But in this remote section of the Seychelles, an hour’s light aircraft flight south of Mahe Island to Alphonse Island, Blue Safaris have just opened up access to a select few visitors to a smattering of special coralline island atolls and flats that make up what is known as the Outer Islands. Here you will find one of the world’s healthiest climates, with miles of unblemished shorelines, lagoons and sea flats full of marine life, birds, turtles, tortoises and more, the most fantastic location for a private island holiday in the Seychelles.
Most visitors to the Seychelles tend to stay on the Inner Islands, but tourism and general population growth have more often than not reduced the original sense of serenity that made the archipelago famous, as well as the natural biodiversity. As a result the government has continued to restrict access to the Outer Islands in order to protect the ecosystems of the southern half of the archipelago. Therefore a visit to Blue Safaris is all the more special, as they are the only operation that currently exists in this region.
It was with great excitement then that I had the chance to catch up with Blue Safaris’ head activity manager and conservationist, Sam Balderson, to find out how they are creating the ultimate tropical island getaway whilst maintaining sustainable principles.
Tell us about The Outer Islands and what makes the area so special?
Sam: The really amazing thing about the Outer Islands of Seychelles is their remoteness and up until very recently the difficulty of accessing them, they are, after all, some 400-1,000 kilometres south west of Mahe, and have only recently been opened up.
We have some of the world’s best dive instructors and salt water fly-fishing guides and they say it is the only place they have been where you really escape civilisation and experience a remoteness where nature has been allowed to work undisturbed.
As a result, the fishing pressure has been very low compared to the inner islands, and indeed many other parts of the world, the tropical marine life is prolific! Large fish species such as Napoleon Wrase, Giant Grouper and Bumphead parrotfish, which have sadly disappeared elsewhere, are still seen in good numbers.
As a keen diver myself, many destinations label themselves as ‘world class’ or even ‘the best on the planet’, but what brings The Outer Islands with Blue Safaris into such an echelon?
Sam: Diving is highly subjective and what makes a good dive is different to each individual diver. Some people are really into wrecks, others love swimming with sharks and some divers are only interested in the very tiny, weird and wonderful macro life that makes for incredible photographs.
The diving that people can do on a Blue Safari in the outer islands is world class because it can combine a lot of these different facets. There are huge schools of fish, beautiful corals, macro creatures and big predators all living around the atolls which themselves have fascinating topography with precipitous drop-offs. We have a full PADI dive centre operating from Alphonse and can take divers of all levels.
Also important is the fact that El Niño in 2016 had a serious impact on the world’s soft coral, bleaching and destroying huge tracts of precious marine environment. Even the inner islands of The Seychelles were affected, losing 85-95% of their virgin soft coral, a shocking amount.
Miraculously, in the areas we operate around Alphonse, Astove and Cosmolido, have seen very minimal damage. We therefore have some of the world’s healthiest reefs; the colours of the different corals are mesmerising!
What is there for non-divers?
Sam: Naturally, the water based activities are where we excel. A number of these revolve around snorkelling and getting in the water and swimming with majestic animals such as Manta rays and Sailfish. The latter in particular is not available or consistent in many other parts of the world and happens right here just minutes from Alphonse and I consider it a bucket list experience for anyone.
I also recommend taking a paddle around one of the lagoons with a kayak or stand-up-paddleboard as a fantastic opportunity to spot green or Hawksbill turtles, rays and sharks as the lack of engine noise helps you to approach quietly and with little disturbance.
We are also known worldwide for our salt water fly fishing, particularly bonefish and giant trevally, and accept fisherman of all abilities. All fishing is on a catch and release basis and details are taken by the conservation team to monitor populations.
On the terrestrial side there is also great scope for bird watching, particularly at Alphonse and Cosmolido, and taking nature walks with the conservation team on any of the islands. Seeing the giant Aldabra tortoises are a major highlight and we are conducting major work to sustain and increase their numbers.
I am a major supporter of sustainable conservation-based tourism, how can guests get involved with preserving this biodiversity hotspot?
Sam: All conservation activities are led by the dedicated team from Seychelles NGO Island Conservation Society (ICS). The partnership with the resort’s Alphonse Foundation has been vital to the conservation work as guests have provided much needed project funding through the payment of a conservation levy as part of their stay.
Every week the ICS Conservation Officer gives a talk to guests that updates them on the progress of the various projects while explaining the different ways that they can get involved in the work. Guests are encouraged to go on patrol with the ICS rangers to record turtle nesting activity, plant indigenous trees and get involved in beach clean ups.
The Blue Safari activities team also encourage guests to get involved in citizen science projects, such as using their photographs or video of manta ray to help identify individuals and their movements. The dive centre also teaches a full suite of PADI Project Aware course.
Should guests want to contribute further I highly recommend adopting an Aldabra tortoise before or after you travel is a great way to connect with what we do.
We are also incredibly eco-friendly and generate 95% of our power from solar on Alphonse and fully removable converted eco-pods, made from upcycled shipping containers on Cosmolido.
What is the best time to visit?
Sam: The diving season is generally considered to run from September to May when the sea is calmer during the Northwest monsoon. During the season visibility is consistently good and becomes phenomenal in February to April (40 metres plus), these months along with October to November are generally considered to have the absolute best diving conditions.
In addition we do see migrating humpback whales in September and October and sometimes into November. Green turtle hatchlings can be seen throughout the season but hawksbill turtles are from November to January.
Otherwise all other activities are great throughout the season with calm, dry and sunny weather. We are closed June through August due to the strong Southeast trade winds.
I have to ask about food, what do guests eat in such a remote place?!
Sam: Good question! Alphonse Island has a very good fruit and vegetable garden, which produces just over 50% of the fruit and vegetables consumed by both guests and staff on the island and is expanding all the time to try and increase this figure.
No fish are imported to the islands, all the fish that are served to the guests are caught using rod and line by our expert team of Alphonse Fishing Co. guides. This means that we know exactly how our fish is being caught and where it is coming from and we can target more sustainable species with faster life cycles. All fish catch is monitored by the Island conservation Society (ICS) team.
Lastly, what is your favourite creature to see when diving?
Sam: It has to be the hammerhead shark. Seeing one of these amazing creatures underwater always gets my heart racing. They are incredibly sensitive to any disturbances and are very shy making them highly elusive and difficult to get close to.
A diver needs to remain quiet and calm to have a chance of getting a good view and therefore any time spent with these bizarre looking creatures is a real privilege.
The Seychelles is a fascinating tropical archipelago located northeast of Madagascar and about 1,600 km (994 mi) east of Kenya in the Indian Ocean, and consists of 115 islands; the majority of which are uninhabited.
In fact, 98% of the entire population (approximately 100,000 people) live in the ‘Inner Islands’ – a group of 42 predominantly granitic mountainous masses of varying shapes and sizes replete with iconic sandy white inlets backed by swaying palms and a laid back creole culture.
Mahe Island is the gateway to the Seychelles and where all international flights land. One can fly in direct from London Heathrow. A one hour light aircraft flight south of Mahe you will find Alphonse Island, the hub of the Blue Safaris operation and their springboard to the stunning other islands - St François Island and Bijoutier. Beyond that are their other private atolls of Cosmoledo, Astove and Poivre and the resplendent Amirantes Islands further south.
I would love to discuss a Blue Safaris holiday with you, why not contact me for more information?
Images provided courtesy of Blue Safaris
Header Image of children jumping from boat copyright to Mike Butler
Image 2 of tortoise in ocean and image 10 of turtle hatchling copyright to Keith Rose Innes
Image 3 of coral reef and image 6 of sailfish copyright to Anthony Grote
Image 5 of coral reef copyright to Mark Hatter
Image 7 of tortoise conservation, image 12 of Bijoutier Island and image 13 of dining on the beach copyright to Michael Van Rooyen