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:
- British / South African
I chatted with Krishna from Chennai who has lived in the Seychelles for over 20 years. He’s an accountant for a luxury resort. Sadly, several years ago Krishna’s 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.
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.
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 towering atop one of Mahé Island’s highest hills.
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.
Our guide provided commentary on the reef and its inhabitants. She described fringing and patch reefs, explaining how each creature 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 as well as sex and the undigested coral they excrete becomes sand on the seafloor.
“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.”
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!
Marine Protected Nature Reserve
“Sainte Anne Marine National Park is 3 miles from Mahé Island. 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.”
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 turtles, bluespotted stingrays, and bottlenose dolphins flourish on the islands and are regular Marine Park visitors.
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. It’s wise to wear sandals. Try avoiding sharp pieces of broken seashells and coral. which can cause deep cuts on your feet.
St. Anne is the largest island and 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, it’s a nesting site for hawksbill sea turtles.
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 Island, 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.
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.
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 the diving and snorkeling are spectacular!
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.
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”. Grimshaw’s parents spent time with him on the island and one of his dogs still lives there and is an avid fisher – we saw him in action! He was buried on the island along his son and two unknown pirates whose bodies were found lying on a beach in Pirate Cove.
“Brendon and his Seychellois friend, Rene Lafortune, gradually and painstakingly created a nature reserve out of what was formerly a hunk of waterless bush.”
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.
Moyenne Island Hike
After a Creole lunch aboard Anahita, we waded ashore to hike around Moyenne, enjoying spectacular 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.
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.
Another ruin, known as the “House of Dogs”, was built by Emma Wardlow-Best – an English woman who loved dogs. She collected stray dogs from Mahé Island and gave them food and shelter on Moyenne. Best owned the island between 1899 and 1919.
Remains of Brandon 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.
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. When the lovely day was over, I was sad to return to Mahé Island.