When you land on the fine sand, encircled by swaying palm trees, you feel as if you really have arrived!
North Island is one of the inner islands of the Seychelles archipelago, endorsed by the likes of George and Amal Clooney and the now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Both of these couples could easily have gone anywhere on Earth for their honeymoons, but instead selected to enjoy a paradise getaway at North Island.
When we landed we were greeted by delightful staff, bearing ice-cold face cloths and delicious homemade lemonade. We were then whisked away in a golf buggy to our villa.
We were given our own golf buggy to allow us to explore the island in complete freedom, and we used it to visit the island’s four main beaches. Two are close to the villas but on the opposite side of the island there are two other, slightly more remote beaches.
There are just 11 villas on the whole of North Island, which are 460 square meters. All the villas are all roomy, private and beautifully built. There is a central dining room, with a wine cellar, a library, lounge, gym, a 45m long raised swimming pool, a fabulous spa, plus a Padi dive centre. There were also mountain bikes for exploring the island.
The dive centre is particularly well equipped with all the state-of-the-art kit and instructors who filled you with confidence. The visibility was fairly good and seeing turtles not to mention sharks (tiny ones) were the highlights of my dive here.
The best part for me about North Island was being able to eat when you wanted, what you wanted, and exactly where you wanted. The meal set up was helped considerably by the fact that every villa has its own butler, with ours being called Brighton, who originally came from Zimbabwe.
He was extremely efficient but also very humble and wasn’t the least bit intrusive. He was enormously flexible and was put to the test of setting up meals in different parts of the island.
We requested to have a meal on one of the beaches on the other side of the island to the villas - the honeymoon beach. This can be booked for private secluded picnics – although the word ‘picnic’ doesn’t do it justice!
This meal was the full works, with the waiters lugging hampers over the rocks full of a delicious selection of fresh produce and chilled wine in large ice buckets for lunch. The lovely staff set it all up (they were delightful and nothing was too much trouble) leaving us in complete privacy until it was time to go back to our villa.
The brilliant thing about North Island is that you can be as sociable or as unsociable as you desire. Each evening before dinner there are sundowners around the bar in the main dining area or on the sundowner beach and Julio, the very skilled bartender, knows every cocktail in the book!
One evening we were savouring a local cocktail whilst watching the sun go down and, when all the other guests had left, a turtle came ashore and started looking for a place to bury her eggs, which was a magnificent sight.
On our last morning we were about to head off to the helipad, when the resident ecologist revealed that some turtles eggs had hatched in the night and there was one unfortunate turtle who hadn’t made it to the ocean.
We had the wonderful opportunity of helping to release it. With turtles you can’t just put them in the water because they need to recollect their journey down the beach into the ocean as every female turtle comes back to the exact same spot where she was born to lay her own eggs.
Observing this poor wee creature struggle down the sand was quite excruciating to see, but as soon as it hit the water it was off! The turtles swim feverishly for several days until they reach the deep water and just hope that they are not snaffled by a predator along the way. What an exquisite sight to end our fabulous stay on North Island.
From the outset North Island appears to be the ultimate tropical island paradise. However, it was not always this way. When North Island was abandoned as a plantation in the many intrusive species remained behind such as casuarina, cows, rats, pigs, Indian Mynah birds, cats, barn owls and an especially invasive prickly weed called lantana.
The owners undertook the challenge of not only reversing the Island’s decline, but of taking the long road towards the restoration of the Island to its former glory. A cornerstone of this bold initiative has been the “Noah’s Ark” concept by which tortoises and certain species of birds are gradually being re-introduced to the Island along with indigenous trees such as takamama, badamier and the legendary coco-de-mer palm.
Guests can visit the North Island nursery where you can help by planting your own seedling and learning about the endemic plant species on the island. In an ongoing project lasting 21 years, the team has humbly planted over 100 000 indigenous seedlings from the nursery with over 1000 plants being given a permanent home every week.
Evidence of the success of this programme has been the fact that several indigenous bird species have returned of their own accord. The re-introduction of the Seychelles white-eye, one of the world’s rarest birds, has also been a triumph with a fivefold increase in population since 2007.
The giant Aldabra tortoise can also be found munching amongst leafy vegetation – we were even lucky enough to have one living beneath our villa! It was totally unperturbed by our presence and quite happily ambled around doing its own thing.
They previously nearly became locally extinct due to poaching but North Island now provides a free-roaming sanctuary to 80-100 of these majestic creatures, which can live up to 150 years of age.
Hawksbill and Green Turtles nest on the beaches once more and the number of Hawksbills nesting has doubled, alongside a stunning six-fold increase in the number of Green Turtles. North Island now has the highest density of nesting green turtles of the inner Seychelles islands.
Guests can actively contribute to turtle conservation during their stay. Head out in the morning with the research team to patrol the four beaches for signs of turtles. Turtle nests are marked out and labelled with bamboo sticks and a coconut, stating the date laid and the species.
All the data recorded is captured a database and turtles which already have identification tags are recorded and those without are given unique titanium tags.
Hawksbill nesting season typically runs from October to March, and green turtle nesting from March to October, so there is turtle activity all-year-round and fresh turtle tracks can be found daily.
Additionally both snorkelers and divers can head out with the resident marine environmentalists for reef monitoring. North Island site-specific fish identification slates are used, enabling key species to be identified and additional data to be compiled and monitored.
You swim with an underwater camera and may get the chance to document a rare or even an unidentified fish species. There are great chances of seeing white-tipped reef sharks, butterfly fish, angle fish, porcupine fish, eagle rays, and many, many more.
Whale sharks are also often seen swimming close to the shore, which provides an opportunity to get up close to the largest fish in the ocean! This is all against a backdrop of ongoing studies of how climate change is affecting the coral reefs in the Seychelles and beyond.
Lastly, North Island is proudly plastic-free. There are no single-use plastic straws in sight and only eco-friendly compostable food containers are used for activities around the island. This is in addition to stringent waste management processes including extensive recycling, grey water systems, and their own sustainable water bottling plant.
Every morning, the team set off on beach patrol collecting any debris carried by the trade winds and ensuring they enter the proper recycling routes, guaranteeing they do not enter the oceans ever again.
Given the above, it comes as little surprise that North Island won the Gold Award in the ‘Best for Marine Habitat and Species Conservation’ category at the 2018 African Responsible Tourism Awards (ARTA), but as the conservation team will readily testify, conservation is a continuing process that needs everyone’s help to succeed.
If you would like more information on North Island or the Seychelles in general, please feel free to contact me.