Paradise Valley Nature Reserve

Paradise Valley Nature Reserve is a hidden KwaZulu-Natal gem tucked away between Pinetown and Pietermaritzburg. The coastal forest and grasslands have local history, including “80 mysterious burial mounds” and remains of The Umbilo Waterworks built in 1887 and now a national monument.

History

“In the late 19th Century, Durbanites caught a train to Pinetown Bridge and walked down to The Waterworks for picnicking, boating, fishing, and hiking. In 1905, a destructive flood quickly put an end to Umbilo Dam.”

“In 15 devastating hours 16 inches of rain fell, and logs, bamboo, and debris blocked the river at Pinetown Bridge. The bridge gave way, and the ensuing tidal wave killed hundreds of people and destroyed countless homes on the lower Umbilo riverbanks. Durban discovered alternative water supplies, so Umbilo Dam was never rebuilt.”

Strelitzia Nicolai – Wild Banana Tree

Hiking Trails

There are four hiking trails in the nature reserve – Duiker, Bushbuck, Waterfall, and Dormouse. They begin at the Interpretive Centre on a path leading down to the picnic area. The start of the Waterfall Trail is a 30-minute walk over old wooden bridges on the other side of the Umbilo River. The trail continues following beautiful flat river rock and thick jungle-like terrain with massive strelitzias – wild banana trees.

Waterfalls

The Waterfall Trail passes sprawling yellowwood trees, ponds, and a historical waterworks slipway. Near the bottom of the falls beyond the turnoff to Duiker Trail, there’s a natural viewing platform. In the summer heat, a large pool below the falls is tempting, but water quality is poor, and swimming isn’t recommended.

Paradise Valley Wooden Bridge

I’ve been a bit under the weather with a stubborn virus and haven’t done much strenuous activity for a week or so. The gentle Waterfall Trail was perfect. I met several couples enjoying the romantic falls and heard but did not see animals. Fragrances in the light humid air and the sounds of sweet birds singing were magnificent!

Bushbuck Cardo Kleberg

Dormouse Pinterest

Stainbank Reserve, Toti Beaches

Yellowwood Tree

Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve is an extraordinary mass of vivid green with gorgeous grasslands and thick coastal forests, including yellowwood. Yellowwood, present in the country for more than 100 million years, is South Africa’s national tree. The reserve provides an ideal habitat for indigenous plants and animals. Even insects like centipedes, millipedes, grasshoppers, dragonflies, damselfies, and caterpillars thrive there.

Masked Weaver Nests

Southern Masked Weaver by John Caddick

The reserve is near my accommodation in Amanzimtoti, aka Toti. I spent the afternoon hiking in the 600-acre park sighting zebra, red duiker, bushbuck, vervet monkey, mongoose, and birds, including a majestic African Fish Eagle. Cute Southern Masked Weavers are a favorite, and hundreds of them had built their nests dangling from trees near the dam.

Hiking Trail

Hiking and Coedmore Castle

The park has hiking paths, a cycling trail, picnic areas, creeks, a dam, and the remains of Coedmore Castle. Kenneth Stainbank’s Scottish father built the Baronial style castle in 1885 with the help of stonemasons using stones from the Umhlauzana River.

Dawn Amanzimtoti

Same Amanzimtoti Sky 8 Hours Later

_____________

“When Stainbank built Coedmore Castle, he wanted to create a little piece of Europe on grounds filled with African antelope and monkeys.”

_____________

Bushbuck

You can arrange a tour of the castle’s interior. Descriptions of the steel-pressed ceilings, wooden paneling, and an iron staircase into the tower sound impressive. The castle’s exterior is wrapped in peaceful gardens.

Coedmore Castle

Coedmore Castle Durban

Scottish Stainbank married Ethel Lyne, a South African from Pietermaritzburg. They had seven children, and their eldest daughter, Mary, was an artist. Rooms throughout the castle contain sculptings she produced from her garden studio. Stainbank’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Keith, and her family still live on the property.

Doonside Beach

Surfer Baggies Beach

Mary Stainbank introduced the modern school of sculpture to South Africa. Her work is displayed in the Mary Stainbank Memorial Gallery which also hosts other artists’ exhibitions. The Coedmore gallery houses the largest, intact collective body of work by any one sculptor in South Africa.”

The weather was warm but overcast with a slight breeze – a good hiking day. I took the “red path” which encircles the reserve and involves creek crossings. It’s a gentle hike with a few mildly challenging areas. I met several people along the path. It’s school break, when South African families spend time together.

Doonside and Warner (Baggies) Beach

Heavy storms from October 2017 damaged the coastline and beach below my accommodation. Repairs are in process. It’s possible to walk on the beach, but until they finish rebuilding parts of the hillside, getting up and down is dangerous and tricky. I’ve spent most beach time at Doonside and Warner – two busy, entertaining beaches!

Water Lily

First visit at Doonside was windy, and my beach umbrella kept blowing away. A local watched as I chased it down the beach and showed me how to anchor it by burying part of the umbrella canopy in sand. Amazingly, it held for hours despite heavy wind!

Buried Beach Umbrella

Southern Masked Weaver

Even after applying what seemed ample SPF sunscreen protection, I still got sunburned while swimming, snorkeling, and walking on the beach. Later, I purchased a surf tee with UV protection. The stinging wind-blown sand against my sunburned skin eventually forced a retreat – but not before I enjoyed hours of therapeutic beach time!

Creek Crossing

Indigenous Grasses

Durban beaches are not as pristine as Seychelles, but the long sandy stretches are pleasant and usually filled with happy people having fun. Surfers frequent areas of Warner Beach (also known as Baggies Beach) that have powerful waves.

Baggies Surf Photo Frank Horn

Baggies Surf Photo Frank Horn

The beach is a surfing hotspot in KwaZulu-Natal. Baggies Beach “hosts the Baggies Surf Pro, and welcomes international legends who crave the exciting waves”. It’s also a favorite spot for nimble kite surfers – love watching their moves as they seem to fly from wave to wave!

Dancing Jewel Damselflie

Grasshopper

Caterpillar

Stainbank Reserve Dam

Lone Grassland Tree

La Digue Island Seychelles

Anse Gaulettes

My day trip to La Digue Island was marred by torrential rain that didn’t let up. Bicycling in rain with poor visibility made photography challenging, so I used several media shots in this blog post. There are abundant Internet photos and videos of the islands. Nothing beats seeing them in person, even in the rain.

Picasso Triggerfish

Rain began during the one-hour ferry ride from Mahé to Praslin and continued as we switched to a connecting ferry between Praslin and La Digue. When the ferry arrived in La Digue around 9am, people were huddled under palapas or clutching umbrellas and trying to avoid puddles in the flooded streets.

Weather, Population, History

Weather in the Seychelles is temperate, but the isolated islands are in the middle of the Indian Ocean near the equator, so frequent, unpredictable storms occur almost every day. The area has microclimates, so it can be raining on one island and at the same time, sunny on another. Some storms are violent but brief, clearing within minutes or hours, but that wasn’t the case when I visited La Digue.

Blacktip Reef Shark

December and January are known for especially heavy downpours. The least rainfall occurs in July. During my stay on the islands there were storms, but it was often clear.

Anse Marron

La Digue is the third largest inhabited island and fourth in size. The population of around 3,000 lives in two west coast villages – La Passe, where the ferries dock, and La Réunion. La Digue doesn’t have an airport and is linked to other islands by ferry.

Butterfly Fish

_____________

Year-round temperatures fluctuate between 75 and 90 degrees both day and night.

_____________

La Digue was named after a ship in the fleet of French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne, who visited the Seychelles in 1768. French settlers inhabited the island in 1789, bringing African slaves with them.

Endangered Black Paradise Flycatcher

Inhabitants of La Digue are called Diguois. “The first French settlers were exiled from Bourbon for taking part in a political rebellion. They were to be sent to the East Indies, but bribed the captain to take them to Seychelles where many had relatives.” Later, liberated slaves and Asian immigrants also settled on the island. The population is mostly Catholic.

Emperor Angelfish

Beaches, Nature Reserves, Wildlife

La Digue’s main industry is tourism. The island is known for stunning beaches like Anse Source d’Argent and Grand Anse. The bicycle company provided a map showing the major trails, beaches, and reserves. I encircled most of the island in steady, warm rain.

Anse Source d’Argent

I visited Veuve Nature Reserve, home to the rare black paradise flycatcher. The Reserve was disappointing and many of the muddy trails were flooded and impassable. I heard, but never saw, birds and animals.

Red Fody

In addition to the flycatcher, La Digue is home to several rare endemic species. As with many Seychelles islands, there’s a significant population of giant Aldabra Island tortoises. I peddled by several tortoises crossing the bicycle route. Coconut crabs and a variety of geckos, bats, and tropical birds – fodys, sunbirds, terns – occupy the island.

Cocos Island National Park

Green sea turtles live on the edges of La Digue’s coral reefs, and butterfly fish, eagle rays, and moray eels flourish there. I didn’t snorkel on La Digue, but while snorkeling near Cerf Island saw colorful fish, eels, and a small, beautiful blacktip reef shark.

Anse Marron

“Animals that traditionally live on La Digue are threatened by those introduced by human inhabitants. The rat population was probably the first animal brought to the Seychelles. Rats quickly caused extinction of many birds by eating their eggs and disturbing delicate nests. Dogs and cats are less of a menace.”

Grand Anse

La Digue’s beaches are some of the most photographed in the world. They glow with soft white sand, translucent turquoise water, and spectacular pale pink granite boulders. If you’re adventurous, you can discover hidden beaches on isolated parts of the island.

Anse Fourmis

Some of the larger, well-known beaches draw tourists from all over the world, and are the island’s forte. These include:

West Coast Beaches – Best for Swimming

East Coast Beaches

Isolated / Secluded Beaches

Anse Sévère

The southeast coast has a series of “adjoining bays with picturesque beaches separated by granite boulders and backed by tropical forests”. The beaches along the coast have big waves and powerful undertow. They’re too dangerous for swimming.

Félicité Island

The hike through the jungle to Anse Cocos is said to include a challenging “rock-hopping” experience. During my day trip, the rocks were wet and slippery, and forest trails too muddy to hike.

Anse Bonnet Carré

Transportation

Bicycles are the primary means of transportation on La Digue. At one time, cars were not allowed. Today, there are a few vehicles, most belonging to hotels and resorts. Ox-drawn cart is another way tourists navigate the island.

Map La Digue

_____________

“Driving a car on La Digue can be difficult. Roads were originally designed for bicycles. Cars going against each other must slide off the road with two wheels in the sand.”

_____________

Breadfruit

Cuisine

Diverse ethnic groups inhabit La Digue. Flavorful Local food has Indian, African, and European influence and is served at an interesting mix of restaurants. Fish is abundant, and it’s prepared in hundreds of ways, including grilled, steamed, sautéed, curried, and raw with lemon and spices.

Fruit Bat Curry with Rice

Ginger is a primary ingredient in Seychelles cooking. Other island food and drink includes jamalac, breadfruit, rum, octopus, palm wine, lobster, and the “biggest local specialty – bat curry ” made with Seychelles Fruit Bat meat! I didn’t try the curry.

While waiting for the rain to calm, I enjoyed espresso at The Fish Trap in La Passe and returned later for lunch. Their specialty is fresh, simply cooked seafood.

Snorkeling and Hiking

The best snorkeling in the islands is in the “crystal-clear waters of the Ile Marine National Park north of La Digue”. The Park is a group of three small coral-fringed islets off the northern tip of Félicité Island. Snorkelers swim beside Hawksbill turtles, Blue Surgeonfish, Parrotfish, Moorish Idols, Emperor Angelfish, Batfish, and stunning Picasso Triggerfish.

Moorish Idol

The hike to La Digue’s highest peak – Nid d’Aigle (Eagles Nest) – is challenging. When you reach the top, sweeping panoramic views make it worth the effort. I didn’t hike on this trip to La Digue, but if I return to the Seychelles, will spend more time snorkeling and exploring – in better weather.

Green Gecko – Sabrina van de Velde

Snorkeling on Félicité Island is a must. Even though La Digue is a small island, a guide is recommended. Tourists have been caught in currents and lost on hidden trails in the dense tropical forest.

Blue Surgeonfish

_____________

“Since the Seychelles are detached from the rest of Africa, many animal species on the island are endemic to La Digue”.

_____________

Back in Durban

I arrived back in Durban happy to be in a more “connected” environment. The Seychelles are amazing, but a bit isolated. I’m still reflecting about Seychelles nature, culture, and people, and my unique experiences on the islands.

Tropical Forest – Tim Holt Science Source

December was rainy in Durban, but since my return the weather has been divine – low humidity compared to Seychelles. Will stay in Durban during January, hoping to snorkel and visit a few nearby game reserves! In February, it’s on to Maputo in Mozambique.

Coconut Crab

HAPPY 2018!

Reef Safari Sainte Anne

Approaching Sainte Anne Island

The day trip to Sainte Anne Marine Park is one of my favorite Seychelles experiences. People in the group were as interesting as the exotic islands we explored. I enjoyed conversations and shared a table with three fun couples:

  • Australian
  • British / South African
  • Seychellois

I chatted with Krishna from Chennai who has lived in the Seychelles for over 20 years. He’s an accountant for a luxury resort and sadly, several years ago his family moved to the UK – his wife is a physician – while he remained behind. He was happy to be joining them and relocating there later in December.

Beach Sainte Anne Marine Park

The Aussies – Margaret and Ray – were great company for a conversation-starved solo traveler. We enjoyed snorkeling, hiking, and sharing laughs and travel stories. The British South African couple – Jill and David – were unbelievably in their mid-80s and on a layover from a cruise. David is a talented engineer. He met Jill, who’s from Cape Town, in London, and they married 5 weeks later.  They’ve lived all over the world – China, Africa, Australia, Canada, Malaysia, and more… Jill shared expressive stories of her full and active life.

Moyenne Beach Sign

The Seychellois couple – Carinne and François – were shy and quiet at first, but warmed up. Carinne had a few lively conversations with Jill and me. She talked about the country’s politics and a growing dissatisfaction with corrupt government – not a unique scenario in Africa. She told us that several islands and resorts in the archipelago are owned by wealthy people from Asia and the Middle East. Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, United Arab Emirates President and Emir of Abu Dhabi built a controversial palace atop one of Mahé’s highest hills.

Moyenne Trail View

Catamaran Anahita to Semi-Submersible Boat

After several stormy days, the weather was remarkable and clear but extremely hot! As is common in Seychelles, the skies became partially overcast as the day progressed. Starting at Mahé marina, we cruised on catamaran Anahita for about an hour, stopping to feed reef fish and revel in jaw-dropping scenery. Then, we boarded a semi-submersible boat with glass windows to view the coral reef below.

Catamaran Anahita

Our guide provided commentary on the reef and its inhabitants. She described fringing and patch reefs, and explained how each creature living in the coral reef contributes to its survival. Some of the fish we saw included semicircle angelfish, steephead parrotsfish, zebrafish, and oriental sweetlips. Parrotfish are fascinating. They can change color and sex. Sand on the seafloor is ground-up, undigested coral they excrete.

_____________
“Sainte Anne Marine Park has a unique concentration of underwater ecosystems and coral gardens. The reserve’s seagrass meadows are the largest in the granitic bank of the Seychelles archipelago.”
_____________

Hiking Trail Moyenne

After viewing the reef, we jumped into the water to cool down and snorkel among the reef fish. The fish we saw were a bit disappointing, but everyone thoroughly enjoyed a swim in the warm Indian Ocean!

French East India Company Logo

Marine Protected Nature Reserve

“Sainte Anne Marine National Park is 3 miles from Mahé. Created in 1973 to protect a small group of six islands, it’s the South Western Indian Ocean’s first marine protected area. Only accessible by sea, the Marine Park has a unique concentration of underwater ecosystems and coral gardens. The reserve’s seagrass meadows are the largest in the granitic bank of the Seychelles archipelago.”

Brown Noddy

Six Islands in Sainte Anne Marine Park

The Park covers about 6 square miles. Islands include Moyenne, Cachée, St. Anne, Cerf, Longue, and Round. Each island has fascinating, history and folklore. The islands have thick, tropical vegetation and incredible white-sand beaches. Hawksbill turtles, manta rays, green sea turtlesbluespotted stingrays, and bottlenose dolphins are regular Marine Park visitors.

Local Fruit Jamalac aka Rose Apple

The water surrounding the islands is shallow. At low tide, it almost recedes completely, making it possible to walk across the sand to other islands. If you aren’t already wet, your lower body will get soaked. Avoid sharp pieces of broken seashells and coral.

Hawksbill Turtle

The largest island, St. Anne, was the site of the first French settlement in 1770 – a “courageous undertaking of an island surrounded by swamps teeming with crocodiles”.  During World War II, St. Anne was a military base for the Royal Marines. In the early 19th century, it was a whaling station. Today, St. Anne is a nesting site for hawksbill sea turtles.

From Moyenne Hiking Trail

_____________
Visitors and locals share a fascination for legends of pirates and buried treasure. “Focus has been on Bel-Ombre, in the Northern part of Mahé, where it’s believed that Olivier Le Vasseur’s (a French pirate from Calais) hid treasure worth £150 million.”  Le Vasseur threw his treasure map to the crowd before being hanged.
_____________

French Pirate Olivier Le Vasseur

In 1756, Captain Corneille Nicholas Morphey, an explorer from the French East India Company, took possession of the Seychelles in the name of the King of France. Morphey named the island after Sainte Anne, Mother of the Virgin Mary. Upon his arrival, the Feast of Sainte Anne was celebrated on the island.

Mahé Harbor Windmills

Cerf Island, the second largest, was named after Captain Morphey’s frigate Le Cerf. Cerf’s shallow water and coral reefs are popular for snorkeling, swimming, and diving. As part of Sainte Anne Marine National Park, it’s a protected island. Fishing is prohibited, but diving and snorkeling are spectacular!

Secluded Beach from Moyenne Hiking Trail

Longue Island was a once prison. Early French and Portuguese slavers used it to quarantine slaves being transported from Africa”. Morphey named the island for its oblong shape.

Bluespotted Stingray

Moyenne Island is “home to pirate graves, a chapel, the ruins of early settlers’ homes, and buried treasure”.  Giant tortoises roam freely throughout the island.

Inside Semi-Submersible Boat

In 1962, an English newspaper editor, Brendon Grimshaw, bought Moyenne for £8,000. Over time, he transformed the island into a giant tortoise nature preserve now worth about 34 million Euros. It became the world’s smallest National Park in 2008.

Semi-Submersible Boat

Grimshaw died in 2012 and “bequeathed Moyenne to a non-profit NGO, the Moyenne Island Foundation Society, along with strict instructions that it must remain a park and no hotels may be built on the island”. One of Grimshaw’s dogs still lives there and is an avid fisher – we saw him in action! Grimshaw’s parents spent time with him on the island. He was buried on the island along his son and two unknown pirates whose bodies were found lying on a beach in Pirate Cove.

Anahita Deck

_____________
“Brendon and his Seychellois friend, Rene Lafortune, gradually and painstakingly created a nature reserve out of what was formerly a hunk of waterless bush.”
_____________

Mahé Harbor

Round is a small, rocky island that “can be walked in less than 30 minutes”. It was once a leper colony and now has luxury resort cabañas and a popular Creole Restaurant. Cachée is a 5-acre uninhabited islet and nature reserve for breeding noddies.

Private Resort

Moyenne Island Hike

After a Creole lunch aboard Anahita, we waded ashore to hike around Moyenne, enjoying sea views, palm trees, lush vegetation, and giant tortoises. The hiking trail leads by coves, granite boulders, ruins, and a tiny chapel. There are a few side trips – Hanni’s Haunt and Treasure Peak – and secluded beaches with sweeping views of the surrounding islands and sea.

Aerial View Sainte Anne Marine Park

Brendon and Rene planted sixteen thousand trees and built nature paths encircling the island. The main path passes the remains of two old houses. One was formerly occupied by the earliest traceable owner, Melidor Louange, who acquired the island in 1850 and lived there with Julie Chiffon for 42 years. They sold the island to eccentric Englishman Alfred d’Emmerez de Charmoy from Berkshire.

Island from Anahita Deck

Another ruin, known as the “House of Dogs”, was built by an English woman who loved dogs, Emma Wardlow-Best. She collected stray dogs from Mahé and gave them food and shelter on Moyenne. Best owned the island between 1899 and 1919.

Moyenne House of Dogs Ruin

Remains of Grimshaw’s house and a small museum with seashells and explanations of the island’s flora and fauna are near the main beach, Jolly Roger. Grimshaw wrote about his life on the island in a book, A Grain of Sand.

Moyenne Cove

It was a perfect day. Even though I doused myself with SPF 50, I have a sunburned back from snorkeling – a small price to pay for an extraordinary memory. If my skin could tolerate the harsh equatorial sun, I would swim and snorkel every day.

Sailing and Snorkeling Seychelles

St. Pierre Islet

Yesterday was an active but mellow day exploring beaches and inner islands near Praslin. I joined a day tour beginning at 6 am with a drive to Cat Cocos ferry and an hour-long ride from Mahé to Praslin. On Praslin, we boarded a catamaran for a sailing and snorkeling adventure.

Catamaran Oplezir

Sailing on Catamaran Oplezir

There were about 30 people aboard Creole Travel’s splendid 82 ft. sailing catamaran Oplezir. The group was mostly French, German, and Spanish tourists.

Giant Aldabra Tortoise

St. Pierre Islet

Sailing from Praslin to our first stop, St. Pierre Islet, took about an hour. St. Pierre is a small, picture-perfect island, but the current was too strong for snorkeling. We stopped for photos and continued to a calmer area where we spent an hour snorkeling in the warm, heavenly Indian Ocean!!  The variety of fish was disappointing, but we saw angelfish, a few striped, blue, and yellow schools, groupers, and sea bass scuttling along the bottom in the seagrass. The strong pull of the current was obvious.

Curieuse Beach

I snorkeled with a Spanish couple who were on a diving holiday and had been in Mauritius and the Comoros before Seychelles. They were disappointed in the fish and coral near Praslin, but thought Seychelles beaches were the most beautiful in the Indian Ocean.

Mangrove Forest Curieuse

Curieuse Island

Next, we sailed to Curieuse Island – fifth-largest inner island – to hike and visit giant Aldabra tortoises. The tortoises don’t swim, but roam freely throughout the island. They’re named for the place where they originated – Aldabra coral atoll – part of the outer islands. They’re friendly, loveable creatures that like to be touched. They can live to be 250 years old!

Colonial House Curieuse

We explored the flora and fauna, including magnificent coco de mer palms and mangrove forestsCoco de mer is a rare species of palm endemic to Praslin and Curieuse. It’s the subject of legends and folklore. The coco de mer nut is the “largest seed in the plant kingdom”.

Early Morning at Mahé Harbor

The hike was easy except for climbing a few boulders along uphill sections of the trail. The beaches, views, and vegetation were exceptional! Pointe Rouge, a coral garden off the eastern coast of Curieuse, is a popular diving spot.

“From 1833 until the mid-20th century, Curieuse Island was a quarantine station for lepers. Today, old ruins and the doctor’s house remain. The house is a French colonial building from the 1800s. Now, it’s a small museum and visitor’s centre.”

Palm Plums

Part of the hike was a boardwalk trail through a mangrove forest teeming with fiddler crabs, sea snails, geckos, skinks, palm spiders, and birds, including the elegant white-tailed tropicbird. A curious skink posed for us on a palm tree trunk.

Fiddler Crab

Palm Spider

Sea Snail

Aldabra Sea Snail

Skink

Reddish laterite soil characterizes the island and led French explorer Lazare Picault to name Curieuse “Ile Rouge”. The name changed to Curieuse (curious in English) in 1768, when a boat led by French explorer, Marc Jospeh Marion de Frense, claimed ownership of the island in the name of the French crown. Today, park rangers live on Curieuse.

Picturesque Swimming Beach

The hike led to Anse Josee Beach where we boarded Oplezir again for a Creole lunch prepared by the crew. The food was simple but healthy and delicious. We enjoyed it in good company surrounded by stunning scenery and turquoise water!

Palm Tree

Anse Georgette Beach Praslin

After lunch we cruised to nearby Anse Georgette Beach for a photo stop, more snorkeling, and a swim. Anse Georgette is known for its “untouched and natural, astounding beauty”.

Beach Scene

_____________

“Anse Georgette’s incredible mix of gorgeous turquoise ocean water, pristine white sand, and incredible palm trees make for a truly jaw-dropping beach”.

_____________

Oplezir Mast

Anse Georgette has excellent snorkeling, but the current can become unexpectedly strong, and there’s no protection from an offshore coral reef. When the surf came up, and our guides decided it was too dangerous to snorkel, so we sailed to a nearby beach. I was eager to enjoy more snorkeling but soon experienced a taste of the Indian Ocean’s power.

Enjoying Catamaran

I joined the Spanish couple again, and we swam toward an offshore rock formation near the beach. Mesmerized by the surroundings, I didn’t notice the surf on the way there, but later got pounded hard near the beach. Thankfully, I wasn’t near rocks. An older man had to be ferried back to the boat. I swam back with a swimsuit full of itchy sand – a small, humbling reminder of the sea’s all-encompassing power!

Chillin’ on the Way Back to Praslin

White-Tailed Tropicbird

Heading back to the ferry, we cruised Praslin’s north-east coast and saw a small pod of dolphins – too fast for photos. Many fell asleep on the forward trampolines hypnotized by the soothing, rocking motion of the boat. After an idyllic, satisfying day, I had a better understanding of life in the Seychelles – my home for the next three weeks!

Anse Georgette Beach

Guide with Coco de Mer Seeds

Victoria and Mahé Island

Sunset Beach Mahé

At this point, no words describe Seychelles – different from any other place experienced! Durban is diverse with a subtropical climate, but the isolation, weather, and culture here are a drastic change. I spent the first few days befuddled and struggling to acclimate.

Mahé Cove

Seychelles Archipelago

The Seychelles is a remote archipelago of 115 tropical granite and coral islands in the Indian Ocean. It’s near the equator, northeast of Madagascar and 1,000 miles east of Kenya. Most of the islands are small and uninhabited.

Coco-de-Mer Seed

The archipelago includes 43 inner islands clustered around the three largest islands – Mahé, Praslin, and La Digue. The 72 “outer islands” are coralline cays, atolls, and reefs. Victoria is the capital and largest city in the Seychelles. It’s on Mahé, where 90 percent of the country’s 95,000 people live.

Map Seychelles

Diverse Population and Religions

The population is an eclectic mix of French, African, Indian, and Chinese immigrants. English and French are spoken, but Seychellois Creole is the official language of the Seychelles.

Harbor View Chez Lorna

As with the people, there’s a diversity of religions on the islands. Religion is an important part of life in the Seychelles, and Roman Catholicism is dominant. It’s practiced by over 90 percent of the population, but there are also Anglicans, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims. Last Sunday, traffic on the main street in Victoria came to a standstill with hundreds of Catholics marching and praying.

Seychelles is a “melting pot” of the many people who settled the islands:

Carnivorous Pitcher Plant

_____________

“Each wave of new residents contributed something unique to the remarkable blend of language, music, arts, and religion that characterizes the Seychelles.”

_____________

Seychellois Children

Seychelles Government and Politics

Seychelles is a young nation of 40 years with a “presidential republic“. The President of Seychelles since 2016, Danny Antoine Rollen Faure, is head of state and government in a multi-party system. The government and National Assembly share executive and legislative powers.

Victoria Clock Tower

Seychelles has a “command economy,” a socialist “economic system in which the government controls production and distribution of goods and services, and industry is publicly owned”.

Black Parrot Seychelles National Bird

I’ve observed grumblings from locals who seem unhappy with the government, especially business people. Apparently, there’s abundant red tape for businesses, and the government adds a 15% tax to everything.

Cove Near Sunset Beach

Getting Around and Weather

For now, I’m living without a rental car, but the SPTC (Seychelles Public Transport Corporation) isn’t well-organized, and the buses are frustratingly erratic. None of them drive the steep hill to my accommodation. It’s a half mile to the main road – good exercise but in the heat….

St. Paul’s Cathedral Victoria

With the buses, you must know where you’re going, and I’m still learning the territory.  Bus stops are not marked with signage, and drivers don’t communicate well. A few times, I missed my mark by several miles. There isn’t abundant tourist support in Seychelles, so unless you’re staying at a fancy hotel, you’re on your own. If you’re adventurous and not rushed, the experience is interesting.

Scops Owl

I’m not in a hurry, and delays are a chance to mingle with the local people. Some of them are very shy. The hot, humid weather makes walking long distances difficult – at least until you adjust to the climate. I will be here through December and am considering a change in accommodation – another island or closer to the beach.

Michael Adams Victoria Botanical Garden

Seychelles accommodation is very expensive compared to South Africa. High import costs and operation expenses make prices in the Seychelles high for foreigners. Tourism is an important but unorganized industry. I’m learning again not to ask locals for directions – you get different info from each person, and it’s likely you may never get to your destination! Apps are helpful but in Seychelles, not 100% correct – maybe I’m using the wrong ones?

Beau Vallon Beach

Learned that Sunday is a day when nothing happens quickly, so it’s best to go with the flow and not follow a time schedule. Except for a few small markets and restaurants near the beaches, everything is closed on Sunday.

On Saturday, most shops shut down at noon – primarily a religious practice encouraged by the Catholic Church. This is the way South Africa was under the influence of the Dutch Reformed Church, but things changed significantly in the 90s.

Creole Buffet

Art and Activities

During the first few days I explored Victoria and Beau Vallon. Beau Vallon is a beautiful but touristy beach area, and Victoria a small bustling town with interesting people, art, and architecture. Most local artists have their own galleries. Michael Adams is one of my favorites.  He specialises in colorfast watercolors and silkscreen prints of people, land, and seascapes. Nigel Henri is a popular local artist whose acrylic paintings “decrypt the soul of Seychelles”.

Praslin Beach

I’m deciding which activities are best in this climate. It hasn’t been beach weather since my arrival – lots of warm, tropical rain. The weather is hot but nice in the Seychelles year-round. There is always rain. December is north-west winds monsoon season. You must forget your hair and makeup – it melts in minutes!

Cathedral of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception

There are several national parks and interesting hikes through the small mountain on Morne Seychellois National Park. Exploring cloud forests with exotic orchids, rare endemic birds, palms like the coco de mer, and other tropical plants is appealing.

Vanda Orchid Mahé Seychelles

Val Riche-Copolia trail is said to pass a variety of interesting plant species like the carnivorous Pitcher Plant. I saw one years ago in Borneo, and watched it devour an insect lured by the flower’s  beauty and fatally trapped inside the “pitcher”.

Seychelles Gannet

In the heat and humidity, you must start hiking early – around 6 am. Sun this close to the Equator is fierce! I was told to expect my skin color to change before I leave the islands – without sunbathing…. Snorkeling is on the agenda and maybe some kayaking. They say swimming is dangerous because of heavy undertow. So far, I haven’t seen surfers on Mahé, so maybe there is better surfing on other islands.

La Domus Catholic Priest Residence Victoria

_____________

The cuisine that is uniquely Seychellois is a combination of flavours from African, French, Chinese, Indian, and English cooking. 

_____________

Nigel Henri Seychellois Artist

The beaches have shark barriers, but I’ve read conflicting information about how effectively they protect swimmers. The sand is soft and clean with interesting pinkish boulders along the shoreline. The water is picture-perfect turquoise blue! I plan to visit Praslin and La Digue and some of the closer small islands but have not yet taken the ferries or ventured out on the ocean.

Marie-Antoinette Interior

Marie-Antoinette Creole Restaurant

Seychellois food is unique, and so far, my favorite restaurant is Marie-Antoinette, where they serve delicious authentic creole cuisine. I enjoyed a long, lingering lunch there last Saturday. Surprisingly, many of the restaurants on Mahé are quite expensive. Guess I got spoiled by the delicious, inexpensive food in South Africa.

Marie Antoinette Restaurant Victoria Mahé

At one time, Marie-Antoinette was a hotel built in “colonial style architecture with a high roof and polished wooden staircase”. The building dates to the 1800s. It became a national monument in 2011 and is home to the Livingstone Gallery, in honour of the late American adventurer, Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley stayed there often during the 1870s and named his accommodation Livingstone Cottage, after Dr. David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary presumed lost in Africa.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Some of the Creole dishes on Marie Antoinette’s menu include golden apple and pumpkin chutney, fish stew, chicken curry, aubergine fritters, and an unforgettable spicy mango salad. There’s a beautiful flower and spice garden surrounding the gorgeous Victorian building.

Seychelles Internet is slow and dicey, but more later, when possible…

Durban Beaches, Verulam, Gandhi

Durban Skyline from Coco Beach Promenade

Durban’s beaches are fascinating and beautiful. I’ve been exploring but haven’t found a “favorite” beach yet. November weather is volatile and windy – clear in the high 80s one day, rainy 60s to 70s the next. The storms are proper deluges with violent cracking thunder and lightning. Like Oregon, in less than an hour, skies can change from blue to menacing grey, black, and white. I fell asleep at Uhmlanga Rocks and woke up to wild dark skies –  followed by heavy rain.

Coco Beach Sky

Except for Istanbul, I’ve never seen so many tankers in a harbor! At all times, there are 30 or more waiting to enter the bustling shipyards.

Tankers Near Umhlanga Rocks Beach

Durban Beaches

So far, the beaches are my favorite Durban experience. Nothing compares to Cape Town’s magnificent Table Mountain. Haven’t explored Durban’s arts world except for a Philharmonic concert and a few museums and galleries.

Animals and nature are a big part of South Africa. I want to visit more game reserves in the area, many only a few hours away.

Beachgoers Ansteys Beach

_____________

“The year 2014 marks a hundred years since Mahatma Gandhi left South Africa for good after spending his formative years in this country, where he developed his philosophy of satyagraha, a form of active yet peaceful resistance to political injustices.”

_____________

Methodist Church Verulam

I’m trying to understand Durban’s suburbs and districts. Planned to hike in a nearby nature reserve on Sunday and arrived to find zero cars in the parking area. Burman Bush is part of Durban’s municipal Open Space System. It’s a gorgeous 180-acre coastal forest reserve in the heart of Morningside neighborhood. As I was putting on my daypack, noticed a homeless encampment in the bushes and several threatening-looking people. Decided to change plans. It’s sad that there are dangerous areas.

Ballito Beachgoer

Verulam Churches, Hindu Temples, and Mosques

Got lost in a small town called Verulam. Verulam was settled in 1850 by British Methodists. The town was named after the Earl of Verulam, patron of the Brits who settled there.

One Verulam street is named after George Sewpersadh, an Indian political activist. There’s an old neglected but interesting Methodist church near the courthouse. It’s said to be one of the oldest churches in KwaZulu Natal. A local man told me there were plans in the works to restore it as a historical monument.

Vendor Umhlanga Rocks Beach

_____________

“The Muslim community played a major role in the history of Verulam. Sunni Mosque is in central Verulam on Wick Street, with palm trees in the front that are over 80 years old.”

_____________

Sunni Mosque Verulam

Verulam is also home to Sri Gopalall Hindu Temple which opened in 1913 by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi spent his formative years in South Africa. Nearby Gayathri Peedam is the only Hindu temple in Africa that houses two full figure Gayathri Murthis.

Umhlanga Rocks Beach

_____________

“By capitalism I just want to make this one point. From the beginning of time we have had social changes. Power concentrated in a few hands leads to exploitation and abuse and wrongdoing. The whole basis of change is to get more and more people involved in the sharing of power.” 

George Sewpersadh

_____________

Methodist Church Veralum

I’m sorting through my luggage to leave behind excess and take only what’s necessary to the Seychelles. I’ll be arriving on Mahé Island December 1 to thunderstorms and temperatures in the mid-80s!

More later…