting box, its mother and father most displeased with its removal – hovering around us and calling to their chick. We then helped while they measured and took details of the young bird, and attached its leg bands.
This species is now being relocated in breeding pairs to other pest free islands in the archipelago and it is thriving again. Numbers are slowly on the increase and the threat is lessening with each year of the breeding programme.
It is a beautiful little bird and wonderful that the situation was caught in time to stop another species becoming extinct on our poor, decimated planet.
Emelia and I also did a coral farming dive with Anna and one of her team. Plucking broken pieces of coral from the sea floor and attaching back into nearby reef for them to grow again, working around the electrified coral growing structures that are already in place there. Rolling back and forward over the reef with the swell, enjoying the colours and the fish checking out our movements in their watery home.
We took a very exciting night walk with Anna, who showed us the diversity of creatures that come out after dark. The scorpions glowing under her UV light, the house and wolf snakes, Noah was so happy he got to catch and hold one, and the special endemic Fregate Island snail and beetle, along with that aforementioned Whip Spider! Those are some amazing spiders!
We were fascinated and enthralled by it all.
We met Balau the fruit bat the next morning, that Anna had rescued one night after a storm had blown down his tree and his mother had been killed. His wing is slightly deformed and so he is now forever their wild living, friendly and cute fruit bat pet! We fed him bananas in the mornings and filled his water bottle, patting his fluffy tummy and watching as he crawled over the netting in the banana grove where he lives. He will never fly properly again, unfortunately, but he is living his best life in the banana grove, spoilt daily by his human mother.
The Captain and I dived with Hilton and Anna, and some of her team, on a surging, rocky pinnacle rising out of the depths off the main island. Huge fish swimming around us, monster GT’s ducking in and out of caverns and rocks, us drifting along watching the life abound around us. Marvelling at the creatures of the ocean, and how they can mature to wonderful sizes when they are left to grow rather than be overfished and decimated.
Noah and the Captain took a half day out fishing with Hilton around the outskirts of the island, bringing us home tuna for dinner, Noah hauling in fish again with the boys on their day out!
We swam at one of their beaches, lazing in the warm and clear Indian Ocean, and I can confirm that these beaches are worthy of their best in the world title. With sheer granite walls towering above us and golden sand squeaking between your toes, it doesn’t get much better than that.
It truly was a dream come true to be doing all this.
All too soon it was time for the dream of the dual island getaway to be over. Our visas were running out soon and we had a passage to East Africa to make. Provisions were needed to be bought, passage meals made and weather routing to be watched and planned, along with friends to say goodbye to, not knowing when we would see them again. Sad at the parting again, of special people we had met and made close ties with. It doesn’t get any easier…
It had been a most incredible adventure to be able to visit both Denis and Fregate Islands, where most people dream of and yachts just are not usually allowed to go. We were blown away by the crazy natural beauty of both, along with the warm and welcoming hospitality by both families on both the islands.
We could not have been more lucky to meet these two families in their island paradise of the Seychelles.
Memories were made at both islands that will long be treasured and remembered fondly.
We miss you all of you back there very much…