THIS ARTICLE IS PART OF A SERIES DOCUMENTING ALL OUR ADVENTURES IN THE SEYCHELLES.
SEE THE MAIN PAGE HERE
- We were picked up from the beach beside the ‘Black Pearl Gallery’
- We made our way around the North of the island stopping for views of Petit Anne, Georgette and Anne Lasio
- Dropped off at Anne St Jose on Curieuse Island. There we had a look around the Doctors House museum, which is partly about the ecology on the island and partly talking about its history as a lepar colony
- From there we took a trek across the island which took somewhere between an hour and ninety minutes over a small climb and through some amazing mangrove forests.
- We then got to the big attraction of the day – the giant tortoises. These are wild but a number congregate around the picnicking area as they know they’ll get fed. There are also pens here where they look after the smaller ones.
- After that it was an amazing BBQ lunch followed by some time to relax on the beach.
- We then took a short boat trip over to St Pierre Island, a small outcrop of rock covered with palm trees. The water is calm here and we snorkelled for about 45mins above an old coral reef and saw more types and colours of fish than I could count!
- Another short boat trip took us just off of Georgette beach where we snorkelled again for around 45 mins
- We then headed back to the drop off point
Picked up at 9am dropped off at 4pm.
£80 per person including the BBQ lunch
- Seeing giant tortoises in the wild, one of only two populations in the world (the other is on the Galapagos Islands)
- Walking through mangrove forests
- Getting out on a boat and seeing Praslin from a different angle
- Beautiful BBQ lunch; marinaded chicken and fish with rice followed by lovely fresh fruit
- Snorkeling at St Pierre – a glimpse into a colourful undersea world
- They provided snorkelling gear if you don’t have your own
- The hike was not as testing as expected, if you feel comfortable flip flops would be better as easier for removing on the boat
- Drink lots of water, you are exposed alot; sitting on the boat, the hike and then scuba diving
It’s hard to be surrounded by all this water and not feel the urge to experience it eventually. And with the Seychelles being a group of over 100 islands, boat travel forms the very fabric of life here. Whether it’s for food, transport, making money or simply to enjoy themselves seafaring Seychellians are everywhere. And today we’d be joining them.
Through our wonderful host Tatiana at Anse Kerlan Beach Chalets we’d booked a trip that skirted around the North Coast of Praslin Island, with a mini trek and BBQ on Curieuse Island and then a stop off at the shores of St Pierre for some scuba diving. This is a fairly well worn path on Praslin and you can book similar trips through many tours companies but our chaperones for today were the fantastic ‘Excursion Pitou’. We arrived at the beach alongside The Black Pearl Gallery a bit early for our 9am start, scuba gear in hand.
A Seychellian man approached us, silhouetted against the glare of the sea. He had dreadlocks of rather haphazard lengths, spouting up and back from his head with the sides kept short like an extravagant version of a military haircut. He was barefooted, with knee length shorts and a short sleeved, collared t shirt.
“You here for the boat?”, he said as we got closer, taking off his sunglasses and tucking them into the buttons of his polo shirt. He had an accent that was at once French and African, a meeting of worlds.
“If you’re going to Curieuse, then we are” I replied. He introduced himself as Peter and told us the plans for the day. We were waiting for others, so as he busied himself between host and crewman we took the obligatory photos of the boat, the sea, the beach, us in front of the boat, the boat, the sea and then got ready to board.
There were no jetties here, boarding involved a paddle through the shallow water before hopping onto the boat. Peter along with the skipper and another helper steadied the her while we scampered on board. By now there were 14 of us plus the 3 crew. We were a mixed bunch, predominantly German, a Japanese couple and their young son, a few people over from France and the two of us flying the flag for the British Aisles (politely queuing at the back whilst everyone else got on!). By the time we were aboard there was not alot of space left. We found a gap on the large flat expanse at the front but were promptly asked to move to the back to – and I quote – “balance out the weight”. Thankfully we are not easily offended, and reassured ourselves that this was probably just a nautical term!
We set off slowly through the shallower waters. It’s amazing in the Seychelles how gentle the drop off is in places and we could see the ocean bed for a long way out. As soon as we were free the skipper dropped the two big Yamaha engines and we gained speed skimming our way along the coast line. We slowed down by the beaches of Petit Anse, Georgette and Anse Lasio each exceptional in their own striking way, set against the backdrop of palms and lapped with spearmint green waters. Any of them could fill centre folds of National Geographic, be the setting for fruit based fizzy drink commercials or make the podium of a ‘World’s Best Beach’ competition. Electing a winner would be a judging nightmare, the beach equivalent of choosing your favourite child.
We turned away now from the beaches of Praslin and made the short hop across the water to Curieuse Island.
Curieuse island is a nature reserve that about 3km in size. Due to its protected status you will find no hotels, restaurants or roads on the island it exists now for the protection of its natural assets; giant tortoises, Coco de Mer palms, giant takamaka trees, mangrove swamps, a large hawksbill turtle rookery and several bird species, such as the rare Seychelles Black Parrot, a parrot found only here and on Praslin.
The island of Curieuse – originally known just as ‘Isle Rouge’ due to its red coloured soiled – was named after a schooner from the French East Indies Company, which was sent to Seychelles to load with timber and tortoises for the Isle de France (Mauritius). They were also instructed to confirm possession of a group of islands that lay twenty or so miles to the north-east of Mahé.
In September 1768, Jean Duchemin sailed from Isle de France in a King’s ship the Digue accompanied by the Curieuse captained by Lieutenant Lampériaire. They arrived at Mahé on 9th October and slaves were put to work felling trees. After some weeks Lampériaire left to investigate the other islands as instructed, finding secured secure anchorage on the Northern shores of Praslin. While one party explored Praslin (named after the French Minister of Marine, the Ducky de Praslin) he set off with another party and rowed across the bay to the smaller island, naming it Isle Curieuse after his ship.
The party left on 22nd November having formally taken possession of Praslin and the other islands in the vicinity raising the French flag at Anne Possession. The voyage of the Curieuse if of historical interest not just for the naming of the islands but also for the discovery of the mysterious and much sought after Coco de Mer palm. This nut, the largest in the world, had for many years been washing up on the shores of India and the Maldive islands with the belief being it was the fruit of an underwater tree hence the name Coco de Mer (Coconut of the Sea).
With them they also took many Giant Tortoises to be presented as gifts and the rest across all the islands were hunted to virtual extinction. By the 1850s they could only be found on the isolated Aldabra Atoll some 1,110km south-west of Mahé. It was the inimitable Charles Darwin who proved to be the catalyst for their survival. He had studied Giant Tortoises at their only other location on Earth during his voyage in the Beagle to the Galapagos in the 1830s. He suggested to Mauritius (at that time Seychelles was a dependancy of Mauritius) that to ensure the preservation of the Aldabra Tortoise some should be relocated to other islands. Curieuse was the chosen location and they were re settled over a number of years. In 1978 a new project was launched to introduce Giant Tortoises on Curieuse with a further 300 being released. They are now carefully protected with the young tortoises kept in nurseries until they reach the age of five when they are released into the wild. In 1979 Curiequse and the surrounding waters were declared as a marine national park to conserve the native wildlife.
Curieuse’s history does not stop at Tortoises and mysterious palms; it was also a leper colony from 1829 until around 1965, this island has had quite a history!
We made our landing at Anne St Jose, on the southern shores of Curieuse Island. After clambering up the beach we had a look round the Doctor’s House, which was the residence of physicians who visited the island to help treat the lepers. It was a two story building with whitewashed walls and highlights of racing green on doors and frames. The bottom floor was dedicated to the information about the leper colony with the top holding displays about the flora and fauna of the island and their commitment to sustainability. I scribbled down notes and took a few photos before joining the rest of the group outside.
We then headed off on our trek across the island. This was fairly easy going despite the prior warnings that decent footwear would be needed and we made quick progress in the heat. Our route took us through the root furrowed sand paths of the forest near Anne St Jose and then up and over a fairly sharp climb giving us fantastic views over Baie Laraie. Even from these heights you can spot fish down in the waters due to the unnaturally shallow waters created by the old turtle sanctuary wall that cuts through the bay. The wall was built in 1910 with the aim of farming and exporting hawksbill turtles. Despite candlelit dinners on the sand, speed dating Thursdays and force feeding them oysters nothing could convince these frigid little buggers to copulate and the project was abandoned. As always though, nature finds a way and on the shores of Base Laraie something wonderful did come of the turtle pond; mangrove forests.
Unfortunately the mangrove forests were one of the first things to go when settlers arrived on the Seychelles. They take up prime locations on the shores that are perfect for housing. Here on Curieuse though they survived. The ponds gave them the perfect habitat and an island of lepers kept the land grabbing French at away. I’d never seen mangroves before and it is one of the things about Curieuse that is not widely advertised (I suppose when you have giant tortoises, rare parrots and turtles you’ve got alot to shout about!) so came as a pleasant surprise. With the tide out they look like trees that have misjudged the ground by about 2 foot and have decided to sprout roots above ground. Each of the main trunks split down into hundreds of offshoots that stabilise the tree in the tides. The area around the tree is then surrounded by little upshoots which look like black pencils sticking up through the sand.
Mangroves are incredible plants. Like us, they cannot survive on saltwater so they have clever ways to filter or ’spit out’ the salt. Some simply filter it out at the roots, others excrete it through the leaves (giving them a salty taste) others will store it in older pieces of bark and then shed them when they are full. The Nature Reserve had done a brilliant job of building raised wooden walkways through the forest making it much easier to cut a path through the forest without destroying the roots. It sounds like it would be even more fascinating with the tide in, Peter said he has often seen lemon sharks swimming around underneath the walkways, hunting for crabs and fish amongst the labyrinth of roots. Without the tide it was a strange mix of tropical forest above and sand below with only the sound of water beyond the densely packed trees giving any indication that the sea was near by.
Our final destination on Curieuse was the ranger’s station to meet up with some Aldabran Giant Tortoises. Giant tortoises haven’t had an easy existence over the years but it’s fair to say they’re not thriving on Curieuse. There are around 500 on the island with a large part of the population staying close to the ranger’s station where they know they’ll be fed. We dumped our bags at the covered table area and headed over to meet them. They were everywhere, in the mud, under the trees, on the beach one poor fella had even got himself wedged between two fence posts (don’t worry, after a few minutes of trying to overpower them he found reverse gear). Whilst they were wild it was one of those strange situations that felt manufactured, like seeing them in a zoo. It wasn’t like driving round a game reserve and finding one at the side of the road, these guys were everywhere.
It’s an unusual feeling watching an animal so incredibly rare on the planet but so abundant in this location. I felt a little overwhelmed and not desperately excited by the experience. This should be magical but I quickly came down with a kind of tortoise overdose which was no doubt actually dehydration in disguise. It’s one of those things that I’ll look back on with rose tinted spectacles and tell everyone how lucky I was but right now I was quite happy just to sit down, read a book and let the tortoises just do there thing. The good news is Becca was more than excited for both of them. Peter arrived on the scene clutching some palm leaves and she was quickly feeding, stroking and even selfieing with them. And she was far from alone, the gathered group of people was now almost outnumbering the tortoises! They did not seem phased by it at all, with most calmly coming about their tortoise business used to the crowd.
I started enjoying myself alot more as we left the people behind and went exploring. We headed over to the pens set up in the middle of the park where the smaller tortoise were being raised. To ensure their health the young ones are kept safe in these runs until they are about five years old, at which point they are released wild onto the island. This might seem a bit unnecessary but given how close to extinction these poor guys have been over time it is securing their future. And anyway, they have many happy years ahead of them, with most living over a hundred years and one greedy record breaker clocking up at over 250! (though it’s always hard to confirm as they clearly outlive their keepers and owners). At the back of the pens was a chicken wired off section for the really tiny ones. These youngsters was generally less than a year and were so small they looked like a different species rather than something that was going to grow into the monsters we’d just seen.
We left the babies and had a wander up and down the beach watching rays jump out of the water and the local boatmen carefully moor up in the shallow waters. This was the full on desert island experience, palms set at extraordinary angles, sea so blue it looked photo shopped and white sand being swept around by the tide. The only thing that didn’t fit with you classic National Geographic centrefold was the occasional tortoise doing it’s best moving rock impression at the edges of the sand. My tortoise overdose had passed, seeing them like this made me realise how just how rare an experience I was having.
Lunch was served to us under a big covered area by the beach. It was fenced in to stop the tortoises invading. They gathered around the edge possibly having similar conversations about the mixed group of species inside as we had just been having about them. The oil drum BBQs had been fired up long ago and from them was appearing an incredible smell of creole chicken and fish. It was served up with mango and papaya salads and rice. When I BBQ I can just about manage to blacken the edge of a burger whilst leaving the inside raw. Here we were treated to restaurant quality food knocked up in an old bit of steel and served on plastic plates. To say it was enjoyed by all would be an understatement. Conversation stopped, bowls were scraped out, seconds, thirds and even fourths were had. I ate more than my fill and finished it off with watermelon and baby bananas. This was the way picnics should be!!
St Pierre Island – Snorkelling
An hour or so after lunch we were back on the boat and heading the short distance over to the tiny islet of St Pierre. This is clearly a hotspot for snorkelling with 2 or 3 boats moored up before we arrived. It is directly opposite Anse Volbert beach and fairly easy for people to be dropped off at by the various boat taxis that pick up from there.
I have many faults; weak ankles, impatience, parallel parking but chief amongst these would be my terrible swimming. It’s not just that I’m bad at it, I also dislike it. On top of that I would not describe myself as a big fan of open water and, just to finish off, I also have never snorkelled before! Whatever possessed me to say yes to jumping off the back of a boat into the waters of the Indian Ocean I will never know.
Becca and I had bought a couple of decent snorkelling sets from Amazon before we left the UK so I strapped mine as tight as possible to my head, had a few test breaths through the snorkel and hopped off the ladder into the water below. What was immediately apparent was that my hope had been a little to exuberant and the plastic tube that was meant to be providing my with air was instead funnelling a saline solution into my mouth. I half choked, did my own unique version of treading water and ripped it out, gasping for air. They had given us 45 minutes here and less than 8 seconds in I’d nearly drowned. This boded well.
After a few false starts I managed to get the hang of it a bit. On one occasion I even went about 4 breathes without forgetting and letting the water in around the tube. I gave up, got rid of it and took to just holding my breath. Becca by this point was long gone. She’d stuck around for the initial splashing, told me she was proud of me a couple of times and then left me for dead. I was going to prove I could do this, broke out the doggy paddle and headed after her.
The world under the water was (said without a hint of irony) breathtaking. Whilst the animals on land took turns lining up to be issued various browns and greys for clothing the fish were just like ‘yeah, can you give me something patterned, I don’t mind how many colours, oh, and can you make it shiny too?’. It was ridiculous. Little fast ones, big ones with angular jaws, bottled shaped pouting ones, glossy chubby ones I mean they had all bases covered. And, unexpectedly, not a single one seemed to be trying to eat me. I had assumed this was just a natural part of being in open water like this but either I was not tasty or they were friendly. Either way both parties carried on their business without any disruption to the other, well other than me occasionally bringing on a mini tsunami with my less than orthodox swimming style.
I made my way closer to the island where Becca was gesturing to me. She had found a patch of old coral which must have been the trendiest hang out in the whole ocean because it was just teeming with life. I’ve been on alot of boats over the years, I’ve also watched alot of documentaries, ever did I ever think that something as incredible as this could happen so close to the surface and that I would be able to see it with my own eyes. No cameramen on Discovery TV, I was witnessing this scene with my own eyes. It was magical; the colour, the life (head up quick gasp of air) the variety, a mass of fins (head up quick gasp of air) bubbles and open mouths (head up quick gasp of air) just wow. It was an amazing experience, though I really need to master that snorkel at some point!
We had another brief snorkel stop off on the way back home but nothing like the incredible views at St Pierre. After shooting our was back round the island we got back to Praslin about 1600 after a fantastic day of adventuring.