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 Island to Praslin Island and continued as we switched to a connecting ferry between Praslin and La Digue. When the ferry arrived in La Digue around 9 am, 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 micro climates, so it can be raining on one island and 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. The rain was relentless lasting all day…

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. About 3,000 people live 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

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

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Praslin Harbor

Ship La Digue Harbor

Three Masted Schooner La Digue

Sailboat La Digue

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 weren’t 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

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“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.”

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Breadfruit

Cuisine

Diverse ethnic groups inhabit La Digue. Served at an interesting mix of restaurants, flavorful local food has Indian, African, and European influences. Fish is abundant, and it’s prepared in hundreds of ways, including grilled, steamed, sauté, 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 often get caught in currents and lost on hidden trails in the dense tropical forest.

Blue Surgeonfish

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

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Flooded Trail Veuve Nature Reserve

Flooded Trail Veuve Nature Reserve

Flooded Street La Digue

Steamy Mahé

La Digue Cemetery

Fishtrap Restaurant Beach

Back in Durban

I arrived back in Durban happy to be in a more “connected” environment. The Seychelles are amazing, but extremely 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 Mozambique.

Coconut Crab

HAPPY 2018!

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

Durban South Africa 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 accompanied by violent cracking thunder and lightning. Like Oregon, in less than an hour, skies can change back and forth from blue to menacing grey, black, and white. I fell asleep at a sunny Uhmlanga Rocks beach but 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 are only a few hours away.

Beachgoers Ansteys Beach

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“The year 2014 marks a hundred years since Mahatma Gandhi left South Africa. He spent his formative years there developing his philosophy of satyagraha, a form of active yet peaceful resistance to political injustices.”

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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 reached for 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 Beach

Verulam Churches, Hindu Temples, and Mosques

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

One Verulam street is named after George Sewpersadh, an Indian political activist. I saw 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

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

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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

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“By capitalism I just want to make 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

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Abandoned 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…