Reef Safari Sainte Anne Island Seychelles

Approaching Sainte Anne Island

The day trip to Sainte Anne Marine Park is was favorite Seychelles experience. 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. 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.

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 five 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 soon warmed up. Carinne had a few lively conversations with Jill and me. She talked about the politics in the Seychelles 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’s highest hills.

Moyenne Trail View

Catamaran Anahita to Semi-Submersible Boat

After several stormy days, the weather was remarkably 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 small 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 coral reefs, explaining how each creature in the reef contributes to its survival. Some of the fish we saw included semicircle angelfish, steephead parrotsfish, zebrafish, and oriental sweetlips. Parrotfish are fascinating! They change color as well as sex and undigested coral they excrete becomes white sand on the seafloor.

Oriental Sweetlips

Steelhead Parrotsfish

Semicircle Angelfish

Zebrafish

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“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.”

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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 three 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 unique, 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 flourish on the islands and 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. It’s wise to wear sandals to avoid sharp pieces of broken seashells and coral, which can cause deep cuts on your feet.

Hawksbill Turtle

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.

From Moyenne Hiking Trail

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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 notorious French pirate Olivier Le Vasseur’s from Calais hid treasure worth £150 million.”  Le Vasseur threw his treasure map to the crowd before being hanged.

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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 Island Harbor Windmills

Cerf, the second largest island, 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, and the diving and snorkeling are spectacular!

Secluded Beach from Moyenne Hiking Trail

Longue was once a prison island. 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 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 can 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! Grimshaw 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

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

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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 Brown Noddys.

Private Resort

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.

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 an eccentric Englishman – Alfred d’Emmerez de Charmoy from Berkshire.

Island from Anahita Deck

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.

Moyenne House of Dogs Ruin

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.

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. When the lovely day was over, I was sad to return to Mahé.

Sainte Anne Island

Aerial View Sainte Anne Marine Park

Whale Watching São Miguel Island Azores

Today’s whale watching expedition was intense. The day started with sunshine but typical of erratic Azorean weather, the skies quickly turned overcast and strong wind beared down on our small rubber commando-style boat.

The tour company, Picos de Aventura (Peaks of Adventure), is appropriately named. The first order of business was signing a release agreement – always an unsettling feeling but never surprising. Although people of all ages joined the group, most whale watchers were under 30. I don’t think anyone knew what was in store – especially on the way back to the harbor.

April and May are not prime whale watching months in the Azores but dolphins, sea turtles, and 24 species of whale frequent the area year-round. We saw several groups of playful dolphins, and they came close to our boat. They’re fast animals, so it was difficult getting photographs, depending on where you were sitting.

When the wind came up the waves created choppy waters and a heavy spray, so it was necessary to hold on to stay inside the small boat. On the way back to the harbor, we headed into the wind. As the fast-moving boat pounded up and down on the waves, the spray drenched us completely. It was cold!

At the beginning of the tour the guides passed out heavy hooded storm jackets but our lower bodies got totally soaked. For about an hour, all you could do was hold on and keep your head down. When we finally returned to the marina, I poured a quarter-inch of water out of my sneakers – they’re still drying.

We saw several blue whales (identified by our guides) – first their blow spouts and later their massive bodies and baleens. Blue whales are the largest animals on earth.

I was the only American in the group. One French woman was upset and scared and complained when we arrived back at the harbor. Several people got sick. I was thoroughly chilled and headed back to my hotel for a hot shower and coffee.

Common Dolphin

Common Dolphin

Blue Whale

Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose Dolphin

My photos are not remarkable, but sights from the small low-in-the water boat were spectacular memories. Despite getting soaked, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

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Tomorrow I return to Lisbon and early Monday fly to Copenhagen where I’m excited to spend time with my friends Benedicte and Edison. We met in 2015 at Chile’s Lauca National Park.

More later…

Humboldt Penguin National Reserve: Three Islands in a Desert Eden

Humboldt Penguins

Humboldt Penguins

The tour of Humboldt Penguin Reserve yesterday was amazing! The coast was overcast but we saw so many animals it was almost unbelievable. Our group of 16 was eclectic with seven Germans, a woman from the Netherlands, a Peruvian couple, a Colombian, four Chileans, and me. Commentary from our Chilean guide, Jorge, was excellent.

Dolphins

Bottlenose Dolphins

The drive from La Serena north to the isolated fishing village of Punta de Choros took two hours each way. Half of the drive was through the desert on rough, rocky back roads where four-wheel drive was essential.

damas island

Damas Island

Three small islands – Chañaral, Damas, and Choro – form the natural complex known as Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. The location is stunning with white-sand beaches, caves, unusual rock formations, a variety of animals and exotic birds, interesting indigenous vegetation, and radiant turquoise water.

Pretty Gull

Pretty Gull

We were fortunate to see gray whales, sea lions, sea otters, bottlenose dolphins, penguins, pelicans, albatross, cormorants, Chilla gray foxes, and sea and shore birds I’ve never seen before.  Sadly we didn’t see many Humboldt penguins. It’s the beginning of their breeding season so they’re busy preparing nests.

Cactus Damas Island

Red Cactus Damas Island

The day started with a surprise gray whale citing that lasted about 30 minutes. I was on the wrong side of the boat, too slow, or blocked and got no photos. Later there were so many dolphins – maybe close to 100 – I couldn’t keep track! They enjoyed racing in the wake of our engine and the boat captain knew what to do to get them to play.

Punta de Chotos Fisherman

Punta de Choros Fisherman

The dolphins were fast and graceful and made the sweetest sounds as they came close to our boat. Their most magnificent antics were when two or three of them jumped in the air together in tandem. We literally squealed with delight as they kept coming back and repeating their incredible acrobatic performances over and over!

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I have new appreciation for animal photographers, as getting photos of the quick-moving dolphins in action was difficult. My reflexes weren’t fast enough and frankly I was awe-struck seeing so many dolphins in their natural environment.

Foxes

Little Chilla Foxes

On the way back to the harbor, we stopped at Isla Damas, the only island that allows tourists. We hiked around the island, enjoyed the beaches and views, and admired the unique, colorful Chilean vegetation.

Sea Lions

Sea Lions Isla Damas

Chile’s National Forest Service manages admissions and protects the reserve. The number of tours are limited and only permitted at certain times of day to protect the island’s ecosystem. Before heading back to Las Serena, we stopped at a local restaurant for a late lunch along the coast. To add to the day’s incredible animal sightings, we spotted a few guanacos and a family of foxes in the coastal bush. The outing was a satisfying, wonderful experience – BIG smile!

Shorebird Isla Damas

Sweet Shorebird Isla Damas